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Masking and You

What we think of as making selections has its origins (like many of Photoshop’s features) in conventional photography. Graphics professionals have long worked with masks to isolate image areas, to make it easy to expose one portion of an image to manipulation while protecting other areas. The term mask comes from the protective function: Just as you mask off the doorknobs and hinges (maybe with masking tape) when you paint a door, a Photoshop mask can protect parts of an image you are editing.

There are many different ways to create masks in the non-digital world. Sometimes, images are covered with a protective translucent film like Rubylith, and areas of the mask are cut away with a sharp knife-like tool. The overlay may be red so the underlying image can still be seen, especially when the original is backlit. Certain kinds of film don’t register red light at all, so such a mask can be photographically opaque even if our eyes are able to see through it.


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