Quick Tip – Group Layer Masks

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Do you look at your Photoshop files in horror? Well don’t worry, in my experience most people have trouble when it comes to digital organization. Despite my years in Photoshop, my editing process is still quite messy and files don’t always make sense if I look at them just a couple days later. I forget to rename my layers so I have to turn them on and off to see what’s what, which makes me realize I don’t even know what some of them do other than if I mess with them it will ruin the entire image.

But through trial and error I’m in the process of finessing my editing workflow so looking at my own files doesn’t terrify me or others if they for whatever bizarre reason get their grubby hands on my imagery. Most obvious course of action is simply renaming my layers as I create them – something every introductory Photoshop class tells you to do, but no one ever does. On top of that I’ve recently found a trick involving layer groups.

I frequently use different adjustment layers with the same layer mask because just one isn’t cutting it. For example I’ll use curves to adjust exposure, which affects saturation, so I’ll use a saturation adjustment to bring it back in. The problem comes in when I want to adjust the layer masks of all the layers. It’s a needless few steps and I might end up missing one of the masks, resulting in a weird looking spot that I won’t notice until later.

This is where adding masks to layer groups comes into play. You can place all your adjustment layers in a group and alter what they affect with a single mask.

What are layer masks?

As it’s name implies, a layer mask is something you apply to a layer to mask parts of it from affecting the image. An analogy would be when one is painting a room they will use tape to mask off certain details like molding that they don’t want to accidentally paint over. In photo editing masks are especially handy when used in combination with adjustment layers. They allow you to use curves, saturation, and other adjustments on just a portion of the image.

How to do it

To start you’ll want to create a layer group. Located at the bottom of the Layers window, it’s the button that looks like a folder.

Once created, give it a descriptive name and drag your adjustment layers into the group.

Now all you have to do is select the newly created group and click the layer mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel.

And voila! Now you can edit this layer mask just like you would any other on a regular layer, except this one will affect as many layers as you’d like.

Possible problems

If you’re like me, you won’t realize you need a group with a layer mask until it’s too late. You’ll end up with layers that already have masks inside of a group that has it’s own mask. When this happens, all you have to do is right-click on the layer masks and click “Delete Layer Mask”. Now all the adjustment layers can be controled by the group layer mask without a problem!

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