Photoshop Tutorial: Layer Masks

In this tutorial, you will use layer masks to make a grid of images inspired by pop art. You will need 1 image of your own to complete this tutorial. A simple close-up photo of a face or object tends to work best.

1. Create a new document in Photoshop by going to File > New. Give the file a name such as “pop-art-grid.” Set the Document Type to “Custom” and change the width and height to 800 pixels. It is very important to choose “pixels” or you may end up crashing the program by accidentally creating a file that’s 800 inches!

2. Go to View > Rulers to turn on measurement rulers at the edges of your workspace. Right-click on either the vertical or horizontal ruler and make sure the units are set to Pixels.

3. Drag from the top ruler down onto your document to the halfway point at 400 pixels. This creates a blue guide line. Guides are not visible in your final document, so they are helpful for making sure content is perfectly lined up.

4. Repeat by dragging from the rule on the left to the center at 400 pixels. Now your documents should have guide lines splitting it into four equal quadrants.

5. In the layers panel, click the square icon at the bottom to create a new layer.

6. With the rectangular marquee tool, draw a square that exactly matches the top left square of your grid. The guides will help snap the selection into place.

7. With the black swatch selected, use the paint bucket fill tool and click into the selected square. Now you should have a black square in the layer above the background. Deselect by going to Select > Deselect or using the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + D or Command + D.

8. Create a new layer above the two existing layers. Choose a photo of your own and add it to the document by going to File > Place Embedded. The transform tools will appear automatically, and you can position the photo so it’s over the black square. You can also hold down Shift and resize the image if it’s much too large. (If it’s too small, choose a higher-resolution photo.)

9. Right-click on the layer that contains your photo, and choose Create Clipping Mask. This will fit your photo into the square below it. You can still adjust the photo using the Move tool or the free transform options to make sure it is framed well within the square.

10. Select both the layer with your photo and the layer with the black square by holding down Shift. Right-click and choose “Group From Layers.”

11. Right-click the new Group and choose “Duplicate Group.” Rename this Group 2. Use the move tool to drag the copy into one of the other three quadrants of your document. Repeat this step to fill all four quadrants with the same photo. You will have four layer groups, plus the background.

Duplicate and move the layer group until you have four identical quadrants.

12. Click on the little arrow next to Group 4 to see the layers within it. Click on the layer with the image and use the icon at the bottom of the layers panel to create a new Adjustment Layer for Hue/Saturation.

  • In the Properties panel that pops up, click the checkbox for Colorize.
  • Drag the Saturation slider to the right to make the color brighter.
  • Use the Hue slider to choose a color.

13. At this point, the color should apply to all four quadrants. Right-click on the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and choose “Create Clipping Mask.” Now it will only apply to the image immediately beneath it in Group 4.

14. Click the arrow to expand Group 3, and repeat the process in Step 12 to add a different bright color for the photo in that quadrant. Repeat for Groups 1 and 2, so each quadrant has a unique color. Your image is complete! Make sure to save it in your tutorials folder.

OPTIONAL STEP: You can add an “artistic” effect to your images to make them resemble drawings or paintings. To do this, click on one of the layers that contains an image within your groups, then go to Filter > Artistic > Watercolor. The filter settings box that pops up will let you preview other artistic filters, as well as adjust the settings for each filter.