Using Layer Masks in Photoshop and Procreate

I use masks all the time rather than erasing so I can easily paint back in or move things around without a chunk missing. Adding a new element often makes me want to alter something I did previously and I can’t undo undo undo back and lose a bunch of more recent work.

Here’s an example, if I want to put an object behind another on a flattened layer, I use a layer mask.

I chose a Jovian Cutie on a whim for my screen recording of using a layer mask in photoshop. Here’s how it ended up…


And here’s how it started in photoshop using a layer mask to put a copy of the cutie behind the original.

Click to play screen recording. Sorry no audio, free version.

After I select then copy and paste a Jovian Cutie to a new layer, I add a layer mask to the new layer. I black out the area of the mask where I want to hide the new cutie, so that means blacking out the original cutie so the new one “disappears” behind it. Very important in this situation, I unlink the layer mask from the layer so I can move or transform the new cutie layer without affecting the mask. Always remember and never forget, painting black on the mask hides the layer, white shows the layer and greys make transparencies.

Sometimes masking the original layer and putting what you want to show through below can work, too, but I can get confused about what I’m hiding and showing so I usually do it the same way as described above (and shown in the screen recording) every time.

I often do edges with a layer mask because if I go too far or erase too much I can just put it back in. And if I put too much back in, I can take it out again without any risk to the layer.

An effect applied to a duplicate of a layer can be masked and tinkered with how much effect shows where. Nothing is erased for good, it’s just masked or not. Until you merge some layers or apply the mask, then it’s set in wet concrete. You’ve got a short while to undo undo undo and get the mask or layers back. After too many new moves the initials are in the concrete. When I used to do seriously a bazillion layer art, I would save a version with a lot of layers before flattening and then starting again from a flat or reduced number of layers.

I want to transition off of photoshop, which I have been using for 25 years (I learned on Photoshop 4!) and I jump right back to it any time things get mysterious and difficult in procreate. I have to make th leap, my Wacom tablet is retired and the Apple Pencil is super. I’d love my next screen recording to be me using a layer mask in Procreate… stay tuned…

Thank you to Mark and the Digital Drawing Club for helping me get making some art again.


Jovian Cutie #1, Gouache on paper, 2020

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