Photoshop layer mask and vector mask tutorial

Using layer masks and vector masks to create see-through illustrations.

Photoshop Layer Mask Tutorial

Adobe Photoshop CS-CS5 Painting Tutorials

Photoshop Paths | Airbrush Tool | Basic Painting | Layer Masks | Color Management

All Tutorial Text & Images - Copyright © 2011 KHI, Inc.

In this Photoshop tutorial we are going to learn to use the "Layer Mask" and "Vector Mask" functions to create the same type of "ghosted" see-through illustration that we created in the first Photoshop ghosting tutorial. Layer Masks can give you greater flexibility in editing or undoing the fading effect and transparency that is utilized in ghosting, although there are some limitations that will be covered within this tutorial.

By ghosting through the outer layer, or exterior "skin" of an object with Layer Masks you will have greater control over the level of fade used, and you will preserve all of the pixel data in your top layer in the process. This will provide the opportunity to go back and edit or revise your ghosting transparency effect if you take it too far. With this type of illustration subtlety is the key to success and you want your transitions from exterior to interior to be as smooth as possible.

Adding a Layer Mask

There are two basic Photoshop layers used to create this illustration: A background layer with the exterior view of the vehicle, and an internal layer revealing the chassis, engine, suspension and vehicle cabin interior (sample below).

Layer Mask Tutorial 1

Rather than erasing away the chassis layer (sample, above) to create the ghosting effect we will make a layer mask in the Photoshop Layers palette by clicking the "Add layer mask" button (below). Working with the vector mask will have the same effect as erasing, but without the data loss associated with the Erase Tool.

Layer Mask 2

To accomplish the fading away of the chassis top layer mask you will use the Photoshop "Brush Tool" (B) in conjunction with a solid black or dark color. If you overdo the erasing effect you can use solid white (FFFFFF) to add back the image to any degree necessary.

Layer Mask 3

To add subtlety to the fading effect you can use the Brush Tool's "Opacity" and "Flow" settings to minimize the fading or adding back effect, and with the Layer Mask you will have the ability to undo andy changes you make by using the solid white brush color.

Adding a Vector Mask

You can also use vector-based Photoshop Paths created with the "Pen Tool" (P) to select and edit specific confined areas you want to edit or fade within your top layer mask.

To create the ghosting effect within a confined area we will make a Vector Mask in the Photoshop Layers palette by clicking the "Add Vector Mask" button (below). You will notice that this is the same button as was used to create a Layer Mask, but it has a different functionality when you are already on a Layer Mask layer.

Add Vector Mask Button

Technical Note: While you are using the Layer Mask or Vector Mask function you will not have the use of Hue/Saturation or Curves to edit color. Once you are happy with the ghosting effect you can merge the Layer Mask into a normal layer regaining the ability to edit color and opacity. The Saturate/Desaturate "Sponge Tool" (O) does still function while in the Layer Mask mode.

As with so many functions in Photoshop there are several ways to achieve the same objective, and it is largely a matter of personal preference and habit that will determine the best approach. Using the eraser to erase away the interior or exterior will accomplish the same effect, and by saving or duplicating fully-intact layers before altering them you will not loose important date that you may need later. Note: The following hardware and software was used in this tutorial: Apple Mac Pro, a Wacom Intuos 6x8 drawing tablet and Adobe Photoshop CS-CS5 photo editing software.

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