Quick Tip – Use Layer Masks to Erase in Photoshop
We’ve all had to work with photos that need to be cut down and have parts removed. Do you reach for the Eraser tool first? If so, you’re locking yourself in to changes.
Here’s a less destructive alternative using layer masks.
Erasing is Destructive
Sure, it may be nice for a quick fix, but erasing completely removes content from play. The only way to retrieve it is through backtracking the history panel or keeping the history brush handy.
But how many of us are perfect the first time? That’s the reason I like web design so much. Nobody will penalize you if mistakes are made at first. It’s your ability to fix them that matters.
Using the eraser makes it harder to go back and make changes after the fact. How do we get around this? The answer lies in layer masks.
Masks Just Hide the Content
Let’s use this picture I took last year of a flock of geese to demonstrate. The solid blue background will make removing the background much easier.
We’ll start by using the magic wand tool to select the sky background.
Ordinarily, pressing the delete key would take care of the background just fine. We want to avoid destructive erasing though. Instead, we’re going to take a couple more steps to make it easier. The goal for layer masks is to maintain as much of the original image as possible.
Before we can remove the background using masks, we have to switch the selection to the geese. Press ctrl-shift-I (cmd-shift-I for Macs) to invert the selection. Now that we’ve got the geese rounded up, it’s time to apply the layer mask.
With the geese layer selected, add a mask using the button below.
Photoshop will automatically mask according to the current.
With layer masks, black is hidden and white is visible. Here’s a look at what the mask for the geese looks like:
Not bad! This is important because the background is still there. It’s just not visible. If you wanted to show the background, it would be a simple matter of adding more white to the layer mask in the appropriate area.
And that’s more or less it! Same effect, less commitment.
Better Practice, Less Headache
Since I’ve gotten into the habit of favoring layer masks over the eraser, I’ve saved myself a lot of problems. If I accidentally deleted something I need, it’s not such a big setback, I’ll simply make it visible again.
Here’s a question for the crowd: Is there a time where using the eraser tool is more productive? Let us know what you think in the comments.