What is Photoshop Masking? A Complete Guide to Mask an Image

The power of Photoshop is not revealed until you know the use of masking which be the best idea of transparency over your photo. Photoshop masking is an exclusive, non-destructive technique to modify a specific portion of an image. Besides, masking is applicable to photo composite or manipulation, Remove background from a photo, apply adjustments to an area.

Photoshop Masking generally associated with Layer Masks. However, there are different types of masks in Photoshop, like layer masks, Alpha channel masks, clipping masks, color masks, etc. It is a technique to cut out soft edge images like fur, hair, transparent objects, etc. 

The most powerful aspect of masking is your control to affect precisely where, how & how much modification will affect the original image.

It is essential to know how to use Photoshop masking for different kinds of adjustments or transformation. Besides, it also important to know, how to remove skin spots, dark edges by burning & dodging tools without harming any single pixel.

Masking knowledge helps to take your Photoshop editing skills to the next level. It will develop your photo manipulation skills. I will walk you through the basics of image masking, types of masking & a complete guideline about Photoshop masking techniques now.

What is Photoshop Masking

What is Photoshop Masking? 

Photoshop masking determines the visibility of the layer. It is not easy to understand the actual meaning of masking for ordinary people outside the graphic design region. The simplest definition of masking is to apply something to a specific area to hide or reveal something.

Photoshop masking is helpful when you need to improve the photo quality in product catalogs, model or celebrity photos, advertisements, brochures & many more. In the case of product photo or model, often, you won’t find any alternative to photo masking.

Because these photos need audience attraction & highlighting the feature to increase sales. Image masking ensures efficient background removal to create your photo eye-catchy. The model retouching like spots, wrinkles, blemishes, etc. is not possible to adjust without image masking.

The ultimate aim of masking is to make the photo vibrant & pop up. So that a transparent, solid background is essential. Besides, Photoshop image masking services is the best convenient & efficient way to separate the image into layers. This technique helps you to highlight the subject & enhance the beauty of your image.

The best thing about image masking is it is applicable for any kind of complex background removal without harming the image quality. All types of crucial editing can be quickly done by image masking. Let’s see how photoshop masking techniques make your editing experience easier & marvelous.

Photoshop Masks

There are three major types of masking: Layer masking, Clipping Mask, Alpha Channel Masking. Layer masking & clipping masking has some theoretical similarity, but it has a huge difference in application. Let’s learn about the different types of masking in Photoshop.

When to use Photoshop Masking?

In photo retouching, there is no alternative to use masking techniques. The use of Photoshop Masking are given below:

  • Hide or reveal any specific area of an image.
  • Cut the subject from the background.
  • The objects having fine lines like hair, furry, or translucent purpose is not possible to select using the pen tool. There is no alternative to cut these objects using masking.
  • To modify the particular area of a picture.
  • To edit e-commerce companies or model’s photo masking is essential.

When not to use photo masking?

Though masking is a robust technique that has lots of fields to apply. But there is some scenario where photo masking is not used that are given below:

  •  Pictures that contain sharp edges.
  •  When the subject & background both are the same color.

Layer Masking

When you talk about masking in Photoshop, the first thing that comes to mind is a layer mask. You can use layer masking to adjust the opacity of the various portions of an image. Besides, layer masking helps to hide or reveal some specific parts of the pictures. We can change the opacity from the layer panel’s slider that changes the whole image opacity. A mask helps to control any single portion of the image more precisely. When you want a layer at 50%, you will reduce the opacity from the layer’s opacity panel.

Layer Masks Example

The layer mask’s photoshop definition is referred to as a process that can change the visibility of a particular layer. It allows hiding any portion or partial hiding completely.

When you want to make any area completely transparent paint with black color on the mask. That makes the under layer visible. If you wish to transparency like 50% or 20%, you can paint with gray color. You can control the transparency percentage depending on the amount of gray you pick for the brush. If you want to hide any layer, paint it with white entirely, which means opacity zero.

Layer Masks Opacity Example

This is the basic idea of layer masking, which is very common in photo editing.

Clipping Masks

There is some similarity between clipping mask & layer mask though as a beginner, you will find it a little bit contradictory comparing Clipping mask & layer mask. The clipping mask uses one layer to define the transparency of another layer.

In this process,

  • Heap two layers, one on top of the second one. The bottom layer is controlling the transparency of the top. In this way, you won’t need to paint black & white like a layer mask.
  • Clipping masks borrow opacity from the layer used to create them, like the bottom layer. If you want to make some portion’s of the top layer is transparent & some are unclear. Then pick the bottom layer that has some obscure parts & some transparent area. You need to apply a Clipping mask using these bottom layer values to the top layer.
  • It is challenging to visualize this masking technique without an example. You can clear your concept when seeing an example in action.

Photoshop Clipping Masks Process

Let’s assume that our goal is to cut the blue cardboard layer to be in the shape of the circle that two layers are shown below. Here the blue cardboard is the bottom layer & the circle is the top layer.

Creating Clipping Mask 1

We just exchange the positions of the two layers to achieve the target. That makes the cardboard on the top layer. Then you can select the layers menu & choose Create Clipping Masks.

Now we achieve the target shape that we want to get. The circle was unclear in some areas, but now the cardboard area is unclear & the circle layer area that was transparent now the cardboard area is transparent.

Creating Clipping Mask 2

It is a juggling process that allows changes in each of the layers freely. You can drag the cardboard layer to move the position of the board inside the circle bounds while the circle remains fixed.

Moreover, you can use the layer results in the composition through the bottom layer. For example, choose the circle layer & add an inner shadow that gives the below result.

Creating Clipping Mask 3

Clipping masks are exciting & short cut ways to achieve a fantastic transformation. It is trendy in our daily life uses. I hope this information is enough to understand the functionality of the Clipping mask & get an advantage from clipping masks.

 Alpha Channel Masking

In the case of Removing background, the different attributes cutting are difficult like hair, jacket, furry areas & much more complicated subject. Different subjects need a different process to remove the background correctly.

Though Alpha channel masking is a problematic process of masking. But it is an efficient way. Without alpha channel mask Photoshop it is not possible to mask out the hair & furry areas. It is difficult to select these areas & very time consuming with the brush. There is no use of the Pen tool & magic wand tool.

  • To maintain a smooth edge transformation, you must pick a soft brush.
  • Photo editing is crucial when dealing with fine line objects like hair, grains of rice, etc.
  • Photoshop alpha channel masking is the technique that offers to cut such complex objects easily & flawlessly attach with a new background.
  • It reduces your editing complexity & a juggling process to make your image a high-quality one.

What is an Alpha Channel in Photoshop & How it Works?

The Alpha channel masking process is easier to use when the subject & background has enough contrast. In short, what is an alpha channel in Photoshop & how it works are given below? Keep reading to know the details.

To find out most contrast channel applies the channel palate. When you work with the blue channel, you just make a copy of the channel & use level to balance the contrast rightly.

Sometimes you need to make the layer 100% black for that you just paint over the new blue channel with black color. Then you swap it to make the black to white & white to black.

After that, you just copy the channel & paste it on a new layer from the layer tab.

  • Moreover, you can use dodge & burn tools to make the edge portions softer, darker & brighter.
  • Also, you can select the layer> Matting > Color Decontaminate menu to apply color decontaminate.
  • It often gives outstanding results. You must make a copy before applying the color decontaminate that is safe. This is the basic idea of channel masking.

Change the Channel

To explain how alpha channel masking works here, I mention an example. Let’s the below dog needs to cut out from the background. It has plenty of contrast that makes the masking task easier. The fundamental factor of masking is finding contrast & strategy of how to draw it out.

Here we use a gray dog on a solid white background that gives us a chance to achieve our goal quickly & use the contrast into an appropriate mask.

Change the Channel

The first thing you need to do is to select the most contrast from the Channels Palette as we want the channel with a darker dog & brighter background, which means work with a blue channel.

Do the following According to My Above Instructions 

  • Make a copy of the blue channel.
  • Then, select it & to make level adjustments,
  • Here, you can increase the contrast or using the Command > L.
  • However, you need to maintain a sufficient amount of contrast like the below image, so make the shadows & mid-tones a bit darker.
  • You must make these adjustments carefully. Then you need to zoom in on the photo & check the hair on the edges of the fur to ensure that you are not cutting much.
  • You will try to make the assumption area of black & white not precisely perfect; Although some gray points can remain in this step.
Channel Mask Tutorial Image 2

The most tricky part is coming now. The motive to make the dog as black as you can. So that you can use a black brush & paint the face & inner portions, random spots properly. (See Image Below)

Channel Mask Tutorial Image 2

But the edges of hair needs special attention. The best way to handle edges hair is to use the dodge & burn tools. These tools are awesome because they can accurately deal with certain ranges of gray.

The dodge tool is used to highlight a portion & the burn tool is used to achieve the shadows. You can select a medium soft brush to complete these tasks & create like the below edges image.

Converting the Channel to Mask

These tools are fantastic to work out. You will able to get a super result within one minute.

Defringing the Mask

After that, use Command > Shift> I to swap the channel that converts the black dog to white & the white background to black. You know that in the case of the photoshop masking technique, white is unclear & black is transparent.

Defringing the Mask 2

Converting the Channel to Mask

Now we successfully create a channel but need to convert it. There are several ways to convert, but I pick the easy way to share. You can select Command > Click on the channel to fill a selection.

After the loaded selection, you can get back to your dog’s layer & apply the New Mask button. That’s all for conversion.

Converting the Channel to Mask

Defringing the Mask

After converting the channel to mask, still, there is some white fringing appearing on the edges. You can’t remove it properly if you don’t know the exact process. I am going to share a fantastic way for beginners.

You can use a new Mask Palate in conjunction with refining edges to make some vital adjustments to the mask. You need dedication & practice to use this tool correctly. So, please give some time & effort to play with this tool.

Defringing the Mask

But sometimes this process can’t give any good results, so you need to apply alternate options that I mention before. From the layer menu, you just choose Matting > Color Decontaminate. In our case, this command help to reduce the rough edges amazingly.

Image Color Changing

Another trick you can apply in problematic areas is clone brush over the fringes. The masks remain everything beautiful & the clone replaces additional colors with actual color from the fur of the dog. It brings a natural look to the problematic edges area.

Finish The Task

Now the task is almost done. You need to polish it to make it cleaner & beautiful that won’t lose a single pixel. There are no bounds of improvement in the case of complicated masking like this one. Perfection is a word that is impossible to touch. But you can better your work if you target perfection.

Depending on your time utilize it for polishing. As your skills improve the polishing time also decreases & this part will be easier for you.

final image

Photo masking is a non-blasting process. We can change to our masks at anytime as much as we want. It allows retrieving any unwanted erasing areas that are really difficult in image editing. It is an easy & safe way to hide a particular portion of an image. If we later need the portion we can regain the area that is only possible by photo masking.

Conclusion Photoshop Masking

There are thousands of tricks & ways of photoshop image masking are available. Here I mention the basic & popular skills among all the masking processes.

The practice is the pre-condition to reach your destination. Just be optimistic & visualize the ways to find out the best masking process you need to do for your image. Though masking looks simple, it is a time-consuming task. Regular practice is the only way to be the master of photo masking.

There is no doubt that image masking is a very useful & generative tool. Thus, learn it properly & watch the transformation of your editing skills.

Read more:

Clipping Path vs. Masking: What is the Difference? With Example

How to Avoid Losing Original Images in Photoshop

How to Color Correct And Fix Tone With Levels In Photoshop