When you edit and composite images in Adobe Photoshop, you make selective decisions about what to show and what to conceal. You can erase parts of layers to make them invisible, but every pixel you obliterate disappears forever. Instead of destructive methods that remove layer content, choose among Photoshop's many tools and features for hiding document elements. The program offers you multiple ways to cover up parts of a composition and remove distractions, including the order in which you stack layers, as well as how you mask them and change their opacity.
When a line of people stands directly in front of one another in single file, you only see the person at the head of the line. Similarly, Adobe Photoshop's document layering controls the order in which items appear and how much you can see of each one. To hide parts of a layer, position something else on a layer above it. Photoshop's Layers panel shows the layer stack from front to back. A layer at the top of the list blocks the visibility of one farther down. When the content covers only part of a layer, or you nudge the layer with the Move tool so a portion of it disappears outside the live area of your file, you can position elements on lower layers to appear around it.
Adding Layer Masks
Rather than erasing or deleting part of a layer to make the content disappear, use Adobe Photoshop's non-destructive layer masks to hide portions of your document. These layer-specific channels consist of grayscale images that designate portions of layers as partially or fully transparent. To create a layer mask, start with a selection. Click and drag around rectangular and elliptical areas with the Marquee tools, or use the Lasso tools to draw freeform or point-to-point selections around irregular shapes. Once you make a selection, click on the unlabeled Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel, or open the Layer menu and choose an option from the "Layer Mask" sub-menu. You can hide the selected area itself or the rest of the layer outside the selection.
Adding Vector Masks
Unlike layer masks, which consist of pixels, vector masks use the same kinds of paths that make up illustrations in a drawing program. These masks retain a hard edge regardless of whether you enlarge them, change their shape or alter the resolution of your file. When you want a sharp transition from visible to invisible, draw a path with the Pen tool and use it as a vector mask. Open the Paths panel and click on the path entry to select it before you open the Layer menu's "Vector Mask" sub-menu to choose the "Current Path" option.
Adjusting Layer Visibility
Along with how you organize and mask document layers, use layer opacity as a way to determine what's visible and what disappears in an image composite. The Layers panel includes controls for layer opacity from 0 to 100 percent visibility. To set opacity without using your pointing device, press "M" to select the Marquee tool and type a visibility percentage with the number keys at the top of your keyboard. Multiples of 10 require only the first digit of the opacity value: for example, 6 for 60 and 9 for 90 percent opaque. Press 0 to return to 100 opaque and two digits in quick succession to assign values between multiples of 10. To make a layer fully invisible, click off the eyeball icon that appears in front of its name in the Layers panel.
Information in this article applies to Adobe Photoshop CC 2014, Adobe Photoshop CC and Adobe Photoshop CS6. It may differ slightly or significantly with other versions or products.
- Photo Credit scubaluna/iStock/Getty Images
- Adobe Photoshop CC Classroom in a Book; Adobe Creative Team
- Adobe Photoshop CS6 Classroom in a Book; Adobe Creative Team
- The Photoshop CS3/CS4 WOW! Book; Linnea Dayton and Cristen Gillespie
- Photoshop Masking and Compositing, Second Edition; Katrin Eismann et al.
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