May 19, 2009

Photoshop: quick mask


Selecting specific parts of a photo is sometimes necessary, as tedious a job as it can be. When you want to add selective colors to a B&W photo, or replace backgrounds for instance, you just can’t get out of making a selection. There are several ways you can select specific parts of a photo; oftentimes the magic wand or quick selection tool will do a great job, but they don’t always get it quite right. For those times, there’s also another way. You simply paint your selection.

The technique:

The quick mask tool I’m talking about is one of those little things in photoshop that the moment you learn about it, it’ll make your work-flow easier. It’s simply another selection tool, though, nothing fancy or intimidating to it. Sooner or later you’ll end up having to select only certain parts of your photo and the magic wand is just bound to mess it up every now and then. For those times theres the Quick Mask mode. It’s so easy to use once you know it exists and how it works.


Quick Mask:

Here’s the photo I’ll be using, how I adore this photo. I’m going to select the little feet, so I can alter the background a bit more. Or even change the entire background alltogether.


Choose the brush tool from the sidebar menu and press D on your keyboard to reset the foreground & background color (default black & white).


Check the brush tool options at the top of your screen. Opacity and flow should both be set to 100%.


Now we have to activate the quick mask. You do this by either pressing Q on your keyboard, or press the Quick Mask icon on the leftside toolbar.


Now start painting the parts you don’t want in your selection. They’ll turn red. Zoom in on the difficult edges and curves; it’ll make the paint job somewhat easier when things are really blown up.



One of the keyboard shortcuts I literally use all the time and that made my editing life much easier, is the one used to adjust your brush size. Using the [ and ] keys you either quickly decrease or increase the size of your brush. Give it a try!


Keep ‘painting’ until everything you don’t want in the selection is red. Completely and totally red. Got some red on a part you do want in your selection? No harm done; switch your foreground color to white and paint over the red parts again. Don’t forget to switch it back to black, though.


Press Q on your keyboard again to deactivate the Quick Mask mode. Or press the Quick Mask icon on your toolbar once more. There’s your selection.


Something I always do to secure my selection is press Ctrl – J on my keyboard, or you can do this via Layer – New – Layer via Copy. This will create a new layer on top of your background with a copy of your selection. I’d hate to waste a perfect selection because of my occasional stupidities.


Cheat sheet:

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    1. 1

      Thanks much – super helpful. Don’t we get to see the what you did with the final photo? :-)

      Dana Morgan on May 19, 2009 @ 4:36 pm Reply
    2. 2

      @Dana Morgan:

      I didn’t do an awful lot with it, really :)

      I usually use this technique when I want to blur out the background a little more, or when I want to add a structure or something to the background.

      Kay on May 19, 2009 @ 6:06 pm Reply
    3. 3

      Thanks for the tip – I am a rookie with photo shop but am learning!!

      Cathy on May 20, 2009 @ 1:06 am Reply
    4. 4

      Hej, skulle vilja kunna göra det du beskriver här, men jag hitttar ingen snabbmask någonstans i mina verktyg, hur gör jag då??


      Helén on Sep 17, 2009 @ 9:37 pm Reply
    5. 5


      I’m sorry, but I have no idea what you just said/asked. Could you repeat that in English I assume you’ve been reading my blog through a google translator.

      Kay on Sep 17, 2009 @ 10:32 pm Reply
    6. 6

      Ok I try again :D I would like to do what you just have mention above. But I don´t have the quick mask in my tools. Can I do it some other way or what do you suggest?

      Regards Helén

      Helén on Sep 22, 2009 @ 11:20 am Reply
    7. 7

      very useful post!

      great article..

      thank you for sharing..

      keep on posting :)

      Quileutte on Nov 17, 2009 @ 10:57 am Reply
    8. 8

      How do you re-select the background to modify it after you saved your selection layer??
      Thanks! E

      Evelina on Sep 16, 2010 @ 5:20 am Reply
    9. 9


      Read halfway down the posting. I usually make a new layer from the selection.

      Kay on Sep 16, 2010 @ 7:17 am Reply

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