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Creating Layer Masks with Adjustment Layers (E7 and earlier)

By Mike Rodriguez  ·  July 14th, 2011

Layer masks are essential tools to help with selective editing and special photo effects. While Photoshop Elements 9 has a layer mask feature built into the product, you’ll need to use an adjustment layer workaround in earlier versions of Elements. This video (and the instructions below) show you the steps for creating a layer mask in Elements 7 and earlier. (Links to creating layer masks in Elements 8 and 9 are listed below.)

  1. Open an image with a duplicate background layer. If you don’t have one, open an image and duplicate your background layer (PC: Control+J, Mac: Command+J). In this tutorial, Mike desaturates the duplicate layer (PC: Shift+Control+U, Mac: Shift+Command+U) and shows you how to bring color back in selectively.
  2. Create a new Levels adjustment layer, by clicking on the adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette, or by going to Layers > New Adjustment Layer > Levels. In the Layers palette, click and drag this new layer so that it’s directly below your duplicate layer.
  3. Select your duplicate layer in the Layers palette.
  4. We’re going to group the duplicate layer and the Levels adjustment layer together, and there are three ways to do this:
    • Go to the Layer menu and choose Group with Previous.
    • Use the keyboard shortcut, which is PC: Control+G or Mac: Command+G.
    • You can go to the Layers palette, hold your mouse over the line between your duplicate layer and your Levels layer and hold the Option or Alt key. Once you see the cursor change to two overlapping circles, click the mouse button once.
       Once you’ve created your clipping mask, there should be a little arrow next to your duplicate layer, pointing down to your Levels adjustment layer. The adjustment layer’s mask will now act as a mask for the duplicate layer.
  5. Click on your Levels layer mask and select your Brush tool.
  6. Remember, when working with masks, “White reveals, black conceals.” Anywhere you paint black with the mask selected in the Layers palette, you will conceal the changes you’ve made, allowing the original layer’s pixels to come through. Anywhere that you paint white reveals the changes that you’ve made. So, to work on your image, just set your Foreground and Background colors to black and white (press the D key if they aren’t, and press X to swap the foreground/background colors). Then you can start painting on your image and the effects will be applied to the layer mask.

This video is part of our Photoshop Elements “quick video tips” series.

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1 Reply to Creating Layer Masks with Adjustment Layers (E7 and earlier):

  1. Raymond

    January 24, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Your website is great and I love it. I want to learn all technique in elements 7 and 9. By the way where is inspiration browser?

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