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Layer Masks

Now let's take a look at my favorite method for blending images together, layer masks. By adding a layer mask to a layer, you can control exactly where that layer is transparent and where it's opaque. You'll find that layer masks are used to create most high-end images—-this feature really separates the beginners from the pros. But there's no reason why you can't be as adept at layer masks as the most seasoned veteran. It just takes a little time and sweat.

Creating a Layer Mask

You can add a layer mask to the active layer by clicking on the icon second from the left at the bottom of the Layers palette (it looks like a rectangle with a circle inside it). Once you click this icon, you'll notice that the layer you're working on contains two thumbnail images in the palette. The one on the left is its normal preview thumbnail; the one on the right is the layer mask thumbnail. The layer mask is not empty (empty looks like a checkerboard, right?); instead, it's full of white. After adding a layer mask, you can edit it by painting across the image window with any painting tool. Even though this would usually change the image, you're really just editing the layer mask; it just isn't visible on the main screen. The color you paint with (which is really a shade of gray) determines what happens to the image. Painting with black will make areas disappear and painting with white will bring back the areas again. And remember, because you are using a painting tool you can choose a hard-or soft-edged brush to control what the edge looks like (Figures 11.42 and 11.43).


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