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Clipping Masks

Next, let's see how a clipping mask can avoid a potentially destructive move. If you attempt to apply a filter to a Type layer, you'll get this warning:

This is a warning message that actually encourages you to do something that really isn't a great idea: rasterizing a Type layer. Rasterizing a Type layer turns it into pixels, removing the ability to edit the text. Although it might appear as though this is a necessary step—especially based on the message in the warning dialog—you have other options (after clicking Cancel). First, you could duplicate the Type layer and then rasterize one of the two layers. At least this way you'd have a backup plan in case you want to change your mind later. With a few filters such as Lighting Effects, Gaussian Blur, or Brush Strokes, this method is the only answer.

The second option is to create a layer clipping mask. A clipping mask combines two or more layers so that the bottom layer “clips” the layer(s) immediately above it. It's simple to create and can be extremely effective for many purposes, especially as an alternative to rasterizing a Type layer.

Top 10 Worst Enemies of Flexibility

  1. Flatten

    Instead, keep a layered version in PSD format and save a copy that's flattened if you need to.

  2. Merge Layers

    Only merge if there's a technical reason to do so (don't merge simply because the file is “getting big”).

  3. Rasterize Type

    At least make a copy of the Type layer first so you have a backup plan. You can also use alternate methods such as clipping masks that don't require the text to be rasterized.

  4. Work Directly on the Background

    Duplicate the Background layer and work on the copied layer instead.

  5. Image>Adjustments

    Wherever possible, use adjustment layers rather than making adjustments from the Image> Adjustments menu. Adjustments from the Image menu are “permanent” while adjustment layers are…adjustable.

  6. Making Multiple Documents

    Avoid confusion by using one document with many layers, taking advantage of layer comps.

  7. Erasing Pixels

    Use a layer mask to hide portions of a layer instead of erasing (deleting) the pixels.

  8. Lowering Resolution or Physical Size

    This is only a bad thing if you don't keep an original copy at the full resolution; so, make sure you save a copy before you lower the size or resolution of an image.

  9. Dodge & Burn Directly on the Background

    Instead, add a new layer in Overlay mode that's filled with 50% gray by clicking on the Create New Adjustment Layer pop-up menu in the Layers palette. Then use the Brush tool at a very low Opacity (20% or so) and paint with black to “burn” and white to “dodge.” That way, you can always change your mind once the image has been printed.

  10. Don't Save Selections

    The alternative is better: If you took a while to make a complex selection, use Select>Save Selection to save the selection as an Alpha Channel.

Although it didn't quite make the Top Ten list, failing to name your layers is also a common enemy of both flexibility and efficiency. How many times have you had to search through a long list of “Layer 1, Layer 2, Layer 7 copy 2…” to try to figure out which layer you need to work on?

In this example, I am trying to use the Add Noise filter on a Type layer and, of course, I get the warning we saw previously. Rather than clicking OK, I press Cancel and instead use this method:

Step One.
Click on the Create a New Layer icon to add a new layer above the Type layer and fill it with the same color as the type (Edit>Fill).

Step Two.
Apply the Add Noise filter (Filter>Noise) with the appropriate settings.

Step Three.
With the Add Noise filter layer still active, from the Layer menu, choose Create Clipping Mask, or press Command-Option-G (PC: Control-Alt-G).

Check out the Layers palette and you'll see that the Type layer is underlined, indicating it is the clipping layer, while the layer immediately above (our Add Noise layer) is indented and has an arrow symbol, which indicates that this layer is being clipped (the clippee?). As a result of the clipping mask, the Add Noise filter layer is only visible within the type—and the Type layer remains editable.

It's important to note that you can include multiple layers in a clipping mask: just repeat the same operation of positioning the layer above the clipping layer and pressing Command-Option-G (PC: Control-Alt-G).

Here I added two small images, positioned them and added them to the clipping mask by pressing Command-Option-G (PC: Control-Alt-G).

Clipping Masks

You can also create a clipping mask by positioning your cursor on the “borderline” between the two layers, holding down Option (PC: Alt), and simply clicking once when you see the double-circle cursor appear.

Clipping masks are not restricted to Type layers, but can be used with any layer (other than the Background layer). Whether it's a Shape layer or a brush stroke created with the Brush tool, it's the pixels on the bottom layer that create the clipping effect.

The custom shape clips the pattern layer.

© DAVE CROSSThe brush stroke clips the photo layer.

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