How to Mask in Photoshop. Don’t Erase!

How to Mask in Photoshop. Don’t Erase!

Hey, everyone! Howard Pinsky here with a Photoshop
public service announcement. If you’ve ever touched the Eraser Tool when you’re editing
in Photoshop, you’re doing it wrong! Whenever I get the chance, I try to promote non-destructive
editing. The ability to make an edit in Photoshop, but easily reverse it later on if you have
to. Today’s video is going to show you how to erase non-destructively, using Layer Masks.
Let me show you how this works. Here I have a document that contains one simple
layer. In this case, my goal is to remove the background in this photo, leaving only
the subject in the foreground. Beginning Photoshop users will usually go straight for the Eraser,
as that’s the tool that makes the most sense to those just starting out. Let’s look at
why this is a terrible idea. When I start erasing the background of this
image, it certainly seems like it’s doing what we want it to, but just like using an
eraser in traditional art, this process is very destructive. At this point, if the document
is saved, and closed, everything that you erased is lost. So unless you have a duplicate
of that layer, when that document is opened again, there’s no easy way to bring back that
data. On the flip side, there’s a much more efficient
way to erase, parts of your layers. Using the same layer
as an example, instead of grabbing the dreadful Eraser, we’re going to be using a Layer Mask,
instead! To add a Layer Mask to a layer, you can click
on the “Add Layer Mask” icon at the bottom of your Layers panel. This will place a white
box beside the layer’s thumbnail. The reason that the Layer Mask is white, is
because the basic rule of thumb, is that white is visible, while black is hidden. So now,
instead of erasing, we’re actually going to be brushing, with either a black or white
brush. As I paint black on the Layer Mask, I’m seeing the same result as I saw when I
used the Eraser, so what’s the difference? Well this time, nothing is being destructively
removed. Instead, you’re simply hiding parts of your layer, which can easily be brought
back by switching to a white brush, and painting. There’s another big advantage of using Layer
Masks. If you’ve ever tried to use the Eraser on a Smart Object, an Adjustment Layer, or
a Vector shape, you’ve likely seen a warning which tells you that the layer is not directly
editable, and that it must be rasterized, which isn’t the smartest move. Rasterizing
a Smart Object or a Vector shape destroys its original properties, which defeats the
purpose of using those layer types to begin with! With Layer Masks, you can simply add a mask
to any type of layer, and just like we did a moment ago, hide portions of the layer with
black, or reveal with white. Completely non-destructive. So if you’re one to grab the eraser tool in
Photoshop, next time you go for it, visualize me smacking your hand as you move the cursor
across your screen to the Tools Bar. Just don’t do it. I honestly can’t think of a good
reason why you should use the eraser rather than using Layer Masks. Unless you’re a traditional
digital painter, and you only work on one layer, and some people still do. As always, thanks for watching, make sure
to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos, make sure to check out my website
at, and now make sure to follow me on Google+. Nathaniel from
and I are doing a weekly Google+ Hangout where we’re going to have all sorts of guests. Last
week we had Jared Polin from FroKnowsPhoto, this week we have Justin Seeley from,
and who knows who we’ll have next. Take care!

100 thoughts on “How to Mask in Photoshop. Don’t Erase!

  1. I can think of one instance where using the eraser tool is a good idea. Editing an animated gif on top of a still image so it blends, unfortunately I couldn't get layer masks to work with that and only the eraser tool will work or so it seems. If you know how to do that with a layer mask I'll be happy to use them for that effect.

  2. thank you! for some reason i could never quite grasp the whole mask concept, now i get it and understand how/why to use them!!! you have converted an erase fan to masks!

  3. Howie – love and look forward to your tutorials! Is there a non destructive way when using the dodge and burn tool, too? I have tons of old photos (color and b&w) that need restoring and I don't want to retouch the original layer/photo. Any suggestions? Thank you.

  4. As a noob in photoshop at first i was like "ok?" and then I was like "OK!!!!"
    Hahah you do a great Job doing tutorials.

  5. I can give you a simple reason – you're drawing something. Editing photos and already existing images is great and all, but if you need to draw something, you can't just go and clip mask every single stroke you accidentally make a bit different. Well you could, but your image will turn into a nightmare of masks and needless pixels.
    Aside from that, I completely agree with your advice.

  6. Archived video: Are you using the Eraser Tool in Photoshop? STOP! Masking is a much better solution. This video explains! 

    Subscribe for more free Photoshop tutorials:

  7. Thank you for sharing the wealth of knowledge … Well appreciated as a film photographer I depended on my lab to make me look good as far as exposer. Now with digital I need to learn, and you Howard, are an amazing teacher.thank you for all of your gifts that you share. I am a better editor because of you and only you. I have went to school and I just couldn't get or understand their methods I get you

  8. Love your tutorials – you're presentation is outstanding!

    As a Photoshop noob I only erase parts of images that I don't need to reduce unnecessary large file sizes

  9. howard.. your voice, your words are damn clear and dats why i understood each single thing darn easily. you rock buddy m/

  10. Mr. Pinsky,
    Again thank you very much for a very interesting and informative video.. loved it and learned in three minutes what I wanted.

  11. Dear Sir, I have worked many years with brush, I am skilled of hand and I don't require mask because I not have disturbing face like boss-man Howard. Humbly yours, phisean

  12. Hi @Howard Pinsky, thanks for making such a useful tutorial. I liked it very much as I'm not an expert in photoshop editing work, I usually use eraser tool but from now, I'll only go with mask tool.. Thanks for improving my photoshop image editing knowledge.

  13. I just subscribed to Photoshop CC, so I'm a total newbie. Your videos are so easy to follow, yet they are very detailed. Thank you!

  14. omg thank you my eraser would not erase but it turns out i had black brush as my white brush and white as black!!! thank you so much XD 

  15. Hi, thanks for this tutorial. I have 2 question though.
    1. Can you give me an example of why rasterizing is bad?
    2. How do i freely color inside a drawing i made without going outside the boundaries of the stroke?

    Thanks 🙂

  16. thanks for this! ive been using photoshop for years but had yet to master the black/white mask paintbrush. awesome tool to know about

  17. I can think of 2 good reasons to use the eraser:
    – If you're 100% sure you want to delete some information. Using the mask in this case would be like sweeping dirt under the rug. It just complicates your photoshop file.
    – The eraser tool can be used stylistically, like when you want to trim a few brush strokes.

  18. Hey guys, I've got a small channel with a few photoshop tutorials on I'd love some support or feedback on how I can improve and capture your attention so please check me out! Also great video really instructive Howard.

  19. Thank you so much i could never understand the fundamentals of masking watching videos on here until your video 🙂 thank you

  20. Thank you so much..!! I knew there had to be a simpler approach. I was cleaning up a sketch and with so many details, its unbelievable how tedious it got.

  21. I have come to an issue. I am using the layer mask and when PS figured out what I was trying to erase it was easy when the colors weren't the same, but now I am to the point where the layer mask isn't working any more. It won't erase the parts it thinks it should be there. I don't know how to fix it other than the erase tool. What do I do? Thanks.

  22. Great information. Typically when I'm working on an image, I'll duplicate the layer before doing anything, then hide the original. That way the original is untouched. But this sounds like it might be a better solution. (I'm still going to duplicate and hide the original, though. Old habits die hard.)

  23. Using layer masks as opposed to the eraser tool is the first thing I remember being stressed in one of my very first Photoshop lessons years ago. . . I NEVER use the eraser tool 👍🏽👍🏽

  24. You're awesome, Howard. We really appreciate you. We will be leaving a tip on Patreon. Thanks again for all of these extremely well explained and detailed videos. You're doing an excellent job.

  25. Your videos are the best period. No one and I mean no one provide clarity. I highly recommend PS begginers to watch your tutorials. Thanks for putting out such an awesome teaching tool.

  26. Only noobs and careless people erase. It's also much easier to use mask, because you can have X button to swap pallet, instead of 2 different buttons for brush/eraser (same on tablet. its easier to press swap pallet from black to white, than constantly rotating the pen)

  27. This has saved my life, I used to use this technique all the time but forgot it because I stopped using photoshop

  28. LOL so funny, love this. Thanks so much for the clear explanation. This REALLY helped :))

  29. Thank you for making this short video. This does seem better than erasing. I thought there is a way to mask by selecting around an object though. Someone mentioned it, but still trying to figure it out.

  30. I used to want to erase myself from existence, but now I want to layer mask my self from existence. Thank you for taking me one step closer to nirvana.

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