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Masks in ZBrush work like masking tape. You put the mask in the areas that you don't want to be affected by any editing. By using masks, you protect parts of the model from being changed. Let's open up the SuperAverageMan from the Spotlight. I just want to zoom in more close on the body so we can see what we're doing. Now the way to go into Mask mode is by holding down Ctrl. You'll notice that the Brush and the Stroke icons have changed. While holding down Ctrl, just simply brush on the model.
When the Mask is applied it, darkens the polygons. Now, if you release the Ctrl key and sculpt with any brush, you'll notice that the mask area is unaffected. Let's just undo that. Polygons can also be partially masked. You can see as it is, some of the polygons are darker than others. The ones that are not quite as dark are only partially masked and will receive only a fraction of the effect from any edits. You can make a mask blurrier by holding down Ctrl and clicking once on the model.
This makes the mask effect much more gradual. You can see if we sculpt on it, now we get a much softer edge on the border of that mask. You can also make a mask sharper by holding down Ctrl+Alt and clicking. You can invert a mask by holding Ctrl and clicking on an open area of the canvas. So now with the mask inverted, whenever we sculpt, it's now going to affect the unmasked area that used to be masked.
Hitting Ctrl+A on the keyboard will mask everything. As usual in ZBrush, holding down Alt will produce the opposite effect. So if masking is holding down Ctrl and painting, if you want to unmask, you'll hold down Ctrl+Alt while you paint. This will remove masking from any polygons that you paint on. You can remove all masking by hitting Ctrl+Shift+A. All of these functions and more can be found in the Masking sub-palette.
If fancy keyboard kung fu isn't your thing, it may be easier to use the buttons here. Masks are a powerful way to control how you sculpt in ZBrush. You'll use them all the time to protect areas that you don't want to be affected by any edits that you do. Take a few moments to practice using masks and memorize the keyboard shortcuts.
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