Photo Processing,  Software

How to Save a Layer Mask in Photoshop for Future Use

Have you ever wanted to process a photo several times using different techniques that required creating a time consuming layer mask.  You ended up not processing the photo again due to the time it takes to create the mask.

Saving a Layer Mask for Future Use

Or maybe the photo didn’t turn out the way you wanted but you didn’t want to invest the time to create the layer mask again.

I use layer masks a lot to selectively sharpen and reduce the noise in my bird and nature photography.  It can take quite a bit of time to create a layer mask to selectively sharpen a bird in a photograph.

See below for how to save your layer masks as images and reload them into Photoshop to use as layer masks in the future.

Save Layer Mask

To save a Layer Mask

  • Select the layer mask that you’d like to save by clicking on it.
  • Go to the Channels Tab and select the layer mask
  • Copy the layer mask – Edit Menu –> Copy (Command C – Mac, Control C – Windows).
  • Create a New Document – (Command N – Mac, Control N – Windows) that will be the same size as the photo you are working on.  
  • Go to the new document and paste – Edit Menu –> Paste (Command V – Mac, Control V – Windows) the layer mask.  This will create a new layer in the document with the mask.
  • Flatten the image and save the mask in the folder where your photo is stored.  In Lightroom, I also give the mask a keyword of “Layer Mask” so I can easily find all the saved masks.

Save Layer Mask Channels Tab

  • To Use a Saved Layer Mask

  • Open the saved mask image in Photoshop just like a normal photo.
  • Go to the tab in Photoshop with the layer mask image that you just opened. 
  • To copy the layer mask, go to the Select Menu –> All (Command A- Mac, Control A – Windows) and then copy – Edit Menu –> Copy (Command C – Mac, Control C – Windows).
  • Go to the tab in Photoshop with the image where you want to use the mask.
  • Create a duplicate layer –  Layer Menu –> Duplicate Layer (Command J – Mac, Control J – Windows) and add a layer mask by clicking on the “Add Layer Mask” icon at the bottom on the layers tab.
  • Select the layer where you want to add the mask and then click on the Channels Tab.  Click on the layer mask and activate it by clicking on the checkbox.
  • Paste the layer mask –  Edit Menu –> Paste (Command V – Mac, Control V – Windows)

Save Layer Mask

You should now have a separate layer with the saved layer mask.

Written by Martin Belan

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