Articles, Blog

How to Mask in Photoshop. Don’t Erase!

September 7, 2019

Hey, everyone! Howard Pinsky here with a Photoshop
public service announcement. If you’ve ever touched the Eraser Tool when you’re editing
in Photoshop, you’re doing it wrong! Whenever I get the chance, I try to promote non-destructive
editing. The ability to make an edit in Photoshop, but easily reverse it later on if you have
to. Today’s video is going to show you how to erase non-destructively, using Layer Masks.
Let me show you how this works. Here I have a document that contains one simple
layer. In this case, my goal is to remove the background in this photo, leaving only
the subject in the foreground. Beginning Photoshop users will usually go straight for the Eraser,
as that’s the tool that makes the most sense to those just starting out. Let’s look at
why this is a terrible idea. When I start erasing the background of this
image, it certainly seems like it’s doing what we want it to, but just like using an
eraser in traditional art, this process is very destructive. At this point, if the document
is saved, and closed, everything that you erased is lost. So unless you have a duplicate
of that layer, when that document is opened again, there’s no easy way to bring back that
data. On the flip side, there’s a much more efficient
way to erase, parts of your layers. Using the same layer
as an example, instead of grabbing the dreadful Eraser, we’re going to be using a Layer Mask,
instead! To add a Layer Mask to a layer, you can click
on the “Add Layer Mask” icon at the bottom of your Layers panel. This will place a white
box beside the layer’s thumbnail. The reason that the Layer Mask is white, is
because the basic rule of thumb, is that white is visible, while black is hidden. So now,
instead of erasing, we’re actually going to be brushing, with either a black or white
brush. As I paint black on the Layer Mask, I’m seeing the same result as I saw when I
used the Eraser, so what’s the difference? Well this time, nothing is being destructively
removed. Instead, you’re simply hiding parts of your layer, which can easily be brought
back by switching to a white brush, and painting. There’s another big advantage of using Layer
Masks. If you’ve ever tried to use the Eraser on a Smart Object, an Adjustment Layer, or
a Vector shape, you’ve likely seen a warning which tells you that the layer is not directly
editable, and that it must be rasterized, which isn’t the smartest move. Rasterizing
a Smart Object or a Vector shape destroys its original properties, which defeats the
purpose of using those layer types to begin with! With Layer Masks, you can simply add a mask
to any type of layer, and just like we did a moment ago, hide portions of the layer with
black, or reveal with white. Completely non-destructive. So if you’re one to grab the eraser tool in
Photoshop, next time you go for it, visualize me smacking your hand as you move the cursor
across your screen to the Tools Bar. Just don’t do it. I honestly can’t think of a good
reason why you should use the eraser rather than using Layer Masks. Unless you’re a traditional
digital painter, and you only work on one layer, and some people still do. As always, thanks for watching, make sure
to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos, make sure to check out my website
at, and now make sure to follow me on Google+. Nathaniel from
and I are doing a weekly Google+ Hangout where we’re going to have all sorts of guests. Last
week we had Jared Polin from FroKnowsPhoto, this week we have Justin Seeley from,
and who knows who we’ll have next. Take care!


  • Reply Polly Lolly July 13, 2013 at 11:45 am

    layer masks always confuse me, i can never get it right…lol. anyway, great video!

  • Reply noelsoong777 July 14, 2013 at 2:16 am

    I like the documentary style of your new vid.

  • Reply Larry Anda July 19, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing this tute! — subscribed!

  • Reply Thomas Hinson July 21, 2013 at 3:36 am

    What kind of mic are you using?

  • Reply Nick Raspa July 28, 2013 at 9:29 am

    Thank you. I learned something and I believe it will make a big difference.

  • Reply Aeladya July 30, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I can think of one instance where using the eraser tool is a good idea. Editing an animated gif on top of a still image so it blends, unfortunately I couldn't get layer masks to work with that and only the eraser tool will work or so it seems. If you know how to do that with a layer mask I'll be happy to use them for that effect.

  • Reply chiklitz July 30, 2013 at 7:00 pm

    thank you! for some reason i could never quite grasp the whole mask concept, now i get it and understand how/why to use them!!! you have converted an erase fan to masks!

  • Reply rainb0w July 31, 2013 at 2:32 am


  • Reply Lisa McGovern August 2, 2013 at 6:06 pm

    Howie – love and look forward to your tutorials! Is there a non destructive way when using the dodge and burn tool, too? I have tons of old photos (color and b&w) that need restoring and I don't want to retouch the original layer/photo. Any suggestions? Thank you.

  • Reply Gabby Liriano August 4, 2013 at 8:53 pm

    As a noob in photoshop at first i was like "ok?" and then I was like "OK!!!!"
    Hahah you do a great Job doing tutorials.

  • Reply Harry Oliver August 9, 2013 at 2:03 pm

    I always wondered how people brought back an image by switching to white, all makes sense now :O

  • Reply Luly P. August 10, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks, it's really simple to understand straight to the point. Subscribing!

  • Reply JenxRodwell August 12, 2013 at 6:18 am

    I can give you a simple reason – you're drawing something. Editing photos and already existing images is great and all, but if you need to draw something, you can't just go and clip mask every single stroke you accidentally make a bit different. Well you could, but your image will turn into a nightmare of masks and needless pixels.
    Aside from that, I completely agree with your advice.

  • Reply Howard Pinsky August 17, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Archived video: Are you using the Eraser Tool in Photoshop? STOP! Masking is a much better solution. This video explains! 

    Subscribe for more free Photoshop tutorials:

  • Reply Karon Price August 23, 2013 at 6:49 am

    Thank you for sharing the wealth of knowledge … Well appreciated as a film photographer I depended on my lab to make me look good as far as exposer. Now with digital I need to learn, and you Howard, are an amazing teacher.thank you for all of your gifts that you share. I am a better editor because of you and only you. I have went to school and I just couldn't get or understand their methods I get you

  • Reply Diaper Rash August 26, 2013 at 1:45 am

    Love your tutorials – you're presentation is outstanding!

    As a Photoshop noob I only erase parts of images that I don't need to reduce unnecessary large file sizes

  • Reply Javier Rojas August 26, 2013 at 7:32 am

    I really like those Ai and Ps pillows anyone know where I can find them?

  • Reply Dev September 4, 2013 at 9:04 am

    howard.. your voice, your words are damn clear and dats why i understood each single thing darn easily. you rock buddy m/

  • Reply Nishant Mudgal September 25, 2013 at 10:57 am

    Using a Blue mic for v.o, is very fancy 🙂 Good tutorial mate.

  • Reply Jazzy4lyf September 26, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Wow, nice! This is amazing.

  • Reply Skip Michael October 1, 2013 at 1:55 am

    Mr. Pinsky,
    Again thank you very much for a very interesting and informative video.. loved it and learned in three minutes what I wanted.

  • Reply Dan Weatherley October 1, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Lester from GTA V! Sounds like him ;D

  • Reply Jackson Pon October 22, 2013 at 5:58 pm

    nice and clear!!!!!
    short and sweet!!!!

  • Reply phisean October 26, 2013 at 6:05 am

    fuck and you!!!!

  • Reply phisean October 26, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Dear Sir, I have worked many years with brush, I am skilled of hand and I don't require mask because I not have disturbing face like boss-man Howard. Humbly yours, phisean

  • Reply Mohamed Noor December 6, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    Thanks alot Howard, seriouly I owe you alot.

  • Reply Monica Perez January 30, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Thank you for making it short and to the point! Exactly what I needed.

  • Reply MrHollick February 10, 2014 at 1:20 am

    You have ruined the eraser tool for me now! Well this certainly makes sense! Thanks for another awesome video!

  • Reply zak ryals February 12, 2014 at 11:59 am

    Just make a selection you tool.

  • Reply zak ryals February 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Also smart objects are editable. Like you dont know that already.

  • Reply nodoxy February 15, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    It's the little tips like this that help me become better.  Thanks for smacking my hand.

  • Reply The Caveman March 6, 2014 at 8:44 am

    I've always struggled to understand the layer mask but you've explained it beautifully, thank you

  • Reply TechClicko May 28, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Hi @Howard Pinsky, thanks for making such a useful tutorial. I liked it very much as I'm not an expert in photoshop editing work, I usually use eraser tool but from now, I'll only go with mask tool.. Thanks for improving my photoshop image editing knowledge.

  • Reply Safak - June 16, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Hey thanks this video makes sense i know what layer mask is now very helpfull 🙂

  • Reply Alma Dela Rosa July 8, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Great job!

  • Reply Rhonda Moore July 17, 2014 at 1:40 am

    I just subscribed to Photoshop CC, so I'm a total newbie. Your videos are so easy to follow, yet they are very detailed. Thank you!

  • Reply amikonyan July 22, 2014 at 12:15 pm

    Haha! I love your attitude xD

  • Reply Jamesha Wooten July 28, 2014 at 1:40 am

    omg thank you my eraser would not erase but it turns out i had black brush as my white brush and white as black!!! thank you so much XD 

  • Reply Karl Hans August 1, 2014 at 5:13 am

    Hi, thanks for this tutorial. I have 2 question though.
    1. Can you give me an example of why rasterizing is bad?
    2. How do i freely color inside a drawing i made without going outside the boundaries of the stroke?

    Thanks 🙂

  • Reply Irvin Balagosa August 4, 2014 at 1:28 am

    cool stuff! thanks for the awesome tutorials. should start masking and avoid erasing 

  • Reply Martin September 3, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    I've clicked ok to that Rasterize error so many times, never again! Promise 😯

  • Reply Michael McCrary October 13, 2014 at 4:43 am

    thanks for this! ive been using photoshop for years but had yet to master the black/white mask paintbrush. awesome tool to know about

  • Reply ohcrazydiamond November 4, 2014 at 6:52 am


  • Reply Apathetic Indecisive November 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    i haven't ever used layer mask, great tip.

  • Reply Kritant Sao Bheekharry November 15, 2014 at 12:48 pm

    Thanks a lot man 🙂

  • Reply Jackin Rackin November 27, 2014 at 5:02 am

    that hair gives me cancer!

  • Reply Genesis Revelation December 7, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    very helpful 🙂

  • Reply ERIC FONT December 27, 2014 at 7:18 am

    Excellent, thanks

  • Reply Sandro Algra Barradas January 17, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    I can think of 2 good reasons to use the eraser:
    – If you're 100% sure you want to delete some information. Using the mask in this case would be like sweeping dirt under the rug. It just complicates your photoshop file.
    – The eraser tool can be used stylistically, like when you want to trim a few brush strokes.

  • Reply Spooky montages January 20, 2015 at 6:54 am

    whats up!! I'll quickscope u all from the mt everest, im a xxxxxxxfazeclanmlgsniper_xxxxxx

  • Reply Ishwar Singh January 29, 2015 at 1:42 am

    I like it.

  • Reply King Web Dev March 25, 2015 at 9:18 pm

    Hey guys, I've got a small channel with a few photoshop tutorials on I'd love some support or feedback on how I can improve and capture your attention so please check me out! Also great video really instructive Howard.

  • Reply Abigail Leech June 4, 2015 at 6:50 pm

    I really wish I'd seen this video last night while I was messing with edits!

  • Reply DergonFrost June 5, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    There's so much about Photoshop I have no idea about, thanks for the tip.

  • Reply Domagoj Barlović June 15, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    thank you so much 🙂

  • Reply Maorimaestro Smith July 13, 2015 at 5:25 am

    Thank you so much i could never understand the fundamentals of masking watching videos on here until your video 🙂 thank you

  • Reply InsightONE July 27, 2015 at 9:57 am

    Thank you so much..!! I knew there had to be a simpler approach. I was cleaning up a sketch and with so many details, its unbelievable how tedious it got.

  • Reply Michelle Lincomfelt August 14, 2015 at 4:43 am

    I have come to an issue. I am using the layer mask and when PS figured out what I was trying to erase it was easy when the colors weren't the same, but now I am to the point where the layer mask isn't working any more. It won't erase the parts it thinks it should be there. I don't know how to fix it other than the erase tool. What do I do? Thanks.

  • Reply Beckoning Chasm September 4, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    Great information. Typically when I'm working on an image, I'll duplicate the layer before doing anything, then hide the original. That way the original is untouched. But this sounds like it might be a better solution. (I'm still going to duplicate and hide the original, though. Old habits die hard.)

  • Reply Oak Stream September 6, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Considering myself warned! Thanks…from someone exploring basics and who found this video helpful.

  • Reply Cheat The Game September 12, 2015 at 5:01 am

    These are outstanding Photoshop "How To's" – Thank you very much.

  • Reply Marcos Da Silva October 15, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Killin the pillowgame Ai Ps

  • Reply L H October 18, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    Using layer masks as opposed to the eraser tool is the first thing I remember being stressed in one of my very first Photoshop lessons years ago. . . I NEVER use the eraser tool 👍🏽👍🏽

  • Reply FamilyFun3132 November 30, 2015 at 3:04 am

    You're awesome, Howard. We really appreciate you. We will be leaving a tip on Patreon. Thanks again for all of these extremely well explained and detailed videos. You're doing an excellent job.

  • Reply Prod. Hxrford December 1, 2015 at 10:54 am

    how do you switch back to normal brush mode

  • Reply Peter D. Gutierrez January 1, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Mr. Pinsky!!! You are a GENIUS! Thank you!

  • Reply Kavigai The Bridge January 25, 2016 at 11:34 am

    can you explain vector masking

  • Reply Rayhan Qadri February 24, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    Your videos are the best period. No one and I mean no one provide clarity. I highly recommend PS begginers to watch your tutorials. Thanks for putting out such an awesome teaching tool.

  • Reply ne_skaju March 8, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    Only noobs and careless people erase. It's also much easier to use mask, because you can have X button to swap pallet, instead of 2 different buttons for brush/eraser (same on tablet. its easier to press swap pallet from black to white, than constantly rotating the pen)

  • Reply Deraz M March 20, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    i came here for proper masking…….. didn't get shit

  • Reply LM10HD FCB March 22, 2016 at 8:48 am

    why did uh make this video. it is making me feel like I'm such a fool

  • Reply jfrux April 8, 2016 at 1:37 pm

    Is there a way to be non-destructive with the logic of the Background Eraser tool?

  • Reply Trovik April 19, 2016 at 4:26 pm

    thank you!

  • Reply Rianne Gregory May 11, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    This has saved my life, I used to use this technique all the time but forgot it because I stopped using photoshop

  • Reply SyabilAniq May 25, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    thanks 😀 , great, a very informational and helpful video

  • Reply Sandy June 4, 2016 at 6:19 am

    what pen are u using ?

  • Reply dim December July 20, 2016 at 11:49 pm

    take your thumb up, you good man

  • Reply AzureLPS August 20, 2016 at 5:31 pm

    You saved my life. Thank you!!

  • Reply Rifqi Anjis September 12, 2016 at 1:05 pm

    u must buy a new desk, like earthquake -_-

  • Reply Takuro-kun December 9, 2016 at 8:29 am

    Why do you sound like Otacon from Metal Gear ._. But thanks for the tutorial tho

  • Reply Tony Beadle December 24, 2016 at 9:07 am

    Excellent video, thank you

  • Reply Francis Ip March 8, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    great tips. Thanks

  • Reply Sophia Sevilla April 27, 2017 at 4:55 am

    thank you so much for this

  • Reply Shiksha "Bollygirl" Mahtani May 5, 2017 at 1:44 am

    LOL so funny, love this. Thanks so much for the clear explanation. This REALLY helped :))

  • Reply Juliana Cheatem May 29, 2017 at 3:14 am

    Thank you so much!

  • Reply Lev K June 26, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    good tip for beginners thumbs up.

  • Reply thelittleburntpotato August 16, 2017 at 10:46 pm


  • Reply Amity Filmmaking August 17, 2017 at 2:19 pm

    Thank you for making this short video. This does seem better than erasing. I thought there is a way to mask by selecting around an object though. Someone mentioned it, but still trying to figure it out.

  • Reply Anup Narvekar September 1, 2017 at 3:14 pm

    The videos really teaches properly within no time. Thanks for the video.

  • Reply Devanshi J September 8, 2017 at 11:36 am

    This is amazing! Thank you. I can use masking in Frame Animation making it perfect for Gifs!

  • Reply Nadiah Izzati November 19, 2017 at 7:29 am


  • Reply 1 A.M. January 30, 2018 at 11:07 pm

    Thank you so much for that!! Been doing it wrong for a while

  • Reply timo February 22, 2018 at 10:52 pm

    magic eraser tool one click and yoru good lol this is more work than needed

  • Reply soulmusic April 17, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    Can the background eraser be used for isolating hair, similar to the Refine Edge tool?

  • Reply MD.SHAMI Rahman July 29, 2018 at 6:42 am

    Thnx learn a new thing. Cheers

  • Reply ZA November 12, 2018 at 3:55 am

    I used to want to erase myself from existence, but now I want to layer mask my self from existence. Thank you for taking me one step closer to nirvana.

  • Reply Turbat G December 20, 2018 at 4:33 am

    Thank you so much been stuck on this !

  • Reply ibukun adegola April 2, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    "Google Plus" loooooooool😂

  • Reply Dimentive April 24, 2019 at 9:10 am

    Thanks for these videos.

  • Reply richa gayatri August 15, 2019 at 7:50 pm

    thanx…i got solution for my project.

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