How to Work with the Properties Panel in Photoshop CS6

Adobe axed the short-lived, standalone Masks panel in Photoshop CS6 in favor of the Properties panel, which now includes the capabilities of the Masks and Adjustments panels. No worries, however. None of the features previously provided by the Masks panel were lost.

The new Properties panel enables you to add, edit, and manage your layer, vector, and filter masks. Here are the features in this panel that may assist you in getting your mask exactly the way you want it:

  • Thumbnail: Shows what layer or mask is currently selected in your file.

  • Add Layer Mask/Select Layer Mask: Click this icon to add a layer mask. If you added a layer mask by another means, such as via the Layers panel or Layer menu, the icon is automatically selected.

    Remember that when working with masks, black hides areas of your image, white shows areas of your image, and any gray areas are partially hidden at varying percentages, depending how dark or light the gray is.

  • Add Vector Mask/Select Vector Mask: Click this icon to add a vector mask. If you added a vector mask by another means, the icon is automatically selected.

  • Select Filter Mask: This icon appears only when a Smart Filter has been applied.

  • Density: Think of this option as a kind of opacity control for your mask. To lessen the transparency of the masked (or hidden) area, select the mask and drag the slider to the left.

  • Feather: The Feather option softens the edges of the mask, creating more of a dissolve between your layers when creating a composited image.

    To see the effect on the actual mask itself, hold down Alt (Option on the Mac) and click the mask thumbnail in the Layers panel, which temporarily hides the layer and shows only the mask. Hold down Alt (Option on the Mac) and click to display the layer again.

  • Mask Edge: Click this button to bring up the Refine dialog box. In this dialog box, you can fine-tune the edges of your masks to your liking.

  • Color Range: Click this button to open the Color Range dialog box. Color range is yet another way to create a selection or mask.

  • Invert: This option reverses the colors of the mask. Therefore, black areas become white, white becomes black, dark gray converts to light gray, and so on.

  • Load Selection from Mask: Click this option to load your mask as a selection. Note that the black areas of your mask are unselected, the white areas are selected, and the gray areas are partially selected.

  • Apply Mask: Click this icon to have your mask permanently applied to the layer. The mask is then deleted. Be careful when applying this option because you can no longer edit the mask and refine your visible areas.

  • Disable/Enable Mask: Click this icon to show or hide your mask.

  • Delete Mask: Click the trash can icon to delete the mask.

  • Mask Options: This first command in the panel menu enables you to change the color and opacity of your mask overlay.

  • Add Mask to Selection, Subtract Mask from Selection, Intersect Mask with Selection: These commands, also in the panel menu, allow you to add to, delete from, or intersect with existing selections made from your masks.

  • Close/Close Tab Group: The final commands in the panel menu close the Masks panel and the group that the Mask panel belongs to, respectively.

    [Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Tammy616 Image #2889571 and tomh1000#1281272]
    Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Tammy616 Image #2889571 and tomh1000#1281272
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