What are some of the dif­fer­ent ways to use mask­ing tech­niques in dig­i­tal paint­ing?

Russ Bom­ford, Eng­land

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An­swer

Mark replies

There are var­i­ous op­tions for mask­ing in Pho­to­shop, with Layer, Vec­tor and Clip­ping masks be­ing the most com­mon. Th­ese non-de­struc­tive tech­niques make it easy to ap­ply changes to your painted el­e­ments. I of­ten use the Clip­ping and Layer masks, be­cause they’re both bit­map (pixel) based, which is the same as my paint­ings.

You can cre­ate a Clip­ping mask from any layer by hold­ing down Alt (Op­tion on older Macs), and by click­ing be­tween two lay­ers you can link the two. This means any­thing painted on the sec­ond layer or sub-layer will only ap­pear if there’s pixel in­for­ma­tion on your main layer. This can be help­ful if, for ex­am­ple, you’re work­ing with sil­hou­ettes. You can eas­ily cre­ate a sil­hou­ette on one layer and paint only in­side that sil­hou­ette on mul­ti­ple sub­lay­ers, with­out hav­ing to lock the painted in­for­ma­tion on your main layer.

I use Layer masks when ap­ply­ing tex­tures or other photo-based el­e­ments to my art, be­cause I’m able to mask out part of the im­age with­out delet­ing any­thing. You can ap­ply a Layer mask to your ac­tive layer or folder by click­ing the Layer mask icon at the bot­tom of your layer pal­ette.

Best of all, a Layer mask works with the com­plete range of grey val­ues from black to white, where white is fully trans­par­ent and black is fully masked. This en­ables you to play around with var­i­ous Opac­ity lev­els in­side the same mask, even cre­at­ing smooth gra­di­ents, which is per­fect for mask­ing ad­just­ment lay­ers.

Var­i­ous mask­ing meth­ods help me to sep­a­rate the most im­por­tant parts in my paint­ings. Here I use them to paint the back­ground and the char­ac­ter separately. I place a Clip­ping mask in­side the sil­hou­ette of my fig­ure (top im­age), and then ap­ply a Layer mask to my ad­just­ment layer to only af­fect parts of my im­age.

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