Tutorial: Creative Ways to Use Masks

Who this is for: Beginners or anyone who is interested in using masks creatively for digital mixed media.

What you’ll need:
  • Affinity Photo
  • Photoshop
  • GIMP
  •  or any other program that has layers and masks

In this post I will guide you in how to use masks in 4 different ways. We’ll start off with the clipping mask, then move on to using black and white photos and graphic elements/textures and, finally, how to use a mask as a stencil.

Mask Tutorial Featured Image

One of the easiest masking techniques is the clipping mask, known as “Rasterize To Mask” in Affinity Photo. Starting with your black and white design on one layer and your photo on the layer underneath, you simply click on the design layer, click on “Layer”, then click on “Rasterize to Mask”. To finish the look, select the mask layer and the photo layer underneath, then click on “Layer” followed by “Merge Selected”. Below you can see the difference a black and white mask makes compared to a white and black mask.

Clipping Path 1a
Clipping Path Before
Clipping Path 1b
Clipping Path After

Video coming once I have a chance to record it.

Another creative masking technique is to use a black and white photo. You will want a very contrasty photo with white, black and gray. The process is the same as above, make sure your black and white photo is on the layer above your background photo or texture. For an added bonus, you can invert your black and white photo; this will change blacks to whites and whites to blacks.

Masking with Photo Black and White before
Masking with Photo Black and White Before
Masking with Photo Black and White After
Masking with Photo Black and White After
Masking with Photo White and Black Before
Masking with Photo White and Black Before
Masking with Photo White and Black After
Masking with Photo White and Black After

Video coming once I have a chance to record it.

Similar to the black and white photo as a mask, is using a black and white photo of a graphic element…textures, shadows, close ups of trees, etc. For this next example I took a close up of tree bark and will use it as a mask.

Masking with Graphic Photo Before
Masking with Graphic Photo Before
Masking with Graphic Photo After
Masking with Graphic Photo After
Masking with Graphic Photo Inverted Before
Masking with Graphic Photo Inverted Before
Masking with Graphic Photo Inverted After
Masking with Graphic Photo Inverted After

Video coming once I have a chance to record it.

My last example of using a mask creatively is as a stencil. You may need to watch the video to see it in action, but I will try my best to explain it to you. You will need 3 layers, your bottom image, your black and white “mask” layer, and an empty layer. In Affinity Photo you will need to rasterize your black and white layer first. Make sure the layer is selected, then click on Layer, go down to Rasterize and click. You should now see “pixel” to the right of the thumbnail.

Next, you want to select the “Flood Select Tool” (Affinity Photo) or “Magic Wand” tool (Photoshop). Click on either the black or white area, whichever has the most connections. You should now see the “marching ants”. You now want to turn off the mask layer, uncheck the box to the far right. You should see the marching ants around your graphics. Now click on the blank layer, then click on the brush tool. Choose a brush and a color and you are now ready to stencil. You are not limited to just one blank layer, you can create many layers each with a different color. You can also repeat the process, and rotate your stencil, move it, or even invert it. Just remember to Command/Control + D to deselect the marching ants.

Masking As Stencil Before
Masking As Stencil Before
Masking As Stencil After
Masking As Stencil After

Video coming once I have a chance to record it.

I hope this post gave you some ideas as to how to creatively use masks. Have any questions? Ask below. Want to share your creation? Link back to this post.

Loggin' Off Debbie

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8 thoughts on “Tutorial: Creative Ways to Use Masks

  1. I love reading about these techniques. I only have an iPhone (and an iPad that I really just use for work) but some of my photo editing apps on my phone use masks.

    • I’m glad you liked the post, Aixa. I use Affinity Photo on my iPad Pro and my laptop. Trying to use masks on the phone is tricky as the screen is so small, but there are those who do amazing work(s) on their phones. I prefer the size of a tablet or laptop, especially when it comes to masking. Speaking of using masks on your phone, I loved the photo of you at Jardins de Monet that you turned into a painted look (except for yourself).

      • Thank you! That was a little mask over the filter in an app called Enlight and it was fun to create. I tried Affinity Pro on my iPad Pro once but the learning curve was steep. I’m impressed that you can do your work on an iPad.

        • I have Enlight, don’t use it much. Affinity Photo is very much like Photoshop, but since I was used to Photoshop, Affinity Photo was very easy for me to pick up. And I like that I don’t have to pay a monthly fee to use it. 🙂

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