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Layer masks vs. vector masks: When to use them and why

Added on Tuesday 15th of March 2011 10:33 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


I enjoyed the article in the November 2010 issue titled “Create sharp-edged vector masks for better edits in Photoshop.” I’m a little confused about how I should decide if I should use a layer mask or a vector mask. Can you explain the difference?


Sure! As you know, masks are a great help when working with images. They protect and isolate areas of an image from editing actions, such as painting, drawing, and erasing. Photoshop includes two types of masks: layer masks and vector masks. Although they both perform the same functions, each is created in a different way for a different purpose.

Layer masks are raster images that you create using the painting tools. Like other raster images they can have areas that are solid, transparent, and partially transparent, as well as hard and soft edges. You use layer masks when a mask requiring intricate detail that can be best produced utilizing the Brush or Pencil tool, as shown in Figure A, is called for.