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by Wendi Elizabeth Martha Scarth


Mask Layers 
Photoshop Element


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 Blend Two Images Using Layer Masks
  Suitable for Adobe Photoshop Elements Editor
Skill Level - Intermediate

Cat and Dog Photomerge
Example  Cat-Woman Merge

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This tutorial demonstrates how to blend two images using Photoshop Elements Mask Layer facility.

(When utilising your own Start Images, you may need to
resize them first).

Eraser Tool Blending Versus Mask Layer Blending
With care, you are able to produce the same blend using the Eraser Tool, however, the Eraser Tool lacks the sophistication, accuracy and control of Mask Layers. For example, once you have removed pixels using the Eraser Tool, they cannot be retrieved easily. With a Mask Layer, erased pixels can be painted back at any time: and as long as you save your work as a
PSD File, removed pixels can be painted back even after the image has been closed and reopened.

This is an introduction to Layer Mask Blending, and to keep things simple, I am working with two photographs; however, you can blend as many images as you wish. Additionally, all New Layers can be converted to a Mask Layer.

Understanding Layers
Understanding Blending Modes
Understand Elements 8/9/10’s Workspace

Undo Note
You can step backwards at any time by clicking the top menu’s Undo Tool.

How To Open Multiple Images Onto Element’s Workspace
Elements 8: from the top menu, choose File and then choose Open: - or simply drag and drop the images onto the workspace.
Elements 8 and 9: first open the images onto Element’s workspace, (File then Open). Then drag each image onto the workspace from the Project/Photo Bin, As Illustrated Here.
Elements 11, 12, 13, 14, & 15’s images can also be dragged and dropped onto the workspace via the Project/Photo Bin. As Illustrated Here.

An Introduction To Masking  
Proceed To My Cat And Dog Blend Tutorial Here
When you create a Mask, you are isolating part of an image: this means, you can change the isolated area (the cat’s eyes for example) either by applying filters, or by removing the area altogether.  The area outside the isolated area is “Masked”, and is therefore protected from change. In my example below-left, I applied a Rectangular Selection Marquee around the cat’s eyes, I then applied the Convert to Black and White Filter - (Enhance then Convert to Black and White). And as you can see, the filter has changed just the selected area. In my example below-right, after having first
unlocked the Layer, I tapped the Delete Key - (Edit then Delete); and this removed the area inside the Selection Marquee. This is Masking in its simplest form, the Rectangular Marquee has “Masked” the outside area, subsequently protecting it from any changes.


Now, if I click to Undo Arrow - and apply the Selection Marquee around the cat’s eyes - then Invert it, (Select then Inverse): when I apply the Convert to Black and White Filter - or press the Delete Key - the area outside of the Selection Marquee is effected, and the area inside is protected (“Masked”).


Photoshop Masks are stored in Alpha Channels; and Mask Channels are Greyscale Raster images - as such, they can be edited like any other image. Areas painted with Solid Black are protected from changes, and are not editable, and areas painted Solid White are editable. Additionally, Masks contain pixels that can display 254 Shades Of Grey - (256 including Solid White and Solid Black); therefore, for varied opacity - apply shades of grey (as opposed to Solid Black or Solid White); this fades - or blends your images. The levels of grey correspond to levels of opacity, or masking.  Solid White pixels show underlying layers; Solid Black pixels hide underlying layers; and Grey pixels show varying amounts of underlying layers - the darker the grey, the more the underlying pixels are Masked,

Painting With Black, White And 254 Shades Of Grey
There are different ways of Masking images: isolating areas with a Selection Marquee is one way, and applying Masks utilising the Brush Tool is another. However, this blending tutorial concentrates on using Layer Masks, which means we will be layering two images - the Cat and Dog images, adding a Layer Mask to the Dog Layer, and with the Brush Tool, we will remove the dog’s face, so revealing the cat from the Underlying Layer. When completing this lesson the important points to remember are - Solid Black removes the Dog image, and Solid White brings it back. If you remove too much, don’t worry, you can quickly paint with Solid White to bring it back. (Remember, painting with Shades Of Grey removes, or applies pixels - depending on the grey’s intensity).

1/ Lesson - Create A Photographic Merge
To work along exactly, you are welcome to download the Start Images
HereUnzip the file and open the cat and dog images onto Elements’ workspace - Ctrl then O.

Alternatively, you may find it easier to drag the Start Images onto Elements’ workspace, as illustrated below.

Activate the Cat Image by clicking the following CatJpg tab.

Now, (from the Project Bin), drag the Dog Image onto the Cat Image. You now have a two-layered image that consists of the Catjpg and the Dogjpg.

Project Bin Note
If you cannot see the Project Bin, from the top menu, choose Window then click a tick before Project Bin.

Ensuring the Dog Image Layer remains active: from the bottom of the Layers Palette, click the following Add Layer Mask tab.
To create a Layer Mask, you must have more than one Layer in the Layers Palette

After clicking the Add Layer Mask tab, a Mask Layer will be added to the Dog Layer, and the Layer’s appearance will change to the following. The white rectangle with a black frame indicates the new Mask Layer: the black frame indicates an active Mask Layer. 

Whilst editing the Dog Image, the Mask Layer must remain active at all times. If needed, you can reactivate the Layer Mask by left-clicking over white rectangle (Layer Mask Thumbnail).

Active Mask Layer
When active a Mask Layer’s Thumbnail will be stroked with black - as illustrated below.

Inactive Mask Layer
When inactive a Mask Layer’s Thumbnail won’t be stroked with a black frame - as illustrated below.

You can access Layer Masks from the top menu of Photoshop Elements 9. To do so, choose Layer then choose Layer Mask and then choose Reveal All.

Now, set the Foreground Colour Swatch to Pure Black and set the Background Colour Swatch to Pure White.

Important Note
To paint with Mask Layers, you must set the Foreground Colour Swatch to Black
If necessary, click the following Switch Foreground and Background Colours tab - (or press your X Key) to swap the Colour Swatches.

Elements 11, 12, 13, 14 & 15 - Tool Options Palette positioned at the bottom of the workspace. Although the palettes have been redesigned the tools work in more or less the same way.

From the left-side Toolbar, activate the Brush Tool.

Now, to start, select a Hard Brush and a Brush Size that’s suitable for your photograph’s needs. I am beginning with the following settings - however, remember, you’ll need to change the Brush Size (and its Opacity) - as you work.

You can quickly alter the Brush Size by tapping your Keyboard’s Square Bracket Keys, ensuring lower case is active.

Whenever necessary, Zoom into your work using the Zoom Tool .

However, bear in mind, when utilising the Zoom Tool, you need to adjust the Brush Tool’s Size according to the amount of Zoom.

Now, from the Layers Palette, left-click to activate the following Layer Mask Thumbnail (white rectangle).

Remember! Painting with Black removes the dog image, and painting with White brings it back.

Ensure the white rectangle (Mask Channel) - highlighted above, remains active when editing the Dog Layer - if it is not, changes cannot be implemented to the Dog Image’s Layer.

You are now ready to paint with black. Painting with black removes the dog image, thus revealing the underlying Cat Image Layer. Therefore, (with the Brush Tool), begin by removing the Dog’s Nose - as illustrated below.

Note - Blending Techniques -
Continue with lesson here
If you reduce the Brush Opacity to - for example, 30%, painting will remove less of the Dog Layer - as illustrated below. Experimenting with Opacity level is crucial to perfect Mask blending.

An alternative way of fading images is by changing the Foreground Colour to (and experimenting with) various shades of grey -
as explained here.

Additionally, changing the following Brush Blending Modes provides interesting and useful results. (
Understand Blending Modes).

Lesson Continued
The Dog Layer’s Mask Thumbnail depicts the removal of the dog’s nose by displaying a black blotch - as illustrated below.

Now, slowly remove more of the dog’s face; remember, if you need to paint back the dog’s face, swap the Foreground Colour to White by pressing your Keyboard’s X Key.

If you get over enthusiastic with your Paint Brush, or it suddenly develops a mind of its own and shoots off at an adverse angle - as illustrated below.

Simply change the Foreground Colour Swatch to Pure White by clicking the following swap arrows: - or tap your X Key.

And then paint over the mistake. This paints back areas that have been removed in error. 

Now, ensure the Foreground Colour Swatch is set to Pure Black, and continue removing the dog’s face

Reposition The Cat Image
To be able to reposition the Cat Layer: (first activate the Cat Layer), then from the top menu, choose Layer then choose New then choose Layer from Background, there is no need to name this Layer, click OK.  

The Cat Layer will then be renamed Layer 0.

Now, activate the Cat Image’s Layer (in the Layers Palette), and then activate the Move Tool and drag the Cat Image to a position of your liking.

Remember to reactivate the Mask Layer.

And continue painting with Black - or White, depending on whether you are removing or reapplying the Dog Image - swapping the Brush Size and its Opacity as needed.

9/ Perfect Blending
When using Layer Masks, I find the best way to blend transition lines - as highlighted below; is to reduce the Opacity of the Paint Brush,
as previously mentioned here.

Additionally, experiment with different
Blending Modes and discover how they can facilitate perfect blending. 

Now, continue changing the Brush Size, and remove (and reapply) the Dog Image as you work.

Applying the Blur Tool (with a very low Strength) can reduce your images’ contrast.

Tip - Resize Or Reposition The Cat Image
To reduce the size of the cat’s face; first activate the Cat Image’s Layer, and then from the top menu, choose Image then choose Transform then choose Free Transform - Ctrl then T. And reduce the Cat Image’s size as necessary.

Remember to tap your Enter/Return Key to commit the transformation. 

Free Transformation Command Tutorial).


10/ The Cat’s Whiskers
Removing the areas around and between the cat’s whiskers requires concentration, and technique.  For precision, Zoom into the image, until you can see the whiskers’ pixels - and ensure the full opacity of the cat’s whiskers have been revealed, (paint over them again with Solid Black - to bring them back, if necessary).  Now, ensure the Brush’s Opacity is
100%; and ensure the Foreground is Solid White; then reduce the Brush Size, and carefully remove the areas between - and close to the cat’s whiskers.

Reduce the Brush Size to 1 pixel if necessary.

Isolating the whiskers with a Selection Marquee, and changing the
Layer’s Blending Mode, may produce a better blend.

Remember, if you accidentally remove the whiskers, change the Foreground to Solid Black, and paint them back in.


Prior to Flattening the Layers, you may want to save your work
as a PSD File.

After you have removed the areas between the whiskers, and you are completely happy with your result: - from the top menu, choose Layer then choose Flatten Image.

Congratulations, your cat and dog blend is complete. If necessary, tidy your flattened image by
Cropping the two images to one size - and then save your work.  

Cat and Dog Photomerge

Final Note
Now you are familiar with Mask Layers, you can have lots of fun blending photographs. Depending on your choice of images, the process can be quick - or time consuming; the key to success is practise and patience.

Wendi E. M. Scarth. 
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