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Streamline your masking efforts with CS4's new Masks panel

Added on Thursday 18th of June 2009 12:26 am EST


Photoshop CS4

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

With the many different tricks and workarounds you’ve acclimated yourself to when editing layer masks—blurring masks, making tedious selections, memorizing keyboard shortcuts—it’s no wonder that when you’re done you feel like you’ve cracked the Di Vinci Code. We’ll show you how Adobe’s new interface design takes the puzzle out of layer masking with Photoshop CS4’s Masks panel; so you can focus on just being creative.


To explore CS4’s new Masks panel, we’ll:

       Introduce you to the Masks panel and all of its features.

       Add a pixel mask and then edit it using the panel’s refining tools.

       Create a vector mask and explain two different ways to add one to your image.


Layer masks are an integral element to any image-editing project. Whether you’re compositing, retouching, or making a collage, you’ll probably utilize layer masks in some manner. Layer masks are so incredibly versatile; it’s hard to believe there was actually room for improvement. But after experimenting with CS4’s new Masks panel, there’s no doubt that this new feature will streamline your masking into an effortless process.

We’ll show you how to use the Masks panel by walking you through the steps necessary to make the image shown in Figure A. To follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article, extract the file mask.psd, launch Photoshop CS4, and open the file shown in Figure B. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.)





The new Masks panel

Maybe what’s so fantastic about the new Masks panel is that it groups all the elements that we used to have to carry out with keyboard shortcuts, filters and workarounds, into one convenient panel. Let’s explore!


Add a pixel mask

First we’ll show you how to add a pixel mask to the Flower layer, and we’ll introduce you to the nifty features on the Masks panel that will help you refine your mask.


To add a pixel mask:

1.          Select the Flower layer to make it active.

2.          Choose Window > Masks to display the Masks panel, shown in Figure C.

3.          Click the Add A Pixel Mask button and Photoshop adds a mask to the image layer.



Note: Even with the introduction of the new Masks panel, you can still click on the Add A Layer Mask button located at the base of the Layers panel to add a layer mask.


Masks panel benefit

You can now add a mask to a locked background layer more quickly. Rather than double-clicking on the Background layer and clicking OK in the New Layer dialog box, all you have to do is select the Background layer and then click the Add A Pixel mask button in the Masks panel. Photoshop automatically unlocks the Background layer, applies a default name, and adds the layer mask. If you try to add a layer mask via the Layers panel, you still need to go through the extra steps to unlock the layer first.


Edit the layer mask

The new layer mask reveals the entire layer by default. We’ll use the handy features on the Masks panel to select a portion of the layer to hide.


To edit the layer mask:

1.          Click the Color Range button on the Masks panel to display the Color Range dialog box.

2.          With the default eyedropper, click either on the Color Range preview window or on the image in an area where the background is white, and adjust the Fuzziness slider until the entire flower is black, as shown in Figure D.

3.          Click OK, and your image should look like ours, shown in Figure E.



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