Layer Mask Reveal! Create an Overlay From a Piece of Paper

with 27 Comments

Barb BrookbankWhen I paper scrapped, I loved to use stencils! I could quickly and easily create a custom background paper that would coordinate perfectly with my photos.

I would usually start with a light colored paper as a base. Then I would get out my stencil, put it over my paper, and tape it down in the corners. I would get out my brushes and paints and apply paint wherever there was an opening. When I finally removed the stencil, I was left with beautiful designs ranging from dots, to splats, to chevrons.

In Photoshop, layer masks work in a similar way. You open a piece of paper or a photo and cover it with a layer mask. Then you use tools to reveal or conceal whatever is beneath it.

When a layer mask is black, everything beneath it is concealed. When a layer mask is white, everything beneath it is revealed. If you paint with white on top of a black layer mask, the parts that you paint white will reveal whatever is beneath it. Conversely, if you paint with black on top of a white layer mask, the parts that you paint black will conceal whatever is beneath it.

In this lesson, I’m going to show you how to create an element from a piece of paper using this technique. You will then be able to use this element as an overlay to add drama and interest to your scrapbook page.

Step One: Prepare the Workspace

  • Create a new document (File > New > Blank File) that is 12in by 12in at 300ppi with a white background. (Photoshop: Choose File > New.)
  • Press the letter D to reset the Color Chips to the default of black and white.
  • Get the Move tool.
  • Open a piece of paper (File > Open).
  • While holding down the Shift key, click on the paper and drag it onto your scrapbook page. I’m using a paper called “map-honor” from the Duty, Honor, Country kit by Danyale Lewis.

Step Two: Add a Layer Mask

  • In the Layers panel, make sure the paper layer is activated.
  • In the Menu Bar, choose Layer > Layer Mask > Hide All.
  • You will now see that your scrapbook page is completely white. The layer mask is black, which conceals the paper completely.
  • The Foreground Color Chip will automatically switch to white.

Note: If you have Photoshop Elements 8 or earlier, your version of Photoshop Elements doesn’t have a layer mask. Download the Layer Mask Workaround here.

Step Three: Create the Overlay

  • Get the Brush tool.
  • In the Tool Options, open the Brush Preset Picker, open the drop down menu, and choose Pen Pressure.
  • Choose #91 Rough Brush and set the Size to about 1000px.

(Photoshop: Open the flyout menu, choose M Brushes and click OK. Choose #39 Dry Brush.)

  • Set the Mode to Normal, and the Opacity to 100%.


dst-layer-mask-overlay 02

  • In the Layers panel, make sure the layer mask is activated by clicking on it. You will know it’s active when you see a line around it.
  • On the document, click and brush to create an artistic shape.

dst layer mask overlay 10

Step Four: Apply The Layer Mask

  • In the Layers panel, make sure the paper layer is activated and choose Layer > Layer Mask > Apply.
  • Double click on the name of the layer and change it to Overlay.



Play around with blend modes. Each blend mode will give different results on different papers.

I changed the blend mode of the overlay to Pin Light at 100% opacity. Then I duplicated the overlay and changed the blend mode to Normal at 10% opacity.

And, here’s my finished layout after I added a background paper from Art Play Palette Family by Anna Aspnes.

dst layer-mask-overlay-01

Digi Scrap Tutorial: Layer Mask Overlay by Barb Brookbank
Layout and photo by Barb Brookbank
Paper for overlay: Duty, Honor, Country by Danyale Lewis.
Background paper and frame: Art Play Palette Family kit by Anna Aspnes
Fonts: Lucida Sans Typewriter and Bickley Script LET

Download this Digi Scrap Tutorial

27 Responses

  1. Janine
    | Reply

    Thank you so much Barb. This is one of the best explanations of a layer mask that I have seen. You explained the black and white options so clearly. I find myself using layer masks more often as I get more proficient. I have figured things out as I go along but this tutorial really made everything so clear. Sorry, if I’ve missed passed lessons on layer masks.
    I really love these tutorial each week. We learn so many things through them. I even have an idea for another one. How about doing a tutorial on the Print Screen feature on our keyboard? I went online and found out some information, but I’ll bet that you guys could really do a great job.

  2. Barb Brookbank
    | Reply

    I’m so happy you like this one, Janine (I’m bursting :)) And thank you for the suggestion – you have no idea how helpful that is! We should start a thread in the forum just for this purpose!

  3. Anne Simmons
    | Reply


    Thank you so much. I have a wonderful old album that belonged to my grandmother with many professional photos with beautiful backgrounds that would make amazing overlays, so will be experimenting with this.

  4. Nancy Galiardi
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for your really great tutorials! I look forward to Tuesdays and the next great skill to learn. Tuesdays have become my favorite day. Thanks again!

  5. Lari
    | Reply

    Thank you Barb!! Layer masks happen to be one of my vary favorite tools and the is a new way of using them. One I can see using often. Your ideas are the greatest. Thanks again so much.

  6. Priscilla
    | Reply

    Ditto all of the above!!! I have such a hard time getting my head wrapped around working with masks. And using your paper/stencil analogy is helping – not to speak of the other info. I also thank you, and this site, for your explanations!! Priscilla

  7. Priscilla
    | Reply

    Additionally, I’d like to add that I would love to see you extend this tutorial now – using the overlay in other ways; and/or giving other examples of making and using masks. 🙂 (I can see that I still haven’t grasped the possibilities.)

    • Barb Brookbank
      | Reply

      Thank you, Priscilla! I just put my thinking cap on! 🙂

  8. Margaret N. Orr
    | Reply

    Thank-you for this… 🙂

  9. Marie Vanderwijk
    | Reply

    You have no idea how much help your tutorials have been for me. I do enjoy all of them. Thanks so much.

    • Barb Brookbank
      | Reply

      I so love to hear that, Marie! 🙂

  10. Jessie
    | Reply

    Hey, Barb!

    I need some help. I have PSE 8 and had to use the workaround for the mask, but when I get to Step 4, I don’t know what to do. I don’t have Layer > Layer Mask > Apply. I tried “simplify” and it merged the mask and the paper, but when I tried setting the mode to “overlay” it turned all white.

    Any advice????

    Thanks in advance.

    Jessie 🙂

    • Jean Enroughty
      | Reply

      Thank you so much for this tutorial. I had never understood how to use the layer mask. I’m not sure I’ve been getting a tutorial every Tuesday. is this a new thing? I love it! Also, Barb, do you have kits for sale?

    • lsattgast
      | Reply

      Layer > Simplify Layer will do the same thing. It will apply the mask to the layer and make the change permanent.

  11. Barb Brookbank
    | Reply

    Thank you Jean! I’m so glad you found this helpful! The Digi Scrap Tutorial is not new but it used to be called TOTW (Tip of the Week). All you have to do to get it is subscribe to the weekly newsletter. And sorry, no I don’t have kits for sale, but thanks for asking!

  12. Jessie
    | Reply

    I noticed that there was a reply to my question but it wasn’t a “fix” to the PSE 8 version of this tutorial like I was asking for. Can anyone help? I think this looks so cool and want to be able to use it. Thanks!

    • Barb Brookbank
      | Reply

      Hi Jessie, my apologies! I will get back to you with a solution soon! 🙂

      • Barb Brookbank
        | Reply

        Hi again Jessie! Here goes:

        I am assuming you used the second workaround and borrowed a layer mask from Photoshop? If so, once you have dragged the layer mask to your document and placed it below the paper, Right click (Mac: Cmd click) on the paper and choose Merge Down. Choose Preserve and the mask is now attached to the paper on the same layer. Press the letter D to reset the Color Chips. Press X to make white the Foreground Color Chip. Activate the layer mask by clicking on it and press Ctrl Backspace (Mac: Cmd Delete) to fill the mask with black. Get the Brush tool and brush with white on the mask. When you are finished choose Layer > Simplify Layer. (A huge thank you to Jen White for her assistance :))

        • Jessie
          | Reply

          Thanks to Barb and Jen….got it to work! This looks GREAT!!! Love the technique!

          Jessie 🙂

          • Barb Brookbank

            Wonderful news, Jessie!

  13. Nannette Dalton
    | Reply

    Another Great Tutorial Barb… thanks so much.

  14. Kim Bays
    | Reply

    I am still using PSE7 so had to use the workaround and it worked GREAT! I see many possibilities with this! Thanks!

    • Barb Brookbank
      | Reply

      It is fantastic to hear that!

  15. Suzie
    | Reply

    Thanks for the great tutorial. I’ll be giving this a try on the page that I’m working on now.

  16. Jennifer Rappoport
    | Reply

    Seriously, what a fantastic talent you have for explaining things. This is why I am so loyal to Digital Scrapper…you ladies are the best! You probably think it’s not a big thing…but take it from someone who has spent time with other tutorials out there!


  17. dorisedgar
    | Reply

    Thanks for all your great tuts. I haven’t tried them yet as I’m 78 and do have
    trouble understandin the lngo but I’m determined t learn PSE 11

  18. Valerie Hofmann
    | Reply

    Thanks for amking this so easy to understand. This is so much fun! I just made puppy paw prints on a page 🙂

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