All You Need To Know About Image Masking Techniques

While separating an image from a background, you might have come across several difficulties while working with finer details. Sometimes, you require the services of a professional to remove the background from an image. This is where image masking comes in. Today, we will be discussing everything you need to know about image masking and its techniques.

Let’s start with defining what image masking is.

What is Image Masking?

Image masking is a non-destructive process of image editing. It is a strategy deployed in designing software such as Photoshop; concealing some portions of the image and revealing others. It is mostly used to separate an image from its background through the efficient manipulation of an image.

Now that we have a basic understanding of what constitutes photo masking, let’s take a look at its uses.

The Uses of Image Masking

Masking controls specific areas of a photo where you have to make adjustments. There are many reasons why masking is preferred over other contemporary techniques:

Non-Destructive Technique

We can use other techniques, but we use photo masking because it is a non-destructive process. It doesn’t erase the unwanted areas permanently. We might need those areas later during image editing. This is one major quality due to which masking is more suitable and commonly used for image editing.

Background Replacement/Removal of Transparent Objects

We use image masking to separate transparent or translucent objects from an image. Experts prefer masking techniques to remove the background of glasses, bottles, sunglasses, muslin, mesh cloth, and other similar objects.

Modifying an Image Area

Modifying an image is the most common task. People in the fashion or garment industry often change the colors of dresses in their photos. An example of this is that we often come across images or pictures where the background is brighter than the foreground of an image. Hence we use masking to target darker areas to make adjustments for a more professional look.

Making Collage Images

People also use image masking techniques to make collages. You can create interesting collages by applying masking to various images. Soft brushes and gradients of gray are used to make the transition smoother in collages so they would look natural.

Making Certain Areas Transparent

We can use photo masking to show specific portions and control transparencies of different layers and areas of an image. For example, you paint with gray color on a very bright sky to make it dimmer. You can do this with other techniques as well, but masking is easier.

Types of Masking Techniques

Layer Masking

Layer image masking is a feature used in Adobe Photoshop that helps users to hide or reveal specific portions of images. It specifically deals with objects like hair, fur, rice, and pulses. You can change the opacity of certain parts of an image with a layer mask. To change the opacity of the entire picture, you will have to change the opacity of a layer using the layer panel opacity slider.

You can also control the visibility of a layer, making any portion partially or completely visible. Moreover, painting black color on the layer mask hides the layer that contains the mask and lets you see what is underneath that layer. The edge transformation can also get smoother with the use of a soft brush.

Clipping Masking

This Photoshop image masking technique uses a layer to determine the transparency of another layer. An initial layer is placed at the bottom of the layer that we want to make transparent. We use the bottom layer to control the visibility of the layer above. This technique is the complete opposite of a layer mask. While a layer mask uses only one layer, a clipping mask uses multiple layers to hide portions of images. Always remember that the clipping mask and clipping path are two separate things.

People use this technique in a wide variety of applications, from creating collages to making selective adjustments on layers. The most notable thing about this masking technique is that it doesn’t require you to make any manual selection but uses one layer to refine the visible area of another layer.

Alpha Channel Masking

Alpha channel image masking is a bit different and more challenging to use than the earlier techniques. Every photo comes with varying attributes that require different types of masking. You cannot apply a layer or clipping masks to a photo with hair or fur. This technique allows you to apply accurate masks around edges that are difficult to select otherwise.

It uses the channel palette in your image to separate certain edges based on their contrast. You can use this contrast to make your photo black or white, which allows you to easily mask an entire background.

Vector Mask

A vector mask is a resolution-independent path, used to maintain the sharp edges of an image. This technique is created by using anchor points with pen or shape tools. Vector photo masking may not come across as the most commonly used technique, but it is still an important constituent in Photoshop.

Gradient Masking

Gradient image masking is almost similar to layer masking, but it uses a gradient adjustment than a brush tool. Blending adjustments are easier because this photo masking option gives an advantage of a clean transition between visibility and transparency.

The application of a gradient tool adjustment on a layer mask creates gradient masks. You can create seamless transitions on a layer mask by using black or white in your gradient.


Many industries use image masking, and its application in e-commerce is also well-documented. Although this article has only discussed its application in Photoshop, it is not merely a Photoshop technique; the idea and concept are applicable for all the other photo editing software.

Photo masking can transform the look of the entire photograph. It can make masked images look professional while giving you the leverage of reusing that photo as and when there are any last-minute changes. It doesn’t destroy the original image and is very easy to make changes to it. We hope that this article was a useful guide in explaining various image masking techniques.

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