Photoshop Friday 2007 #6! Layer Masks. :)


Welcome to another edition of Photoshop Friday!

In the scrapbook world, as you probably know, entries for the new Creating Keepsakes Hall of Fame are due in just a couple of days, and there has been quite a lot of chatter about this contest among my scrappy friends. I was blessed and lucky to have won last year, and in the spirit of the festivities (okay, stress relief, right? Package is shipped and in the hands of CK and now it’s just a waiting game) I wanted to share one of my layouts from last year’s contest with you, as well as step through the technique I used. Sound cool?

Here’s the layout:



Digital Papers: “Being” kit by Jen Wilson; Photoshop brushes: Chick Peas kit (swirl) by Rhonna Farrer (; Chatterbox (heart); Sanded overlay: from Grunge Overlays pack by Katie Pertiet (; Computer Fonts: 2Peas Stopsign (journaling,, Marcelle (title,

In the top left of the photo, you can see the brush shape sticking out from the striped paper to overlap the photo. The coolest part is that this isn’t just a brush, but is a layer mask that allows the stripes to continue into the shape of the brush. Cool, huh? Subtle, but VERY cool. One of those things that people always look at and go, how did you do that? (My favorite question in the world, by the way…)

A Little About Layer Masks

First, let’s talk about layer masks. I’ve talked about it before, but hey, now’s a good time for a refresher course, right? :D It’s a bit tricky to wrap your mind around, but eventually it’ll make sense. Just remember that a layer mask hides and reveals portions of the layer that it’s attached to. But rather than using the eraser tools, it uses the colors black, white, and shades of grey to determine how much of the layer to show or hide. Wherever there’s white on the mask, the layer is showing. Wherever there is black, it’s hidden. White reveals, black conceals. We’ll step through this one with lots of screen shots, to make sure it’s coming together.

When I learned how to do layer masks, my Photoshop world literally exploded open with possibility. I hope this technique helps you, as well. :) Ok, let’s get started!

Assemble the Layout 

In this technique, we’ll be starting out a little unusually - you’ll place your striped patterned paper OVER the photo. Then we’ll be masking part of it out, so the photo shows through. Assemble your layout like this:

Top layer: stripe – cut this to the same height as your photo

Middle layer: photo (you’ll see why here in a few more steps) 

Bottom layer: background

So your layers palette looks like this:


Create the Layer Mask

Photoshop Elements doesn’t directly have Layer Masks - not in the same way that PSCS and CS2 do. But we can hack it a bit to make it work using an Adjustment Layer.  The cool thing is that any of the Adjustment Layers that modify the layers below them also come with a layer mask you can use. So it’s sort of like coming in through the back door. : ) (And I found parts of this technique online, and re-adapted it for use here - just to clarify that) :)
  1. Target your stripe paper layer.
  2. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. Click OK in the dialog box to create the layer, and click OK in the Hue/Saturation box (which pops up because Photoshop thinks you’re going to adjust the hue/saturation of the layers underneath this one. But No! We’re gonna be sneaky and use it for our own eeeeevil purposes… muhahaha HA haha … ha …  okay moving on.) It looks like this in your Layers palette:

Your layer mask itself is actually the white rectangle (the right of the two boxes in that targeted layer). You can tell that the mask is targeted because it has a tiny black line around it. That is going to become important here in a minute, when you need to target that mask to paint on it. Cool? Cool. One more step to complete our mask.
  1. In the Layers palette, drag your new adjustment layer below your striped paper layer. Target the striped paper layer and hit Ctrl-g (Ctrl-Alt-G in PSCS2). This action basically adds your striped paper into the layer mask, so all the things you paint on the mask will affect just your striped paper.


Painting on the Mask to Hide Areas (“Black Conceals”)

With a layer mask, you can use any of the painting tools - paintbucket, brushes, pencil, marque > fill, that kind of thing. For this technique we’ll be using the Paint Bucket tool to paint a black rectangle on the mask in the shape of our photo, to hide the patterned paper there. Then we’ll use the brush tool with a swirly brush to bring some of the paper back where it overlaps the photo.
  1. Let’s paint a rectangle on our layer mask that is the size of our photo. We’ll create a selection from our photo layer, and use that selection to create a fill in the layer mask. Ctrl-click on the thumbnail of your photo in the Layers palette. Because your photo is below your striped paper, you’ll just see marching ants in a rectangle.
  2. Now target the layer mask (the white rectangle) in the layer above your striped paper.  Select the Paint Bucket tool. Set your foreground color to black (here’s a quick tip: type “d” ( for default), and then type “x” (to switch foreground and background). Click inside the selection to fill it with black. BAM! Your photo suddenly appears, as if from nowhere! Your screen should look like this (before you hit Ctrl-d to deselect those marching ants):

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Painting on the Mask to Show Areas (“White Reveals”)

Now for the real coolness: Adding our brush accent back in. We’ll load up a brush, set a few settings, and stamp on our layer mask to reveal the hidden patterned paper. Ooo can you feel the nervous tension? Yeah. I feel it.
  1. Let’s load up a brush. Select the Brush tool. Drop down the brush selector in the Options Bar at the top of your screen, then click the little blue circle button and choose Load Brushes from the flyout menu. Navigate to your brush, and click OK (you’ll need to have unzipped your brush to somewhere on your hard drive if you downloaded a digital kit). Elements 5 replaces whatever is in the list with JUST your new brush set, removing all your other loaded brushes. Annoying, but true.
  2. With your new brush loaded, select it from the dropdown selector.
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  1. You can see in this screen shot that my brush is pointing the wrong way. Because we’re using this brush to paint on a layer mask, all our flipping and resizing MUST be done before we stamp. So let’s spin that brush the other way. Click the More Options button in the Options bar at the top of your screen. At the bottom of the dialog box that appears, spin the little circular dial so your brush is pointing the way you like it.
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  1. One last step to paint that patterned paper back in. Target the layer mask (it’s now the white rectangle with the black rectangle inside it) and type “d” to set your foreground color is set to white. Position your brush so that it slightly overlaps the stripe paper, as well as overlaps the photo. Click once to paint back your brush image in the pattern of your striped paper. Awesome!

Now you can complete your layout as desired. I added a word paper and set it to Soft Light blending mode, then added some other brushes and text.

Here is my layout at full-size so you can see the details:

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I hope you enjoyed this installment of Photoshop Friday. Have a great weekend! Don’t forget to link me up to your layout when you post it in a gallery! I love to go see them, even if I sometimes don’t have time to leave you praise. :)

Jessica Sprague24 Comments