Photoshop 101 – How to Work with Layer Masks – From Beginner to Pro

February 11, 2013 • By

Welcome to our new series Photoshop 101.

Each post will feature a new photoshop tutorial. This week we will focus on Layer Masking ability and what it can do to your designs, inspiration and work flow.

For every beginner working with Photoshop it can at first seem quite daunting. However, this doesn’t have to be the case. Photoshop is one of the most powerful pixel pushing tools you can ever put your hands on. The tools available is more then enough for anyone to be able to create, modify and transform whatever you want into anything you can think of.

Layer masks can be found in software’s like Illustrator and Flash to name a couple but it’s really in Photoshop that you can really utilize its full power and technique.

Situations where you would be using Layer Masks instead of altering your images is everything from simple content management and interface design where you want to hide or manage a constructive design or a complex compilations where you don’t want to destroy, alter or delete parts of the images you are working with.

In this article we’re going to take a closer look at one example where we’ll be using Layer Masking to create a compilation of images in a really simple and effective way.


Let’s start by creating a work area measuring: Width: 300 and Height: 300 and set the background color to Black (#000000).

Create a new layer on top of the background layer and name it ”Orb”. In the new layer and in the middle of the work area create a circle measuring Width: 200 and Height: 200 using the ”Elliptical Marquee Tool”. Fill it with a Dark Purple color (#8600AC) using the “Paint Bucket Tool“.

Let’s go ahead and add some orb looking effect to the circle we’ve just created. With the ”Orb” layer selected right click the layer and select ”Blending Options…

In the list to your left select ”Bevel and Emboss” and enter the following settings:

Alright, so we now have an orb that we can now start to work with. Before we start adding gloss and glow details to our orb we are going to use ”Layer Masking” to create some lightning/electricity rods inside the orb for a much more unique effect.

Create a new layer and call it ”Lightning”. Choose the ”Brush Tool” and select the ”Fuzzball” brush in the list at the top of the screen. Also make it size ”340 px” so that we get a good sized lightning effect.

**If you don’t have the Fuzzball brush you can download it here.**

In the newly created ”Lightning” layer put the ”Fuzzball” imprint at the top of our ”Orb” using the color White (#FFFFFF). Don’t worry about the streaks outside the ”Orb”. This is what we will be using ”Layer Masking” for in the next step.

After adding the ”Fuzzball” and before we’ve converted the layer into a ”Mask” layer you should have something looking like this:

Now right click the ”Lightning” layer and select ”Create Clipping Mask”. As you can see the layer now hides whatever is outside of the circle underneath it. We will now be able to move around our ”Lightning” layer to adjust it to the ”Orb” without having to delete, alter or damage any of the content in the layer.

Move the ”Lightning” layer around until you feel satisfied with the location of it at the top of the ”Orb”. After aligning it you should now have something looking like this:

As you can see masking has a huge advantage over altering your image. This way you can always be sure that your image is preserved even though everything is not showing.

To wrap it up, let’s add some gloss and glow to the orb just to make it a little bit more advanced.

Create a new layer above all the other layers and name it ”Gloss”. In the new layer and at the top of the orb create an oval circle measuring Width: 110 and Height: 70 using the ”Elliptical Marquee Tool” and fill it using the ”Gradient Tool”. Use the color White (#FFFFFF) and make sure you have the gradient selected to ”Foreground to Transparent” in the menu at the top of the screen.

We should also go ahead and add an effect making our orb look somewhat transparent and we can accomplish that by adding another oval circle to the bottom of the orb.

Create a new layer above the ”Gloss” layer and call it ”Bottom Gloss”. Again using the ”Elliptical Marquee Tool” go ahead and create an oval circle slightly above the bottom with the measures Width: 60 and Height: 30. Fill it using the ”Gradient Tool” again with the White color and the ”Foreground to Transparent” setting. We need to set the ”Opacity” of this smaller circle so go ahead and change it to ”40%”.

We also need to create a kind of a ”Surface” to the orb making it look like it is made out of glass. We can achieve this by adding yet another layer with some glossy features.

Create a new layer above the ”Gloss” layer and call it ”Glass”. In the new layer create a circle measuring Width: 200 and Height: 200 (the exact size of our orb) using the ”Elliptical Marquee Tool”.

With the selection still active, hold down the ”ALT” key and deselect 2/3 of the top of the selection. You should end up with a selection looking something like this:

Fill the selection you now have with the same ”Gradient Tool” and the color White, just like we did when we added the Gloss to the orb. This time begin from the bottom just like you did with the smaller oval circle at the bottom of the orb. We need to change the ”Opacity” of this layer as well so go ahead and change it to ”25%”.

Now we have a slightly glossy transparent surface of the orb and to top it off we can just go ahead and add some glow to it as well.

Select the ”Orb” layer and right click it. Choose ”Blending Options…” and then choose ”Outer Glow” in the menu to the left. With it selected insert these settings:

After adding it and after you’ve gone ahead and fine tuned your settings you should now have something looking like this:

There! Well, as you can see the Masking is pretty powerful and it makes for a great time saver. Instead of altering your images you can go ahead and just add masking and move around your images within those masking layers until you are completely satisfied and have the look that you are after.

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial on how to use some of the tools in Photoshop especially the “Masking” feature.