Are you looking to take your Photoshop skills to the next level?

Layer masks are an invaluable tool that give you more control over your digital designs. From blending images together seamlessly to creating interesting effects, layer masks will help improve your workflow and make image editing a breeze.

In this article, we’ll cover all the basics of layer masks and show you how they can be used to enhance your designs. Ready to get started?

Let’s jump in!

Layer Mask Tutorial

First, select the layer you want to mask (in this example Layer 1), then click the layer mask button as highlighted above. Alternatively, you can navigate to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All (we’ll get to the other options later). As seen in the example above, a white rectangle appears to the right of the image thumbnail.

Trying to understand photoshop layer masks can sometimes be like an alternate reality game – no matter how hard you try, nothing appears to have changed on the canvas despite adding a layer mask! It might not be obvious, but layer masks are more than enough for photoshop wizards – they actually hold pixels too! Think of it as a parallel photoshop universe where layer masks function like their own separate layers. So don’t be fooled; the photoshop engine under the hood is working exactly as expected and the results will manifest soon enough – trust in the photoshop gods!

Layer mask filled with black

What happens if we replace the layer mask’s white pixels with black pixels? Simply click the layer mask thumbnail, then click Edit > Fill. Let’s choose black. Instantly we see that the layer mask thumbnail turns black, and the corresponding layer disappears from the canvas – revealing the clouds in Layer 2!

Contrary to our previous example, which uses a layer mask filled with white pixels, layer masks filled with black pixels create full transparency in the corresponding pixel area of the layer which is masked.

Can you guess what happens if we fill half the layer mask with white and half with black? That’s right! Half the image becomes visible while the other half stays transparent. In this case, we would see half clouds and half bird.

Layer mask filled with gradient

Layer masks don’t end with black and white. In fact, layer masks can hold any form of grayscale pixel information. Let’s see what happens if we fill the layer mask with a gradient ranging from black to white!

Press G to switch to the gradient tool, then select the layer mask by clicking on its thumbnail. Finally, let’s drag the gradient tool across the canvas. As you can see, the thumbnail fills with a gradient from black to white and the corresponding layer smoothly transitions between full opacity and full transparency.

In essence, the clouds in Layer 2 are “showing through” the areas of Layer 1, which have become transparent as a result of the gradient layer mask.


Now you should feel like you have a better understanding of layer masks! Bringing this tool into your workflow will make you a better Photoshop user based on your increased facility to enter into new creative possibilities!

Scroll to Top