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Adobe Photoshop: Reversing a Vector Mask

by Barb Binder, Adobe Certified Instructor on Adobe Photoshop CS6

Such a simple request, but not one of Photoshop’s most “discoverable” features. As a regular user of (raster) layer masks, I know that I can select a layer mask and choose Image > Adjustments > Invert (Cmd+I)  to invert the display to quickly change a mask from this:

Adobe Photoshop: Layer Mask

to this:

Adobe Photoshop: Invert the Layer Mask

Remember that when it comes to layer masks, black conceals (the pixels on the masked layer), while white reveals them. There’s nothing wrong with layer masks, but sometimes vector masks are a better solution. Vector masks have the advantage of crisper edges, and they are completely editable using Bezier curve-editing skills. This afternoon, I needed a vector shape to reveal the pixels on the layer below, but I kept getting the opposite result, much like the top image, above.

Can one reverse the default vector mask behavior? Yes, but you do it as you create the mask.*

  1. Open a document with two stacked layers.
  2. Drag the layer you want to show under the layer you want to mask.
  3. Use the Pen tool, the Freeform Pen tool or one of the shape tools to draw a path. Don’t forget to set the Tool Mode to Path in the Options bar before you start drawing your mask.
    Adobe Photoshop: Set the Tool Mode to Path in the Options bar
  4. Use the Path Selection tool to select the path.
    Adobe Photoshop: Use the Path Selection tool to select the path
  5. Choose Subtract Front Shape from the Path Operations menu in the Options bar.
    Adobe Photoshop: Choose Subtract Front Shape from the Path Operations menu in the Options bar
  6. Choose Layer > Vector Mask > Current Path.Adobe Photoshop: Choose Layer, Vector Mask, Current Path

The result is a mask with white background and a gray shape. With vector masks, gray conceals (the pixels on the masked layer) and white reveals them.
Adobe Photoshop: Vector mask

I’ve used Photoshop for years, and never needed to reverse a vector mask to achieve the desired result, until today. If you just want to create a normal vector mask, follow steps 1-3 and skip to 6. If that produces the exact opposite of your intended mask, delete the mask, and follow steps 1-6.

* If you already have a mask, and want to invert it, open the Paths panel. Copy your vector mask to a new path, and delete the original mask. Pick up with step 4.

 

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10 thoughts on “Adobe Photoshop: Reversing a Vector Mask

  1. Thank you so much for posting this article. It was a huge help. When you need an inverted vector mask, you really need it!

  2. There’s also this black part when using vector masks, may you explain it to me? It seems like it functions the same as white because it reveals the part of the image when it is black. Looking forward to your reply, thank you. 🙂

  3. Thanks – I’m with Justin – An inverted vector mask is just what I needed! The 1000 other solutions all change it to a raster selection!