How to Use an Affinity Photo Layer as a Mask

Creating a mask is a great way to make non-destructive edits to an image in Affinity Photo. This can help with situations such as removing a background, creating a more eye-catching sky, or getting rid of unwanted elements. But how is it done?

Affinity Photo offers several different ways to use a layer as a mask:

  1. Apply a pixel mask
  2. Create a grouped mask
  3. Isolate mask layers
  4. Create gradient masks

Making is one of the most useful tools available in Affinity Photo. However, it can also be quite difficult to figure out. This how-to guide will walk you through three different methods of using a layer mask in Affinity Photo.

Use a Pixel Layer Mask

A layer mask is a tool that allows you to see only a section of a layer while obscuring the rest. This effectively lets you ‘remove’ areas of the layer without causing any damage. However, there are several different mask types in Affinity Photo.

A pixel mask is a rasterized mask that functions similarly to an eraser. These can be changed, produced, and destroyed at any moment without causing irreversible changes to the design.

Making a pixel layer mask in Affinity Photo is a straightforward process. Begin by choosing the layer you want to work with, then select ‘New Empty Mask Layer’ from the Layers menu at the top of the screen to create a mask that hides the whole layer.

Before generating a mask, make sure you click on the layer you intend to work in. The mask is clipped to the chosen layer after it has been produced.

Creating a Grouped Mask

There are moments in photo editing and design when you may need to make several different adjustments until you get it right.

For example, let’s say you would like to apply a few different adjustments to a single tree in a landscape photo. You would need to apply the adjustment and paint it over the tree over and over for each adjustment that you’d like to apply. Instead, you could apply a grouped mask to streamline the process.

To do this, apply the first adjustment you would like to make to the photo. Once applied, add the adjustment layer to its own group by clicking the layer and hitting Control/Command ‘G’.

Next, you will apply a mask to the entire group. Hold down Alt/Option and click the mask icon at the bottom of the layers panel. This will apply a black mask to the group, covering any adjustments you’ve made.

Now you can grab your brush and paint white over the areas where you would like the adjustments to peek through. Plus, any new adjustments that are added to the group will have the mask applied as well.

Isolating Layer Masks

Once you’ve applied a mask to an image, it can be a bit difficult to figure out if you’ve painted over the entire area you wish to have the mask applied. Though it may look fine to you on the screen, any missed sections can still show up in printing or if other edits are made. You can check this by isolating the layer mask.

To do this, hold down Alt/Option and click on the mask thumbnail. This will isolate the layer by temporarily hiding all the other layers. You should now see a screen with only black and white painted areas, allowing you to easily view the sections where the mask isn’t correctly filled in.

To Exit isolation, simply press the Esc key.

Using Gradient Masks

Gradient masks are helpful when compositing images so that you aren’t left with hard and jagged edges. For example, let’s say you wanted to change the sky in a photo.

First, add a mask to the layer, then select the gradient tool. At the top of the screen, you should see a dropdown box labeled ‘Type’. Click that box and select Linear.

Now, stating at the top of the image, click and drag your mouse to the bottom of the image. This will paint a gradient from white to black across the photo. The white areas of the photo will remain clear, while the black areas will become transparent. To reverse the gradient so that the black is at the top and the white is at the bottom, click the reverse button at the top of the screen.

This will allow anything beneath the photo to show through on the transparent sections, slowing fading out as the gradient changes to white.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article gave you a better understanding of how to use a layer mask in Affinity Photo. Masking is a great tool to play around with when editing, and can really enhance your end design.