Mystified by the mask tool? Our quick tutorial shows how to use it to make a cool cutout type effect. First, the basics: A mask is a grayscale, pixel image that’s attached to a layer in Photoshop. The mask tells Photoshop how much of the layer to display. White pixels on a mask will display at 100%, black pixels at 0%, and grayscale pixels at a transparency.
To show how it works, we’re going to start with Bigstock image 20393000, by AISPIX. Suppose we want to apply a screen of type between this laughing man and the wall behind him, with the type fading away as it rises toward the top of the image.
First, let’s use the type tool to enter the text we want on the image.
Next, we’ll select our type layer from the Layers pallet and click on the Add Layer Mask button.
To make the next step easier, we’re going to fill our mask layer in with all black (shift-F5). This will turn the type layer invisible for now, but don’t worry, we’ll get it back in a second.
Now we’re going back to our original layer, where we’re going to use the magic wand tool to select the grey background behind the man.
With that selected, we’re going to click on the gradient tool, and make sure it’s set to fade from black to white.
Then, on our layers pallet, we select the mask from our type layer again.
With that mask selected, we’ll use the gradient tool to drag a gradient fill into the background space we’ve selected. Drag from black to white vertically down the page, holding the shift key. That produces exactly the result we were looking for.
Since that type layer is still editable, we can go in and change the color and content of that layer any time we want, without needing to redo our cutout.
And we’re done! Now you know how to use the mask tool to create a fading or cutout effect—without damaging the content of a layer.
Bonus: In regular editing, Photoshop doesn’t show you the mask itself. It only shows what layer looks like with the mask applied. However, you can see and edit the mask itself just by clicking on the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel using Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac).