The Photoshop Mask

In preparation of our annual "Christmas" newsletter I used Photoshop frequently to get images ready for publication.

One of the neatest non-destructive tools that is invaluable in wiping out backgrounds is the mask. One of the images I used this on was a shelf with multiple objects on it. The wall behind the shelf wasn't colored so I wanted to get rid of it. To do this I used the magic wand and went through the image adding areas to the magic wand selection. Some of the items blended in with the background and part of them were selected. I wasn't worried though. I took my time but I would be getting to the details later.

After selection much of what I wanted to delete I create a duplicate layer of the image turn off the original layer then select the make layer mask icon at the bottom of the palette. The mask shows up in the layers palette next to the duplicated layer.

Now to touch up I select the mask get a black/white brush and draw. Use a white brush to expose the image like the items that were similar in color to the background. Use a black brush to erase more of the background. Zoom in for detailing. Nothing on the actual image is changed just the mask.


  • You can turn on the background layer and reduce opacity if you want to see the part of the image that has been masked out.
  • Handy shortcuts for this are the X to swap foreground/background (black/white) colors the [ and ] to decrease/increase the size of the brush and Ctrl+ Ctrl- to zoom in and out.
  • Press the spacebar to use the mouse and drag the image around.
  • Remember to use the navigator to position the part of the image you want to work on.
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