Learn how to use layer masks to combine images in a composite.

What you'll need

Download a sample file to practice with. This sample file includes Adobe Stock assets you can use to practice what you learn in this tutorial. If you want to use the sample file beyond this tutorial, you can purchase a license on Adobe Stock. Check out the ReadMe file in the folder for the terms that apply to your use of this sample file.

What you learned: Make a composite using layer masks

Edit a layer mask with the Brush tool

  1. Click the Add layer mask button in the Layers panel to add a layer mask to the active layer.
  2. Select the Brush tool and set black in the Foreground color box. (Press D to set the default colors of white and black, and press X to exchange them.)
  3. Change the size of the brush by tapping the left or right square bracket key on the keyboard.
  4. Make sure the layer mask is active. (Look for the highlight border around its thumbnail.)
  5. Paint with black over the image where you want to hide the layer with the layer mask to see the layer below.

Black conceals and white reveals

In a layer mask, black hides what is on the layer with the layer mask, and white shows what is on that layer.

  • If you make a mistake and hide too much, press X to exchange the foreground and background colors, and paint with white on the layer mask to reveal the masked layer.

Create a layer mask from a selection

Another way to create a layer mask in a composite is from a selection. When you make a selection and then add a layer mask, the layer mask is automatically white where there was a selection and is black where there was no selection. The black on the layer mask hides the area that was not selected.

  • Create a selection using any selection method, like the Quick Selection tool.
  • With the selection active in the image, click the Add layer mask button in the Layers panel.

Refine the layer mask with the Brush tool

When you create a layer mask from a selection, you can edit the mask using the Brush tool. This allows you to use a soft-edged brush to create more gradual transitions.

  • Paint with black to hide the masked layer, and white to reveal it.
  • In the Options bar for the Brush tool, set the opacity to 50% to paint with gray, which will partially hide the masked layer.

Save your work

  • Save the image in .PSD or .TIFF format to retain the layers and layer masks.
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