Fear not the dreaded mask, for verily, it is your FRIEND!

As always : this exercise has been kept simple because it's aimed at helping to teach the PRINCIPLES of working with masks and to get you started.  It is really MORE than worth the small effort it takes to get comfortable with the whole business ..... your imagination is the only limit to what you can do with them after that!

Note : The graphics don't look great on this page because of 50%+ compression to save you download time. 

Understanding Masks is a matter of Black & White!

Using a mask is exactly like using a stencil -- I know you have heard this before -- and it's just as easy. (The great thing about a mask is, because you can invert it, it's like having two stencils for the price of one.)  So, think of your mask as a stencil -- just a piece of cardboard with holes cut into it, nothing more.

Using a mask one way : if you load the mask into an image you have on your screen and do nothing else, it is exactly the same as if you had laid a cardboard stencil over the picture.  You will see the "stencil" itself (the cardboard) and whatever parts of the image below show through the "holes."  When you remove the mask, it will leave behind only what you saw showing through the "holes."

Using the mask another way : applying colour or effects to those "holes" is exactly like applying paint to the holes in a stencil.  Only the holes are filled with colour -- the rest of your picture will remain untouched. 

It's really that simple!  Don't let BS baffle you.

Inverting Mask Data

You have "two stencils in one" with a PSP mask because "inverting" the mask reverses what shows or doesn't show through the "stencil." 

You can either create your mask with the data on your screen "inverted" so that black becomes white and vice versa, or you can invert the mask afterwards when you use it.  It makes no difference which you choose.  My own preference is to create masks with the data inverted -- for no very good reason at all.  By the time you have finished you will understand and make your own choices. For now, just follow along with what I do.

Making a Simple Mask from a Single Graphic Font Character

Open a new image and create a simple black and white image using some font characters. It really doesn't matter whether you use white on black or black on white.  I have used a few dingbat stars in different point sizes.

spacer.gif (861 bytes)stars1.jpg (6209 bytes)

Creating and Saving your Mask

When you have what you want ......

Go to Masks/New
Choose : From Image
Leave "This Window" as the option
Leave Source Luminance checked
You can have "Invert mask data" checked or unchecked, as explained above

Click OK

Now, save your mask.  You can save it to disk, which will make it available at any time (via the Masks/Load from disk option) and/or you can save it to an Alpha Channel, or both.  If you think you will use a mask you are creating on more than one image, save it to disk.  If the mask is specific to the image you are working on and of use there only, save it to an Alpha Channel.  (There are full details about working with Alpha Channels and masks in this tutorial on Using a Mask for Oval Frames so I won't repeat them here.)

(If you save your masks to Alpha Channel they will be saved along with image.)

Applying Colour to the Mask

Your mask is now in place.  If you can't see anything different on your image, go back to the Masks menu and check "View mask."  You should now see parts of your image covered by a see-through red film.  These red bits are the areas of your mask that are equivalent to the cardboard of your "stencil."   Whatever is red won't be changed by anything you do.  Note : later when you are more familiar with masks, you probably won't bother with "View mask."   (I prefer not to have it checked.)

If you find that the bits you want to colour are red, no problem -- just go to the masks menu and check "mask invert."  Below are two examples of the same mask both inverted and uninverted.

stars2.jpg (19003 bytes)

Here's what happens when colour is applied to the image.  In this case a blue flood fill was applied to either image :

stars3.jpg (19024 bytes)

And here, I have applied Harry the Raver's "Sinfinity" filter to either mask.

stars4.jpg (24776 bytes)

Getting Rid of the Mask

You will notice that the bits of your image showing through the mask film are the familiar squares indicating a transparency layer.  When you started out, your image was a regular "flattened" image -- applying a mask has automatically turned the image into a transparent layer.  This is great!  You can make a quick tube, and do other things ..... but let me not get started on the joy of layers!

The next thing is to get rid of the mask. There are two ways to do this.

1)  If you want the red bits of your mask to be white, that's easy!   You can go directly to the layers menu.  Select Layers/Merge/Merge all flatten.  When PSP does a "flatten" merge, it makes anything that was transparent white, with the following result to the "filters" examples above.

stars5.jpg (21076 bytes)

2) Otherwise : go to the Masks menu and choose "delete."  You will be asked if you wish the mask to be merged into the current layer.  You do :)  (If you choose no, the work your mask has done will disappear.)  The difference between merging the mask with the current layer from the "layers" menu as done in the example above and merging it by deleting it from the "Masks" menu is that in this next example you are left with a transparent image!  A big difference!   (You can always go to the Layers menu and merge/flatten at any time.)  So, using the blue filled stars for this example, this is what you will see when you delete your mask.

stars6.jpg (18138 bytes)

Using the Transparency Layer left behind by your Mask

Because your image is now a transparent layer, you can use it as such.  (Hopefully most of you are familiar with layers by now. if not see my Introductory Layers tutorial.)

So, there are several things you can do next. 

1) You can select the transparent areas with the magic wand and colour them in some way, as you would any selection the way you always do, or :

2) You can use layers :))  You still have a several choices here ......

a) The simplest thing to do is to open a new layer, then drag and drop it below the background layer.

layers.jpg (10766 bytes)

With "Layer 1" active (the label bar is depressed) fill what has now become your background layer with colour, filters or anything else you want.

b) With the layers control panel open, drag the "background" layer onto the "new layer" icon in the bottom left corner.  This will create a copy of the layer, with the mask in place.  (You can see there is a mask active in a layer by the asterisk against the layer's label.)  Your layer control panel should now look like this :

layers1.jpg (13467 bytes)

Working on the "copy" layer.  Go to the "Masks" menu and check "Invert."  You can now work on using the same mask on either of the two layers, one mask being the opposite to the other.  You can move between the layers filling the stars in one, the background in the other and so on, testing out different effects. This might seem a little confusing at first.  If it is, stick with Method a)

Note : I found that as I was doing this tutorial I had built up a HUGE undo buffer and PSP5 started to do some very weird things with the colours ...... undoing right back to the beginning of everything fixed that.  Either that, or close your image (which you should have saved as suggested above) and reopen it.

Either way, you can do what you like with the masks now.  Some examples below -- a filter was applied to the image on the left, the stars on the right were filled one by one with the airbrush. This is the beauty of masks -- you can change your mind a thousand times as to how you want things to look, and try out any number of effects with the minimum of effort and fuss.

stars7.jpg (20729 bytes)

When you have the result you want, merge/flatten your layers.

Getting a little bit fancier, but not much!

Make any image you like, or try creating something quick and easy with some graphic fonts.  Here I created a two-minute night scene with the Cityscape Font, some stars and a circle.

scene.jpg (11059 bytes)

Next I created a mask from the image above as we learned.  I checked the "invert mask data option" when creating the mask.  I then duplicated the background layer, along with its mask, by dragging it onto the new layer icon as previously described in 2b above. 

I don't want to see that layer for now, so I activated the "layer visibility toggle."  (Release the visibility toggle whenever you're ready to see what everything looks like.)  The layer control panel now looks like this :

layers4.jpg (16147 bytes)

Next, I inverted the mask in the background layer, and coloured the sky with a linear gradient fill.  With the mask still active, I made a selection around the windows of the buildings with the point-to-point selection tool ...

scene1.jpg (26167 bytes)

then flooded the mask with yellow gradient.  Only the windows were filled, because the mask is now active only in the selected area.  Neat huh?

scene2.jpg (11650 bytes)

Now, I moved up to the duplicate layer (copy of background layer) by clicking on its label bar.  (This is the original mask, not inverted, which will work on everything that was black in the original image.)

First I flooded everything with a brown to yellow linear gradient.   Next, I followed the same procedures as before, selecting roughly around the moon and flooding it green, then round the stars and flooding them yellow-to-red.  When you're happy with what you've achieved, merge/flatten your layers.

The result of my effort is below :) It ain't no work of art (it isn't meant to be!) but you get the idea!  (I just noticed I messed up with the windows in the faerie tower .. too bad!)

 scene3.jpg (16722 bytes)


Some General Notes and Hints

1 : If you make masks from coloured images rather than black and white, the mask will act in exactly the same way; however, the darkness (blackness) or lightness (whiteness) of the colours used for the mask will affect how much of the new colours you apply will be allowed to filter through.  (This makes for lots of great possibilities and effects.)

2 : If you have a mask on disk, it will adjust its proportions to fit the image you load it into. (Masks/Load from disk.)  It is therefore important to take proportion into account when working with the same mask on different images.

3 : In this exercise I have used graphic font characters to illustrate things.  Everything you learn to do with masks here can therefore be applied to text -- which will instantly expand your text effects horizons 100-fold!

4 : Black and white clipart makes ideal masks!


There are many other fantastic uses for masks -- but there's just too much for this tutorial.  If you have grasped everything here, you should feel confident enough to go ahead and experiment on your own.  I am doing that myself every day and still have a LOT to learn! Another tutorial in due course (maybe!) will explain more fully the things you can achieve by applying masks over photographs and more complex graphic art.

Harry the Raver's freeware filter set can be downloaded from PlugIn Com HQ

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