How to Use Vector Masks in Photoshop CS6

When you create a vector mask, Photoshop CS6 “masks,” or hides, what is outside the mask and displays what is contained inside the mask. If you delete a vector mask, you’re left with the layer displaying in totality.

Like all vector objects, vector paths print at the full resolution of the printer and are resolution-independent.

You can edit a shape that Photoshop has saved as a vector mask at any time. Simply click the vector mask thumbnail to select it. Then, use the Shape and Pen tools to edit the shape.

Here are some additional things you can do with a vector mask:

  • To remove a vector mask, drag its thumbnail in the Layers panel to the Trash icon at the bottom of the panel. You can also select the layer and choose Layer→Vector Mask→Delete.

  • To enable or disable a vector mask, Shift-click its thumbnail in the Layers panel, or select the layer and choose Layer→Vector Mask→Disable (or Enable). Photoshop marks the thumbnails of disabled vector masks with an X.

  • You can convert a vector mask to a layer mask by selecting the layer and choosing Layer→Rasterize→Vector Mask.

There is an additional tool to refine masks — both vector and pixel. Choose Window→Properties to bring up this useful panel. Move the Feather slider to soften the edges of your hard-edged vector mask. Drag the Density slider to control the opacity of the areas outside the vector mask.

Here’s how to create a vector mask.

  1. Do one of two things:

    • Select the Pen tool from the Tools panel or press Shift+P until the Pen tool is selected.

    • Select any of the Shape tools, except the Line tool.

  2. Depending on your choice in Step 1, draw your path with the Pen tool or your shape with the Shape tool.

  3. Select Mask mode on the Options bar.

    If you are drawing a shape with the Pen tool you must close your path (a small circle appears next to the Pen icon). Otherwise, the mask may not be created.

    In addition to your work path in the Paths panel, you see the creation of a layer vector mask path in your Paths panel.

  4. Note that the image is hidden outside of the path of the vector mask. If you need to edit the vector mask path, do so with the Direct Selection tool (white arrow).

    The display of the image will dynamically update as the path is edited. You can also transform (scale, rotate, and so on) the path of the vector mask.

    [Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Andrew Johnson Image #6952750]
    Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Andrew Johnson Image #6952750
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