Why a layer mask is better than an eraser in Adobe Photoshop

In many of my lessons, you might encounter the following command: “Remove some of the image using Layer Masks (Layer Mask) or using a tool Eraser (Eraser tool)“.

Since you’re new, of course you choose Eraser, because you already know how to use it, but Layer Mask will sound to you like some kind of sophisticated professional technique. The truth is that the use Layer Masks not much different from use Eraser, but it gives you more options and saves you a lot of time.

Only advantage Eraser is that it replaces the “real eraser” with which you are already familiar. But why limit yourself to replacing a traditional tool when working in digital format?

I suggest you familiarize yourself with this easy lesson in order to understand how you can use Photoshop and its tools for your ideas. Discover a new type of eraser that allows you to erase an image without any loss!

Why Eraser is not always convenient to use

Let’s imagine a very simple situation where you could use the Eraser. For example, you drew a sketch of a snow leopard:


Looking at the sketch, you notice that the tail of the snow leopard is too long. Therefore, using Eraser you wipe off the end of the tail.

After examining the proportions of the body of the snow leopard, you find out that these animals actually have disproportionately long tails.

And to return the initial view to the outline, you can choose one of the proposed solutions:

  • Use command Undo (Cancel) Pressing the key combination Ctrl + Z as many times as needed to return to its original state.
  • Close the file without saving the last changes, then open it again to see the initial version of the outline.
  • Re-draw the tail.

The first solution works fine, but only if you have enough history actions (the more there are, the slower Photoshop will work), and also, if you have not made other changes to the outline besides erasing the tail. The second solution will work only if you have saved the sketch before erasing the tail. And the third solution can take you a lot of time.

Layer Mask

If instead use Mask Layer, then you could erase most of the tail, as shown:

You can even use this “anti-eraser” to bring back the parts that were deleted, even after they were closed, and then opened the file again!

It looks like magic, isn’t it? Let’s see how to achieve this!

How to use a Layer Mask

You can download this file to step through the lesson:

Step 1

To take advantage Layer mask, You need to initially select the layer with the image of the snow leopard.

Step 2

Click on the icon Add layer mask (Add layer mask).

On the layers palette, next to the layer thumbnail, a miniature white layer mask appears.

Step 3

Please note that you can choose one of the two layers to work with. This is very important, as you can confuse them because they are close. If you select one of the layers, then everything you draw will be displayed on the layer thumbnail.

Step 4

Make sure you select the layer mask. Select a round black brush and draw a large dot right in the middle of the snow leopard’s body.

See what happens? When you select a layer mask thumbnail, you can erase any part of the image (on the layer you’re working on) using black.

Step 5

Now you need to select the white color and use the brush to draw a white dot inside the black one.

See, part of the image is back! This is how our anti-eraser works!

Step 6

At the moment you see the layer mask effect itself. To see the mask itself, you need to press the “\” key. The black dot area will be displayed in red.

Step 7

To get everything back, you need to take a white brush and paint a black dot on the layer mask.

Step 8

As you have already noticed, using black color we can make the image transparent, and white color will help restore the opacity of the image. You can also use gray shades – the darker the shade of gray, the more transparent the mask effect will be.

Step 9

Let’s use this technique to hide the snow leopard’s paws under the snow. Select a layer mask and use a soft black brush to walk on the paws of the snow leopard.

You can change the size of the brush to your liking to get the desired effect:

Step 10

If you hover the cursor over the layer mask thumbnail and press the right mouse button, the context menu appears in front of you. In this menu, we need only the first three items:

  1. Disable Layer Mask (Turn off the layer mask) – turns off the mask effect so that you see the original image. You can use it at any time.
  2. DeleteLayerMask (Delete layer mask) – allows you to remove the entire mask, while the original image will remain unchanged.
  1. Apply Layer Mask (Apply layer mask) – allows you to combine the layer mask effect with an image. At the same time the mask itself will disappear, and the image will remain with the changes.

Step 11

If you want to make a copy of the image with a layer mask, you will need to hide the other layers and use CopyMerged (by pressing the key combination Ctrl-Shift-C). If you use the usual method of copying, then copy the original image completely unchanged.

When is it better to use Layer Mask

Despite the fact that Layer Mask great tool, it should not be used every time you want to erase some part of the image. If you are drawing a sketch, then a faster and more effective option would be to use Eraser in order to erase something. Also, if at the same time you periodically make several copies of the layer with a draft so that at any time you can correct them.

Mask Layer it is better to use when working with large images, for example, photo processing or digital painting.

Mix image together

Via Layer Masks You can achieve a soft blend between images. Unlike Eraser, with Layer mask You will get more options in its setting when working with an image.

Partial texture application

When you apply a texture to an object, sometimes you only need to use a small part of it. With the help of layer masks you can remove those parts of the texture that you do not need.

Drawing light and shadow

Beginners often draw light and shadow separately, but the truth is that shadow is just the absence of light. In digital painting you can darken the whole image and then using Layer Masks lighten the areas you need.

Adjustment layers

You may also have noticed that all adjustment layers have their own layer masks. You can use the same mechanism to apply an adjustment layer only to the desired part of the image.

It’s all!

Photoshop has a lot of different tools that you didn’t guess, but as soon as you learn about them, they become very useful and effective for you than their simpler counterparts.

Layer Mask is one of these tools, but I’m sure that this is no longer magic for you!

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