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How to Invert a Mask in Photoshop

Published: 02/06/2021

Masking a layer is one of the key functions you can do within Photoshop and is something you'll likely use more often than not. There are many things you can do with a layer mask, including inverting it to reveal the hidden areas or to select areas that are hard to select. Learning how to invert a mask in Photoshop can help you apply changes to any part of your image easily.

How to Invert a Mask in Photoshop

Whenever you create a mask on a layer, it is completely white by default. This means that the mask is revealing the whole layer. Now when you paint any area of the layer with black, it will conceal that part. 

If you don’t want to obscure the details and just want translucence, you can use shades of grey to paint those areas. The lighter the shade of grey, the lighter will be the masking effect.

Now here comes the fun part. You can inverse all of this selection and delete the mask from the painted area, apply the effect instead to the deselected area

Non-Destructive Editing Via Masks

The reason why layer masks and inverting them are useful is that the editing is non-destructive. Instead of using the Eraser tool to delete the pixels from your original image, you can apply layer masks, invert them as required, and delete them if you wish to undo the editing effects.

Let’s shed some light on layer mask inversion and the purpose of using layer masks to help you advance your editing skills.

Adding a Layer Mask

A quick run down to adding layer masks is essential before moving on to invert them. It is important to understand that in Adobe Photoshop CC, layer masks can be applied to every layer in a multi-layered document. The mask will affect the layer it is appended to. 

When created, the layer mask is white by default (revealing effect) unless you paint it grey or black (complete or partial obscuration).

  1. Open the Image in Adobe Photoshop CC.
  2. Add layers to create your document.
  3. From the layers panel, select the layer on which you intend to create a mask.
  4. Click on the Add a Layer Mask icon on the bottom of the layer panel.
  5. Now, go to the Window menu, and select Properties. Using this panel, you can adjust the Density and Feathering sliders. You can also Refine the Edges here. 
  6. You can now select areas on the layer for masking and paint with the brush tool to hide or reveal sections. 

Inverting an Existing Layer Mask

Inverting a mask will reverse the colors in the layer. This simply means that the areas you painted black will become white, representing visibility rather than obscurity, and vice versa.

When you invert the mask, make sure that the mask is selected on the layer. A white box around the mask icon will indicate its selection. As the mask is selected, any adjustments that you make will affect the masked area only.

There are three ways to invert a mask:

Inverting a Mask Via Image Menu

  1. Create a mask on your layer and apply the adjustments you wish to make to it. 
  2. Now, if you want to invert the mask and apply the effects on the rest of the layer instead, select the mask on the layer (make sure the layer is not selected, only the mask is.)
  3. Go to the Image menu. Scroll down to Adjustments.
  4. Select Invert from the submenu. Your layer mask will be inverted.
Inverting a Mask Via Image Menu

Inverting a Mask With Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts are a great way to save time during your Photoshop workflow. When you use them frequently, you memorize them, accelerating your work even more. 

The keyboard shortcut for inverting a mask is CTRL + I for Windows or COMMAND + I on Mac. Make sure the mask is active on the layer before you apply the invert mask command. 

Inverting a Mask Using the Properties Panel

One more method to achieve the same result is by using the Properties panel. 

  1. After you have created the mask, make sure it is active on the layer.
  2. Go to the Window menu, and select Properties.
  3. A window appending the left panel will appear, where you can determine the visibility of the mask.
  4. You can use the Invert button in this window to invert the mask.
Inverting a Mask Using the Properties Panel

All three methods will switch everything to the opposite shade in your layer mask. The transparency would be swapped. 

Duplicate and Invert a Mask Simultaneously

Like every other functionality in Photoshop, layer masks can also be handled in more than one way. For instance, if you want to duplicate a mask onto another layer and invert it at the same time, you can do it very easily and quickly.

Press and hold ALT + SHIFT (Windows) or  OPT + SHIFT (Mac). Click on the mask and drag it onto a new layer. Your mask will be inverted and copied in one go. 

Creating an Inverted Layer Mask

As mentioned above, a layer mask is white by default, which means that it reveals the layer completely. If you want to hide the layer completely, you need to invert the mask later on. However, one quick way to do this is to create an inverted mask from the start.

  1. Select the target layer in the Layer panel.
  2. Press and hold the ALT key on Windows or the OPTION key on Mac.
  3. Click on the Create a Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the panel.
  4. You will see that instead of the white mask, a totally black mask is created on your layer.

Inverting a Vector Mask

If you are a new Photoshop user and are not familiar with vector masks, know that they’re different from regular layer masks. The vector mask is created with the Pen Tool, or a Shape Tool, containing anchor points.

A vector mask basically clips out the layer contents in a shape which we use to create it. It comes in handy when you are dealing with objects that have hard edges. Drawing a vector mask and then working on the visibility of that object will be much easier than using the Brush Tool.

  1. Choose a layer from the layer panel to which you want to add a Vector mask.
  2. Draw a vector path using the Pen tool or any Shape tool. If you are using the shape tool, make sure to choose the Paths option from the option bar of the shape tool.
  3. Now click on the Add a Layer mask button twice to create a Vector mask.
  4. Alternatively, go to the Layer menu, scroll down to Vector mask, and select Current Path to create the vector mask. 
  5. Invert the Vector mask using the same Invert Mask methods that you used for the layer mask. 
  6. Select the mask first. After that, invert it using the Properties panel, or press CTRL + I on Windows or CMD + I on Mac to invert the vector mask.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Should You Invert Masks?

To understand the complete functionality of layer mask inversion, it is important to know when to use the feature. There are several situations in which you may feel the need to invert your mask. Some of them are:

  • To swap the transparency of the layer contents.
  • It is easier to select the background than the object, so you can just make a background selection and invert the mask later to select the object.
  • If you are using gradients to fill a mask, you can invert the mask to invert the gradient colors.

Why is the Invert Mask Command Not Working?

If the invert mask feature is not working, you first have to make sure your layer mask is selected. If you are still having the same issue, try resetting your Preferences by going to the Preferences tab. You can access it from the Edit menu on top. 

Conclusion

Creating masks and then inverting them is a Photoshop feature that will equip you with efficient editing capabilities. The technique is frequently used by professional image editors to create surreal images by blending components of several layers artistically. You, too, can create compelling graphics with multiple layers if you learn to use the invert mask option accurately.

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