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What is a vector mask?

From: Photoshop for Designers: Shape Layers

Video: What is a vector mask?

In this title there has been a lot of talk of vector masks and in this movie I am going to talk about exactly what a vector mask is, how to create one, how to delete one, how to disable and enable one, and how to copy one. So firstly creating a vector mask, currently you maybe hadn't noticed that I have a gray outline around my kettle. That is a pen path. This pen path has been saved on the Paths panel. It's called which Path 1. I am going to first of all deactivate it by clicking beneath. That makes the gray outline go away.

What is a vector mask?

In this title there has been a lot of talk of vector masks and in this movie I am going to talk about exactly what a vector mask is, how to create one, how to delete one, how to disable and enable one, and how to copy one. So firstly creating a vector mask, currently you maybe hadn't noticed that I have a gray outline around my kettle. That is a pen path. This pen path has been saved on the Paths panel. It's called which Path 1. I am going to first of all deactivate it by clicking beneath. That makes the gray outline go away.

This pen path was created by drawing around the edge of this object. Now you can see that as I am drawing this, I am getting a solid shape. That is because I have the wrong type of behavior selected. So in a situation like this, press your Delete key twice and you will be asked, what you want to do? You want to clear the vector mas. Yes you do, okay. So then you reset to the Pen tool behavior and then you can draw your pen path. And I realize I am not going close to the edge and I am just sort of illustrating roughly how you would do this.

While it's in progress it will be a work path. To make a work path into a saved path, you literally just double-click on it and you give it a name. I don't need that one, so I am going to throw that one away. Now it's not necessary to save your path in order to use it as a vector mask. But you might do so, because perhaps you are sure yet that you want a vector mask. The difference between a path and a vector mask is that the path is just potential. It's there to be called on any time when you need it.

The vector mask applies to the specific layer. Having drawn my path, rather than saving it as a path I could have made it into a vector mask, or if I'm being especially cautious or I'm not yet sure where I'm going with this illustration, I could save the path and then later on turn it into a vector mask and that's what I am going to do now. So the path is active and I could make it into a vector mask by coming to the Layer menu and choosing Vector Mask > Current Path and then that will reveal the background layer.

I am going to undo that. And instead of making my vector mask that way, I'm going to do it this way, because I think this way is slightly easier. With an active path all you need to do is hold down the Command key or the Ctrl key click on what's now the Add vector mask, usually the Add layer mask icon. But it becomes Add vector mask when you hold down Command or Ctrl. So there we have it, the vector mask. The vector mask is like its companion, the layer mask, continuously editable and nondestructive.

So what do I mean by that? By nondestructive I mean that if we don't like it we can just throw it away and we are back to where we began. So we haven't actually deleted any of that background; we are just masking it. I am going to undo that. By continuously editable I means that if we go and get our Direct Selection tool, the white arrow, and we come and click on the path edge, we see the anchor points and then I can adjust those anchor points. And it's quite common to want to do this.

Because when you actually see the mask in the context of its new background you might realize that it wasn't as accurate as you as you originally thought it was and you can use this technique to come in and just finesse the edge of that mask. Should we want to temporarily disable the mask, we could hold down the Shift key and click on it. We get the big red X appear there. Hold down the Shift key and click on it again and that brings it back. The essential difference between a vector mask and a layer mask is that the vector mask is made from pen paths and is consequently smooth and sharp on its edges.

Except when it's not. Because you can actually feather the edge but that's another story and we will be dealing with that in a separate movie. But typically the quality of a vector is its crispness and its scalability. A layer mask on the other hand can be softened. It can transition from 100% Opacity to 0% Opacity and that softness can vary around the edges of your layer. While it's possible to feather a vector mask, the feather is going to be the same degree of feather all around. In this case, the kettle, we can't have one side softer and one side harder.

But before we get on to the feathering aspects of vector masks, essentially what makes this object, this kettle, a good candidate for a vector mask versus a layer mask is the fact that it is made up of very graceful, very smooth, and because it's photographed very crisply and it's all in focus, very crisp shapes. So it really blends itself to the quality of vectors as opposed to a layer mask. Which is not to say that we can't also have a layer mask with it.

And that's another story and I will be dealing with that in a separate movie. But we've seen how to create the vector mask. We've seen how to disable the vector mask, how to edit the vector mask. What if we wanted to copy the vector mask? Well, the results that we get likely to be little bit odd, but sometimes it could be a happy accident. I am going to turn off the current background layer and let's say that I want to select that vector mask and I am now going to drag it onto this layer of branches down at the bottom.

If I want to copy it, well if I want to move it first of all, I just drag it and then what we are seeing now is the top layer without its vector mask. If I turn that off, we see the bottom layer with the vector mask applied. If I want to copy the vector mask you do exactly the same thing. But as you probably guessed you also hold down the Option or the Alt key as you do so. So I have that same vector mask applied to both. So those are the basics of working with a vector mask, creating it, using your Pen tool or any combination off your Shape tools: editing it, remember it's continuously editable, disabling it, moving it and copying it.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Photoshop for Designers: Shape Layers
Photoshop for Designers: Shape Layers

42 video lessons · 13826 viewers

Nigel French
Author

 
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  1. 1m 31s
    1. Welcome
      59s
    2. Using the exercise files
      32s
  2. 30m 57s
    1. Three ways to use the shape tools
      6m 49s
    2. Converting shapes to paths and vice versa
      1m 24s
    3. Moving, deleting, copying, and rasterizing shape layers
      5m 28s
    4. Drawing rectangles, rounded rectangles, and ellipses
      2m 59s
    5. Drawing lines
      2m 40s
    6. Drawing polygons and stars
      1m 48s
    7. Drawing pen paths by adding, deleting, and converting anchor points
      5m 51s
    8. Drawing pen paths with hybrid anchor points
      2m 58s
    9. Inverting paths
      1m 0s
  3. 28m 19s
    1. Adding, subtracting, intersecting, excluding, and combining shapes
      3m 50s
    2. Aligning and distributing shapes
      2m 19s
    3. Coloring shape layers
      2m 1s
    4. Creating a poster by combining simple shapes, part 1
      11m 32s
    5. Creating a poster by combining simple shapes, part 2
      8m 37s
  4. 52m 55s
    1. Creating a logo with shape layers
      10m 47s
    2. Applying blend modes to shape layers
      3m 36s
    3. Applying layer effects and styles to shape layers
      2m 53s
    4. Adding strokes to shape layers
      5m 14s
    5. Applying Smart Filters to shape layers
      4m 0s
    6. Combining shape layers with layer effects, blending modes, and Smart Objects
      5m 31s
    7. Creating shape layers from type
      3m 32s
    8. Creating web buttons using shape layers
      2m 33s
    9. Using shape layers to mask multiple layers
      3m 6s
    10. Adding shape layers to a photo illustration
      7m 38s
    11. Using shape layers to apply custom gradients to type
      4m 5s
  5. 28m 52s
    1. Finding and loading custom shapes
      3m 13s
    2. Creating your own custom shape
      5m 2s
    3. Creating a custom shape from an Illustrator symbol
      5m 1s
    4. Creating a custom shape from an Illustrator Live Trace object
      9m 40s
    5. Creating seamless patterns from shape layers
      4m 18s
    6. Saving and loading shapes with the Preset Manager
      1m 38s
  6. 30m 10s
    1. What is a vector mask?
      6m 39s
    2. Converting to a selection, vector mask, or layer mask
      5m 17s
    3. Linking and unlinking vector masks
      4m 47s
    4. Using shape layers to create a photo grid
      1m 42s
    5. Feathering a vector mask edge
      2m 54s
    6. Adjusting vector mask density
      3m 16s
    7. Combining vector masks with layer masks
      3m 34s
    8. Working with paths and clipping paths
      2m 1s
  7. 19s
    1. Goodbye
      19s

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