Layer Masks and Smart Filters: How, When, and Why?

Layer Masks and Smart Filters: How, When, and Why?

I watched tutorials on Layer Masks and Smart Filters in Photoshop, and I thought it would be helpful to share what I learned about them. Both allow you to control the amount of visibility of a certain aspect of a layer, but the difference lies in what aspect they allow you to control. First off, the reason why you would want to use a layer mask in Photoshop is if you want to alter photos while being sure you won’t destroy the original version. On the other hand, you use smart filters to also non-destructively control the application of filters on layers.

Layer masks allow the user to control a layer’s transparency. This is like using the Opacity effect on the image, but it is different because while the Opacity effect changes the transparency of the entire layer at once, the layer mask allows the user to make only certain parts of the layer transparent, and even transparent to different degrees. To create a mask for a layer, select the layer from the layer panel, go to the bottom of the layer panel and click the “Add Layer Mask” button. Now you will see in the layer’s panel a link to a white mask. In order to manipulate the mask, make sure the white mask in the panel is selected and select the brush tool.

Once you have the layer mask actively open and the brush tool ready to paint on it, you need to set your foreground color to either white or black, depending on what you want to do. If you don’t want part of a layer to be visible, paint over it with black. If you do want part of a layer to be visible, paint over it with white. You can change your brush style and size in order to make your masking more accurate. You can also use a selection tool, make a selection, and fill that selection with either black or white to do your masking.

Smart filters allow the user to apply filters to layers and control the visibility of the filters. They also let the user stack images and rearrange their order for different effects. In order to use a smart filter, first convert your object to a smart object. Next, simply choose a filter from the filter menu and apply it to the smart object. You can easily and safely edit the filter by double clicking on the layer panel.

So hopefully by now you understand the difference between the two and how they can be used to alter and improve your projects. Both of these tools are very useful, and once you learn how to use them you will find yourself making masks and smart filters all the time. They really help make your project easy to manipulate and to edit later on.


By: Margo Osborne