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7. I'm confused about masks?      

Today masks are about making portions of images transparent.  

Many of yesterday's masking jobs (stuff we learned in older applications) now gets done with selection tools.  Today's masks are all about making portions of your image transparent to varying degrees.

Granted, learning masks doesn't always feel intuitive or comfortable.  Those stinking Menu commands barely hint at what the heck they actually do.  Initially masks can confuse us, annoy us and scare those body fluids right out of us.  But it's all worth it once we get past the initial hump. (that hump is a speed bump and not a mountain ... just slow down)

Can I do serious graphics without knowing masks?
Can we cook Thanksgiving Dinner on a one burner hot plate?
Sure, but a four burner stove & double oven is probably better.

Discovering the hidden powers and values of masks
isn't a sudden 'light bulb' kind of moment
it's a gradual realization.

If you get a little tense or frustrated, take a break to go read an irreverent tutorial for
grasping techno text
and then come right back here and leisurely go through this again. 

If you've been skirting about and avoiding masks cause they never made any sense,
but you really want to get this darn thing figured out once and for all,
follow Ron as he gently takes you through the Valley of Mask.

If you have trouble understanding Masks take comfort in knowledge that you are not alone.


Look at the Lettering in the image to note how it fades away at both ends. This was a simple operation using the PSP Mask editing feature over a background layer that was white.

In mask editing for the lettering layer, I made a selection of the left half of the image, filled it with a black to white gradient, moved the selection to the right half, reversed the gradient and flood filled that side too.  Deleted the mask and was done.

Use masks to:

  • Set some areas to total transparency (meaning invisible)
  • Set areas to no transparency (it looks just the same)
  • Go for various levels of transparency within the same image
  • You can even set up gradients of transparency! (very beneficial)


You should be familiar with layers & the basic tools on your tool palette prior to this tutorial.

Let's try a hands-on application

Create a new image (16.7 m colors)
with a blue background layer and an empty new layer.

Squirt some tubes onto that empty new layer. ( I used a fish tube for this example.)

Turn off the visibility on the background layer.



Let's set it so we can see what we're doing.
1 Menu >Masks >New >Show All  (Have your layer palette open and visible)
PSP 5 the layer name now shows an asterisk designating it has a active mask.
PSP 6 shows a mask icon (also a thumbnail of mask edits when you mouse over it)

2 Mask > Edit  (Let's edit this mask to make it do what we want)
a. make some areas semi transparent (see through)
b. some fully transparent (invisible)
c. one with gr
adient transparency (fading off in a direction)

Wait a minute, if I start with SHOW ALL, I don't see anything changed in my image and if I started with HIDE ALL I still don't see anything. How can I edit a mask if I can't even see it?

3 Menu >Mask >View Mask

Make certain Edit and View Mask are both checked so we can edit our mask
and can also see where we're working.

Checking View Mask is an insurance policy for confirming that you actually changed the image transparency.  All image transparency changes must appear somewhere between ruby to pink as a see through indicator.  If it looks transparent but isn't some shade of red to pink, that's layer transparency (a completely different animal) and you've gotten detoured down the wrong road with the wrong kind of transparency.

Go ahead, paint some black on your image to confirm a red checkerboard is really there. (and then undo it) The more you see of the red color over your transparency checkerboard the less you see of your image and visa versa.

3 Select paintbrush Click the foreground color to see your palette has become 256 levels of gray.  This means we're now working with 256 levels of transparency.
Each of those 256 shades from black to white colors represents a specific level (or degree) of transparency.

Black blackens out the image to full transparency (invisible) so you will be painting black on images whenever you want something invisible.  All the normal paintbrush tools will work.

I made a selection over the goldfish and painted with black over half of the selection.

Hey, when I paint black, it goes to a red checkerboard and no image!
The checkerboard is my see-though image indicating that I'm getting some degree of transparency.  Go ahead and paint the area you want fully transparent (invisible) with black.

Now select a medium gray (index 127) and paint an area to be semi-transparent. (I made a freehand selection around the fish to keep the semi transparency inside that specific area.).

Notice the red of the mask is subdued and we can see the original image although it's become semi-transparent.


Make a freehand selection over another area and then use the Fill tool to fill it with a normal white to black gradient.
Keep in mind that we are now painting 256 level gray scale.

PSP6 tip
You can mouseover the the mask icon on your palette to see your "painting transparency" edits.
Where it says "masks" in the title bar may appear or disappear (off and on) dependent on where you are in the process, so don't let that hide and seek stuff throw you.
Use your mask icon for reliable confirmation that you have a mask.

Click the View Mask and Mask Edit to off when you want to add new layers beneath the current one, and flood fill it as desired.  We already have our blue layer, so just turn its visibility back on.

(If you do add more layers without turning those View and Edit Mask buttons off, your mask notations on the palette will appear and disappear as you drag layers around, that's normal)

Our fish are now done.  We could continue to leave the mask open to add new stuff to our image ... or we can Menu > Mask >Delete

Go ahead and hit:  Menu >Mask >Delete
Calm down, this is the normal procedure.

We can choose to merge the current edited mask with the layer, or to discard the mask totally (A-bomb the mess I made, so I can start over.)  So if you like your results say merge it, if not say delete it and start over again.

There are other things that can be done, such as saving the mask while it's open to either the hard drive or the Alpha Channel, edit the mask as a selection, etc. Once you are comfortable with masks those concepts easily fall into place.

UH oh, something went wrong?

If you deleted your mask and find you are left with painted sections instead of transparency you forgot to select Mask> Edit earlier in the game and just wound up painting on your picture.

When you see that you are painting "color" (not greyscale) on your image when your intention was to edit your mask ... you've taken a wrong turn.

Use the Mask menu commands to create masks (instead of that mask icon on the layer palette) and it's a lot easier to keep track of where you actually are in the grand scheme of things.  

Now start back at the top and slowly go down through the whole thing again one more time.
As you go along ... note why each step lists the things it does.

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