Skip to content

How to use an image as an Image Mask

I was intrigued to discover that a .jpg image could be used as a Photoshop Adjustment layer mask. Below are the steps I used to pursue this….

1. First, open a test image in Photoshop and create an Adjustment layer. A Levels Adjustment layer will be fine. Adjust the test image by moving the small Levels’ sliders, else the effect of the Adjustment layer mask may not be apparent.
2. Use File > Place Embedded to open the image you wish to use as a mask in Photoshop. Note that an image need not be very large to be used as a layer mask. The embedded image will appear in a new layer.
3. Drag “handles” to fit the embedded image as desired. You can even drag an embedded image beyond the boundaries of the existing image if you want to. The image may also be rotated, hold mouse pointer just outside the handles for this option to appear. Things are quite set once you hit “Enter.” But you may use Edit > Transform > Distort to further shape the image.
4. Click the embedded image and press Ctrl + a to select the entire image (or Select > All).
5. Pres Ctrl + c to copy the selected image.
6. Hold Alt and click the test image’s Adjustment layer mask to view mask at full size and centered in Photoshop.
7. Click Ctrl + v to paste the embedded image into the mask. It is now a layer mask.
8. Click the embedded layer’s “eye” icon to make the embedded layer invisible or delete the layer if you are finished with it. Else it may block all layers below.
9. Masks need not be of high resolution, but it certainly helps to have the same aspect ratio (2:3 or 1:1 etc.).

Suggestions:
A. With some creative layering, you may have to change an Adjustment layer’s Blend mode to (perhaps) Dissolve or Divide or any other Blend Mode that prevents the adjustment layer from obscuring other layers.
B. Change the Adjustment layer Opacity from 100% if you wish to lower the intensity.
C. Invert any mask using Crtl + I.
D. Copy any mask to new layer using Alt + drag and drop.
E. Click on layer mask for feathering, smoothing, and other options.
F. Remember, with masks, black conceals but white reveals. Yes, you may use any shade of gray if you wish for a more subtle effect.
G. You can always blur a mask to control sharper edges using Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
H. Use Image > Apply Image to use a copy of your image as a mask in any Adjustment layer. Ctrl + I will then invert that mask making it quite useful in my experience.
J. Photoshop Adjustment layer Opacity adjusts everything in a layer. Layer Fill applies to layer “styles” (Click fx at the bottom of the Layers panel for layer Effects).
K. Add a layer mask to any layer by clicking on the layer, then clicking the “Add a layer mask” icon [o] at the bottom of the Layers panel.

Below, an illustration of a .jpg image used as a mask within a Photoshop’s Adjustment layer. Notice that the embedded photo in the top layer is rendered “invisible” by clicking the “eye” icon, else it would block the layers below. Delete this layer after selecting, copying, and pasting into mask. Here, I use a Layers Adjustment layer for no particular reason other than for illustration.

Below, the mask used above has a Gaussian Blur applied, “Smog3333.” It was a brick wall once upon a time but I used Topaz Studio and Photoshop’s Blur > Gaussian Blur to make it something else.

Another example…same room! Some of these images are “pushed” beyond reason a bit for the sake of illustration. Image below has two .jpg images for masks.

Below, an image mask being used as both a mask and a background texture.

Below, what lovely “Modern Art” we can contrive using creative masking. Much better than AI art!! A little busy perhaps.

Below is the image used as the image mask, as you can see above. It was distorted horizontally when embedded to fit the aspect ratio of the image. I inverted the mask in two layers. The mask was created in CorelDRAW and exported as a .jpg (JPEG) image at 571 kilobytes. It is simply a”Pen” design copied and pasted together five times. Won’t be getting an art award for that! But it has intriguing possibilities as a layer mask. I used a Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur) with this mask to produce softer lines.

Below is a series of images all using an identical Adjustment layer and mask. The Adjustment layer in the first image has been made invisible to allow comparison with the images below. While I am using an image as part of the layer mask, the window in the image is completely masked (black).

Below is the image with masking image layer made active.

Below, using Hard Light as a Blend mode

Below, “Quite Saturated Red Door” an additional example of using images for masks in Photoshop Adjustment layers.

Below are some images that may be used as masks. You may download and use them if you wish.