Tutorial 005

Using Textures as Layer Masks

In Tutorial 002, we used Layer Masks to add colour to a texture. In this tutorial, we are going to use a texture as a layer mask to affect the content of the layer.


Layer Masks are greyscale only, and the amount of grey (0-100%) controls the visibility of the layer.

White areas of the layer mask allow 100% (full) visibility of the layer, black areas allow 0% (no) visibility.

We are going to paste a texture into a Layer Mask and Photoshop will use its grey values to decide how much of the layer is visible.

Along the way we are going to learn some great things about Photoshop.

Here are the files we will be using, some cardboard, an ink texture, and an illustration of a street scene:

The cardboard texture filename is “cardboard 03.jpg”, but it is actually #4 from Texture 083: Set of 7.

The rolled ink texture is Ink 025,

I created “buildings 01.png” in a vector program. You can download it here.


Tut-005-011) Start with the cardboard on a base layer. I have deleted the white border but you don’t have to.


Tut-005-022) Place the ink texture on a layer above the Cardboard layer and resize it (Ctrl+T, or Edit>Transform>Scale) to cover most of the cardboard.



3) We want the white part of the Ink layer to be transparent and the black to look like it is painted on the cardboard, so set the Layer Blend mode to Multiply and then Clip the ink layer to the cardboard base layer.

What is Clipping?

Clipping two layers together uses the lower layer to “clip” or mask the upper layer.

The transparency of the lower layer controls the visible area of the upper layer.

How do I Clip layers?

  • Hold down the Alt key and point your cursor at the line between the two layers.
  • Click when you see the cursor icon change from the pointer to two linked circles.

The top layer icon shifts a little to the right, and the bottom Layer Title becomes underlined to show that these two layers are clipped together.


Tut-005-044) Now we are going to add the street scene and give it some colour.

Place “buildings 01.png” on its own layer at the top of the layer stack.

Open the Layer Style palette using one of these methods:

  • double-click the layer in the Layer Palette
  • right click the layer in the Layer Palette and select Blending Options…
  • from the top Menu click on Layer>Layer Style>Colour Overlay…

In the Layer Style palette, add a Colour Overlay, with Blend Mode>Normal.

Click on the colour chip to open the Colour Picker and select your colour. I used a bright orange (#fc9715) to contrast the black ink.


Tut-005-055) Resize the Buildings layer (Ctrl+T, or Edit>Transform>Scale) to fit the ink.


Tut-005-066) Add some text. I used two free fonts called Carnivalee Freakshow and Propaganda.


Tut-005-07 7) We want the Text to have the same Layer Style (Colour Overlay) that we just applied to the Buildings layer.

We could repeat the previous steps, but Photoshop has an easier way.

  • Right click on the Buildings layer in the Layers palette and select Copy Layer Style (or go to the top Menu and select Layer>Layer Style>Copy Layer Style).
  • Right click on a Text layer and select Paste Layer Style, or use the top Menu if you prefer.
  • Do the same for any other Text layers.

The Text layers should now be the same colour as the Buildings layer.

Tut-005-088) Now we are going to use the Ink layer as a mask to control the visibility of the Buildings layer. Follow these steps carefully.

  • Select the entire Ink layer by using Ctrl+click on the Layer icon, or use Ctrl+A to Select All.
  • Copy the Ink layer (Ctrl+C).
  • Make the Buildings layer active and use the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers palette to add a Layer Mask (or go to Layer>Layer Mask>Reveal All).

You should see the Layer Mask icon linked to the Layer icon on the Buildings layer. The Layer Mask icon should be white.

  • Alt+click on the Layer Mask icon. This shows us the layer mask, which should be all white.
  • Paste (Ctrl+V) the Ink onto the Layer Mask.
  • Use Ctrl+I to invert the Layer Mask (or go to Image>Adjustments>Invert).
  • Click on the Layer icon of the Buildings layer to return to the image.

Now the Ink texture is a mask that affects the visibility of the Buildings layer.

The white parts of the Ink texture mask allow full visibility of the Buildings layer and the black parts hide it.

If you used a different Ink for your mask, you can Alt+click on the Layer Mask icon again and use things like Levels, Curves, and other adjustments to control the transparency of the mask.

Tut-005-099) Now we want the same Ink texture mask to be applied to the Text layers. Again, we could repeat our steps, but there is an easier way to do it.

  • Ctrl+click on the Layer Mask icon of the Buildings layer. This loads the layer mask as a selection which we will apply to the Text layers.
  • Click on a Text layer to make it the active layer.
  • Click on the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers palette (circled in blue).

The Ink texture is applied as a mask, affecting the visibility of the Text layer.

Do the same steps for all other Text layers.

Tut-005-1010) The black Ink layer is showing through the orange Text and Building.

We are going to mask it out and let the Cardboard layer show through instead.

  • Ctrl+click on the Layer icon to make a selection of the Text layer. You can also Right click on the Layer icon and choose Select Layer Transparency.
  • Add the Building layer as a selection using Ctrl+Shift+click on the Layer icon of the Building layer. You can also Right click on the Layer Icon and select Add Transparency Mask.
  • Add any other Text layers to the selection
  • Click on the Ink layer to activate it, and then Alt+click on the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette. Another method is to use the Menu and select Layer>Layer Mask>Hide Selection.

Now the cardboard is visible through the Text and Buildings layers.

Tut-005-1111) Almost done!

The cardboard and ink give a nice rough, unrefined feel to this image. We are going to add to that effect by off-setting the Text and Buildings from the rest of the elements, allowing some of the Cardboard layer to show through and making it look like a stencil was not aligned properly.

We could do this by transforming the Text and Building layers, but there is another option: transforming the mask on the Ink layer.

But if we transform the mask, we will also transform the Ink, and we don’t want that. So first, we have to un-link the mask from the Ink layer.

To do this, simply Ctrl+click on the Link icon (looks like a chain) between the Layer icon and the Layer Mask icon.

Tut-005-1212) Now that they are un-linked, click on the Layer Mask icon and use Ctrl+T to bring up the Transform bounding box.

Give the mask a slight rotation until you see a bit of the Cardboard layer showing between the Text/Buildings and the Ink.

If you are having trouble controlling the rotation amount, you can type a number into the Rotate value box in the top Transform Options panel.

You can also distort the image by Ctrl+clicking on a corner of the Transform bounding box.


You can see how adding a texture as a Layer Mask gives you very powerful ways of controlling your image. In this example we used the same Ink texture to mask all the layers, but you could easily use many different Inks, and even Textures, to change your results.

Let us know if you enjoyed this Tutorial and send us your results to post in the Gallery.


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