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I think it's helpful to remind ourself that layer masks, vector masks, paths, selections, quick masks, alpha channels others that I am forgetting to mention, they are all pretty much the same thing. They are all just ways of isolating parts of your image. What I have here is a four-up arrangement and there is a path, a saved path in this document and I used the path to isolate this Metro sign because it's made you of straight lines and graceful curves, therefore it's a good candidate for the Pen Path tool to select it and also because it's against a busy background, which makes it a bad candidate for using the Magic Wand or the Quick Selection tool.
But the point I really want make here is that if I activate that path-- and I am going to come to the leftmost version. If I activate the path, we see the gray outline of the path. That's what a path looks like. Now I'll come to the second one. I'll activate the path. Now the path can very easily become a selection and all you need to do to make it into a selection is come and click on this icon, the third from the left, or Command+Click on the path thumbnail.
So that's what an active selection looks like. In the third example we have the path active. The active path can become a vector mask. So with the active path I can come to my Layers panel and if I unlock my background layer just by double-clicking on it, click OK, I can then hold down Command or Ctrl and click on what's now Add vector mask. So that's the path converted to a vector mask. In the fourth option let's say I want to convert the path into a selection and then the selection into a layer mask.
Once again I need to unlock the background layer. This time I don't need to hold down the Command or Ctrl key. Just click and I get a layer mask. A layer mask is going to be black and white; a vector mask is going to be gray and white. To edit a layer mask we would use our Brush tools and then paint all on the layer mask and if I paint in black I am going to hide more of the image. I think I need to refresh the view by coming and clicking on that then coming back to it. So that's how we edit a layer mask.
To edit a vector mask we need to have our Direct Selection tool and then we click on the outline of the mask and then we can pull that around and edit it that way. So I hope you see the distinction between them. Vector masks are sharp. Layer masks have the potential to be soft on transitional and that this softness can vary around the edge off the subject.
Some other terms that get bandied around in the same breath are alpha channels and quick masks. So just to quickly demystify what these are I am going to come to this one. Here I have an active selection also known as the Marching Ants, but if I com to my Channels panel, I can then click on this icon right here and it's now an alpha channel or a saved selection. So I can then deselect that by pressing Command+D or Ctrl+D and I can recall it at anytime.
The alpha channel is the equivalent in pixels to the saved path in vectors. So they are very, very equivalent to each other. I am going to now activate that path as a selection by Command+Clicking on it again. Just one other thing and that is a quick mask. A quick mask is sort of temporary state. It's an intermediate state. It is to pixels what a work path is to vectors. So if I press Q or come and click on this icon at the bottom of my Tool panel, I go into Quick Mask mode, where the deselected or masked areas of my image are represented by a color overlay.
The selected portions show up as the photograph itself. And the Quick Mask channel appears on my Channels panel for as long as I am in Quick Mask mode. If I press Q I exit Quick Mask mode. That goes away. That's broadly equivalent to the work path that we get any time we start drawing with our Pen tool or indeed with our vector shapes. If we are drawing in the Pen Path mode.
So let me just show you what I mean by that. If I choose the Pen Path mode and then I can choose any one of these vector shapes and I am going to draw right there and now I come over to my Paths panel and there I have a work path and you'll see like the Quick Mask channel its name is italicized just to indicate that it's this kind of temporary state. It's not actually going to be saved with the document. So I hope that's going someway towards clarifying the difference between these different things but more than that really just emphasizing all the things that they have in common.
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