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Layer Masks – In Elements Too!

Its a pleasure to welcome a new contributor to the Nut House!

Stuart Little a well respected photographer and photoshop educator with over 18 years experience in social & commercial photography, lighting, and digital workflow consultancy. Stuart is a regular contributor to Photoshop Creative Magazine and publishes weekly screencasts for photographers worldwide at   http://www.alittlephotoshop.com


UPDATE: Since this article was published, Adobe have released Photoshop Element 9. This new version has layer capabilities just like the full Photoshop! Click here for a look at PSe 9


 

 

Many Thanks to TipSquirrel for inviting me to write an article for tipsquirrel.com. I guess this makes me a NUT! which is kind of ironic as I am allergic to nuts. Anyway I digress! Lets get down to the business of giving Photoshop Elements users some of the functionality that us Photoshop users have enjoyed for many years.

 

Layer Masks

I have been using Photoshop since it launched 20 years ago and I have been teaching it now for over 12 years. But when I used to hear the word “Elements” it filled my heart with pity for the photographer who had decided to buy this poor relation of its bigger brother Adobe Photoshop. Anyway, that was back in the days of Photoshop Elements 1 & 2, now Elements has come of age and if all you want to do is the basic image editing and a little more besides, then Elements 8 for both MAC & PC is not to be overlooked. However, there is still one part of CS5 and its earlier versions that I so dearly miss in Elements and that is “Layer Masks”.

We take them for granted in Photoshop but up until recently Elements users have been without this functionality. Since around Elements 5 (Don’t quote me) there has been what Adobe call the “Photo Effects” panel in Elements and it wasn’t long before users figured out that these were single stand alone actions. If you knew someone with a copy of Photoshop then you could use it to create all manner of effects and commands for its little brother Photoshop Elements. So in the tradition of the kids TV show Blue Peter” here’s one I made early and in the rest of this article I am going to show how to hack Elements and get my Layer Mask action into the Photo Effects panel so that you to can enjoy all the functionality of Layer Masks courtesy of Photoshop CS5.

What is a Layer Mask?

A layer mask is a special greyscale image tucked inside a layer. It allows you to either reveal parts of the layer or layers below or hide them depending on how you are using the layer mask. In very simple terms once you click on the layer mask action it will duplicate whatever layer you are on and create a layer mask that appears white. If you use the colour Black from the colour picker and apply it using either the brush tool or the gradient tool as in the demo. It will reveal the layer below by hiding or masking the pixels on the active layer. If you wish to hide the layer below. Then you can use the colour White to restore that mask and the pixel information on the active layer. There is a lot more you can do with a layer mask even in Elements 8 but that is for another day.

Layer Masks in Elements 8

If you have not already done so then its a good time to watch the screencast to see how layer masks work in Photoshop and also in Elements.

Disclaimer

Although the installation of any action into PSE 8 is harmless. You are doing a bit of a hack. So if you muck it up its at your own risk! But if you follow the instructions and use the following installation paths above you should be fine. The very worst that will happen is that if you delete a file in error, then you may have to reinstall PSE 8 software.

Download

You are going to need the Layer Mask action and its accompanying files. These can be found in my store over at alittlephotoshop.com But dont worry they are in the freebies section.

Once you have downloaded the [layer_mask_elements_8.zip] and you have unzipped the layer mask folder. It should contain the following:

– Layer Mask.atn

– Layer Mask.metadata.xml

– Layer Mask.png

– LayerMask.thumbnail.jpg

To Install the “Layer Mask” action onto your computer choose the appropriate operating system below and once you have followed the instructions please restart Photoshop Elements 8 for the database to be rebuilt and the Layer Mask action to be loaded into Photoshop Elements 8.

Mac OS

To Install Actions in PSE 8 on a Mac, download the action and copy the 4 files to the following location on your computer:

System Library>Application Support>Adobe>Photoshop Elements>8.0>Photo Creations>Photo Effects

Next, navigate to the following location and rename the Mediadatabase.db3 file to MediadatabaseOLD.db3.

System Library>Application Support>Adobe>Photoshop Elements>8.0>Locale>en_US

Windows OS

To Install Actions in PSE 8 on a PC, download the action and copy the 4 files to the following location on your computer:

Windows 7

Start Menu > Computer > [C:] > programdata > Adobe > Photoshop Elements > 8.0 > Photo Creations > Photo Effects

Next, navigate to the following location and rename the Mediadatabase.db3 file to MediadatabaseOLD.db3.

Start Menu > Computer > Local Disk (C:) > Program Data > Adobe > Photoshop Elements > 8.0 > Locale > en_US

Windows Vista

Start Menu > Computer > [C:] > Program Data > Adobe > Photoshop Elements > 8.0 > Photo Creations > Photo Effects

Next, navigate to the following location and rename the Mediadatabase.db3 file to MediadatabaseOLD.db3.

Start Menu > Computer > OS (C:) > Program Data > Adobe > Photoshop Elements > 8.0 > Locale > en_US

Windows XP

Start Menu > MyComputer > [C:] > Documents and Settings > All Users > Application Data > Adobe > Photoshop Elements > 8.0 > Photo Creations > Photo Effects

Next, navigate to the following location and rename the Mediadatabase.db3 file to MediadatabaseOLD.db3.

Start Menu > My Computer > Local Disk (C:) > Documents and Settings > All Users > Application Data > Adobe > Photoshop Elements > 8.0 > Locale > en_US

In some cases you may need to either rename or delete the ThumbDatabase.DB3 file and the MediaDatabase.DB3 file for the action to appear inside PSE 8. Either deleting or renaming works its just down to confidence as to which method you use. PSE 8 will rebuild both items when the application is relaunched.

And Finally…

In my opinion adding layer mask functionality to Elements brings a whole new dimension to what you can do with an image. You already have masking built into the adjustment layers and now you can mask those pesky pixels as well. Enjoy!


Get in Touch with Stuart

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2 Comments on Layer Masks – In Elements Too!

  1. Geoffrey Siddorn // August 15, 2010 at 7:24 pm //

    Thanks for the layer mask it is working well for me
    Just changed over to mac and unfortunatly I was using an older version of Photoshop on my pc and at this time CS5 is a little expensive for a senior like me. At least having layer masks back is a big help.
    Regards Geoff

  2. Cheers for the tips, I always avoided this area, but will give it a try none the less.

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