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Elements 9 & 10: Easy Layer Masks

By Mike Rodriguez  ·  September 26th, 2010

We’ve long had ways to build layer masks in Photoshop Elements, but they’ve always been workarounds, whether via adjustment layers or add-ons like Grant’s Tools. In Elements 9, Adobe finally added true layer masks, which you can add instantly via the Layers panel.

In a nutshell, when you want to work on a mask, click on the layer mask in the layer you want to work on and select your Brush tool.

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.

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33 Replies to Elements 9 & 10: Easy Layer Masks:

  1. Jim

    September 27, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    I received my copy of Elements 9 this morning (rom Adobe) and I’ve have downloaded all the videos related to Elements 9 without a problem. I cannot wait until I get home, load up 9 and play around with Layer Masks. I will let you know what I think later. Thanks for all you do for Elements users.

  2. Ron

    October 1, 2010 at 7:27 am

    l just noticed Elements 9 layer masks and played the video with no problems. Actually l did not know Elements 9 was even out till l wanted to check out some videos. l am a newbie with elements and rely on the magazine and videos a to help me understand what you can do with this program. l really like it. Ron

  3. Genevieve

    October 1, 2010 at 8:08 am

    Great video. It’s great to finally have proper layer masks!

  4. Richard

    October 3, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    I like this video. In a simple way, it show us the way of using mask in Element 9. Actually, that’s why I like being a member of Element user. Getting the best of Element.

  5. Daivd

    October 6, 2010 at 4:02 am

    A great introduction for this function for me! Thanks. I had been struggling with the 3rd part plugins that supposedly allow layer masks for months, to no available. I’m gratful for the video and that PSE now includes this feature.


    • Mike

      October 6, 2010 at 6:57 pm

      That’s great, Dave. Those masks are going to open a whole lot of possibilities, I think.

      Thanks for the comment.

  6. Warren

    October 9, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    Great video! This layer will open up so much possibilities. I have Elements 7 so can some one tell me how to creat a layer mask without this new feature from PSE 9?

    • Mike

      October 16, 2010 at 10:11 am

      Hi Warren-

      Probably the easiest thing to do is get a plug-in that offers a layer mask. There are several. Grant’s Tools is a free one. Another one that costs a few bucks but has a ton of options is Elements+.

    • Perry

      October 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm

      Hi Warren,

      An easy way to trick PSE 7 using layer masks without plug-ins et cetera is creating a special layer (for example: Levels…) without using the special function (for example: without changing levels). To use the mask the way Mike shows in the video, you’ll just have to Group it with the previous layer.



  7. Lillian

    October 20, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    Works great and lots of fun.

  8. Frank

    November 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    I moved up from elements 8 to premier elements 9 and everything worked fine. New features are worth the upgrade. I have had one problem though. I’m using window 7 and the photomail sharing feature shuts down the program whenever I try to use it. Adobe so far has no answer for me. Any thoughts?

  9. Charlotte

    November 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm

    That was so perfectly done. I could really understand everything….a first! LOL

  10. Janice

    January 12, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Have every PSE version since 4 and v9 is definitely the cream of the crop. Has fulfilled the promise of layer masks and, after viewing the video, must say the feature works like a dream! Props to Adobe.

  11. George W.

    March 10, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Where’s the Cheatsheet for this tutorial? Sincerely George W Goeken

  12. marie

    May 18, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    I just subscribed (2 year) to this magazine and site yesterday. Took a quick tour today and in two hours I’ve learned and understood more about Elements from this site than all the useless, complicated, poorly designed books I’ve purchased.

    Best $$$ every spent. Thank You!

  13. Christie

    June 25, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    You have unlocked yet another secret for me. I’m new to this game and feel like a child learning to color, I love the videos they have been a great teaching tool since I learn more from what I see than from what I read. I have SO much yet to learn With the magizines and the videos……I learn something new everyday.
    Thank you !

  14. Kim

    July 16, 2011 at 6:09 am

    I am excited about using layers masks. Shortly after watching the video I tried it out and it worked fine.

    I was experimenting and suddenly I can’t get it to work anymore. I noticed that the “Mode” setting for the brush in the video is set at normal. Somehow I hade managed to change my mode. However, when I went in to change it back to normal, that option did not appear in the pull down menu.

    Can anyone help?

    • Mike

      September 26, 2011 at 10:39 pm

      Hi Kim-

      This is a pretty late reply…comments are sometimes easy to miss, depending on how old the video is. :) If you’re still having an issue with the brush mode, send me an email at mrodriguez at photoshopelementsuser dot com and we’ll see if we can get things straightened out.


  15. Richard

    July 19, 2011 at 7:05 am

    Thanks very much. This is a very helpful intro to a powerful PSE tool for someone who has never used them.

  16. John

    July 19, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Wow, this opens up a whole new window for me as to the way I’ve been working around b&w shots. Thank you…

  17. Kathy

    October 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    Good video. It helped me to pause the video and practice on a picture while trying to learn the concept.

  18. wona

    November 3, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I’m wondering if anyone can point me in the direction of the work arounds that I can use with Photoshop Elements 8?

  19. Cindi

    December 15, 2011 at 10:41 am

    Thank you for this tutorial! It’s the first one I’ve done since I signed up for your magazine. It was great – walked me right through it. I’ve had PSE for several years – mostly for the basics, but only now am I starting to really try out everything it offers. The information you have here is endless – thank you!!

  20. Lucie

    December 21, 2011 at 8:14 am

    I followed the instructions in the Easy Layer Mask video, but when I try to show the colours (like the colour of one umbrella) (with black chosen as the foreground colour) nothing happens.
    What am I doing wrong?

  21. Laura

    December 28, 2011 at 9:39 pm

    Thank you soooo much! Easy to understand and follow…

  22. Alfred

    January 10, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Hi Mike, Thanks for a great explanation of the layer masks, so simple and concise, great stuff “Ben”

  23. Christie

    February 9, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Hello, Me again..

    I love the concept of the word “easy”……….One quick question, Is there a cheat sheet for this article? Did I miss it?
    If so, Would you please tell me how to get to it?

    Thanks for all the hard work you guys put into training us “newbies”
    Your the greatest !!

  24. Hazel

    February 10, 2012 at 3:06 am

    I have just upgraded up to Elements 10 and have followed the intructions for the easy layer mask video but when I try and reveal the color of my subject , nothing happens. I went through it a couple of times and everything is exactly like the video. What am I doing wrong??? HELP me please. By the way, thanks for the informative and fun videos. I love trying them out and I learn more about Elements each time.

    • Kathy

      June 26, 2012 at 10:14 am

      Did you ever find out what the problem was? The same thing is happening to me.

      • Kathy

        June 26, 2012 at 10:32 am

        Thanks to another post I read after I saw that Elements 10 “hides the word Normal on Mode. You have to force it down to choose it. It worked fine after that! (and I thought it was me after watching the video 4x)

  25. Doris

    March 20, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Love It!

  26. Chris

    June 16, 2013 at 1:24 am

    Good basic intro to what a layer mask is, how to create one, and how painting on the mask in black ‘unlocks’ i.e. makes visible what is on the layer(s) below the mask.

2 Trackbacks:

  1. […] The newest version of Adobe Photoshop Elements is out and it’s more powerful than ever. And guess what, there’s  no more annoying workarounds for creating layers . Adobe [finally] added the ability for true layer masks! Now you can easily reveal or hide a portion of any layer and control the transparency. For information about how to create layers in Photoshop Elements 9 check out this tutorial. […]

  2. […] But, in the mean time, I just found a really nice video that demonstrates the power of the new layers mask feature in Photoshop Elements. […]

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