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Typically when you are masking an image, it's an either or proposition. You either want a layer mask for all of the qualities that it offers, the potential to transition between 100% opacity and 0 opacity, or you want a vector mask with crisp clean outlines. But sometimes you might want both. Here I have these two New York City subway tokens, old subway tokens, and I have masked them so they sit on this field of black. If I disable the layer mask we can see that's how the image begins.
Let's say that I would like these to transition from 0 opacity to 100 opacity so that we fade them in from the bottom. So I am going to come to the image layer and I am going to add a layer mask. Now of course you can't apply a gradient to a vector mask, but you can to a layer mask. So there we now have a layer mask as well as a vector mask. I am now going to choose my Gradient tool and making sure that black is my foreground color, making sure that I am using the foreground to transparent gradient, that it's a linear gradient, Normal blend mode, 100% Opacity, I'll then just drag up like so.
Now if that's not far enough, I don't think it is, I am just going to drag again. You can keep going at it multiple times with the foreground to transparent gradient, so we get that effect. So it's the gradient that is softening the transition from the bottom of the image and the gradient is applied on the layer mask and it is the vector mask that is actually cutting out the shape. Here is another example. Sometimes an image just has both qualities combined and you want to use both a vector mask and the layer mask.
So in order to cut out this beautiful modernist building, what I've used to cut out the basic outline of the shape is a vector mask, which seems like a good choice because it's a very graceful curve and the vector mask is going to give us the crispness that we want, but to also mask the areas of blue sky that get trapped inside the railings. If I disable the layer mask that's what it looks like. For that I am going to use of a layer mask. So I have already applied the vector mask.
I am going to actually delete the current layer mask so that we are at this point and I'm going to re-create it. And I am going to come to my Magic Wand tool, and I want to make sure that I have a Tolerance of 32. I do not want Contiguous checks because I don't want each piece of the selection to stop when it reaches different color, so I'll make sure that Contiguous is unchecked, then you can click on that blue and that's all that it's going to get. And we lucked out there.
It doesn't always work quite as well as that, but it did in this case. So now with that selection active, I can come and click on my Add layer mask. Now if I do that, I am going to get the exact opposite of what I want. So when I've realized that I've got the opposite of what I wanted, I can press Command or Ctrl+I to invert that, or I can anticipate the problem and hold down the Alt key when I click on the Add layer mask icon. So there we see the blue sky, the trapped areas of sky masked with a layer mask, but the overall shape of the building masked with a vector mask.
One of those occasions when it's a good idea to use both vector and layer masks.
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