How to Copy a Mask in Photoshop

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Layer masks allow you to hide a part of an image without destroying it. They are a great way to make specific edits, without affecting the whole image.  Most of the time, you might have to copy or move a mask in Photoshop. Therefore, you should learn how to copy a mask in Photoshop.

How to Copy a Mask in Photoshop

You can copy a mask in Photoshop by either using keyboard shortcuts or simply pressing “Alt” and dragging the mouse over to other layers. Besides this, you can copy a mask inverted and move it instead of copying it. However, do remember that you cannot copy it to multiple layers.

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Adding Keyboard Shortcuts

Adding keyboard shortcuts is a great way to navigate around Photoshop. They help you set up custom shortcuts according to your preference. This is especially helpful in navigating through layer masks, as it gets the job done a lot faster. To set up keyboard shortcuts, follow these steps:

  1. Go to “Select”, then “Edit”, and choose “Keyboard Shortcuts”
  2. Set the shortcuts for the Application Menus
  3. Toggle the disclosure menu to find layers
  4. Scroll down and choose “Layer Masks”
  5. Here, set the shortcuts based on your need, such as: Reveal All, Hide All, Delete, or Apply

Copying the Mask

The new version of Photoshop allows you to copy masks very easily. You just need to follow these steps:

  1. Create a mask by clicking on “Add Layer Mask” in the Layers panel, or create a keyboard shortcut by following the steps outlined above
  2. Now, adjust the layer onto the image. You can also invert and delete the layer. Use the set up keyboard shortcuts for this purpose
  3. To copy the layer, click on it. Then while holding the Option or Alt key, drag and drop it to the place you want to copy it to
  4. You can press Option/Alt +shift and then drag the layer mask. This will copy and invert the mask

Another option is to follow these steps:

  1. Create the mask and adjust it accordingly
  2. Select the mask and then click on the three dots
  3. Choose “copy mask”
  4. Go to the layer you want to paste the mask on. Go to the three dots menu and press “paste mask”

You can copy the mask to as many layers as you want it to, there is no limit. However, you need to do it one at a time, you cannot copy it to multiple layers at once.

Moving the Mask

Besides copying, you can also move the mask to another layer. To do this, you click on the mask and drag it onto another layer. This moves it without duplicating it.

Create a Mask

Before you copy or move a mask you should learn to create a mask too. You can use this mask to add reversible changes to your picture. Create a mask using the following steps:

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  1. Create a new layer by clicking on the “add new layer” on the layers panel (the default keyboard shortcut is Shift + Ctrl/Command + N)
  2. Then add the image you want to edit
  3. Add your layer mask by clicking on the layer in which you want to add the mask to
  4. Then click the layer mask button at the bottom of the layer panel – you will now see a layer mask thumbnail besides the layer thumbnail in the layer panel
  5. Select the layer mask thumbnail to make it your active layer
  6. Select the brush and choose either black, white or gray for the color (details of each are given below)
  7. Paint over the part of the image you want to make the changes to. A brush with a defined edge has the ability to create a hard line between the opaque and transparent elements while a brush with a soft edge will create a fade

Try Different Mask Colors

You can use the masks in different colors to achieve various functions. You can use a black mask to conceal your photo. Adding a black mask hides the layer and shows the layer that is beneath it.

The white mask is used to reveal. If you add white mask to a layer, it shows that layer instead of the others. Moreover, the gray mask is for opacity. If you add different shades of gray, it adds varying levels of opacity to your photos.

Why Use Masks

Masks are an important component of editing on Photoshop. Their purpose is to make changes to an image or a particular layer without making that change permanent. Therefore, you can make changes that can be easily reversed. They give you a lot of flexibility and allow you to achieve the following tasks:

  • Cutouts: Layer masks allow you to refine your cutouts. For example if you used a brush or a selection tool to cut something out of an image and make a mistake, you can simply use a white mask to add that piece back, instead of starting over.
  • Opacity: By using the gray mask, you can selectively change the opacity of an image, or part of an image. You can use this opacity to show a lot of effects on the image.
  • Adjustment Layers: Masks can do the same function as an Adjustment Brush in Lightroom. In essence you can make selective adjustment in your layers for example increase contrast in a particular part of an image.
  • Soften Edges: You can use masks to blend two images side by side. In essence you can decrease its transparency of the edge and then refine it later if you want to. This is a much better option than simply erasing it.
  • Smart Filters: You can use masks to selectively add smart filters to your image. Smart filters allow you to add effects to the whole image. You can use the masks, to isolate the effects of these filters in your image.
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Related Questions

What Is the Difference Between a Layer Mask and a Clipping Mask?

The difference between a layer mask and a clipping mask is that a layer mask controls the visibility of layers to which it is applied to. This can range from completely transparent to completely visible to vary levels of opacity. On the other hand a clipping mask allows you to create a mask by clipping one or more layers to another layer or layer group below.

How Do I Edit a Mask in Photoshop?

You can edit a mask in photoshop by first choosing the layer that contains the mask. Then click the mask thumbnail in the layers panel. After that click any of the editing tools and change the mask’s colors between white, black and gray according to your preference.

Can I Mask a Group in Photoshop?

You can mask a group in Photoshop. You first need to create a layer group. You can do this by first clicking the top most adjustment layer. Then while pressing shift, clicking on the bottom most adjustment layer. Press Ctrl/Command + G or in the layers panel, choose New Group.

Now do mask the group, click on the adjustment group (you will find this in the layers panel). Now click the add mask button and now you will get a mask thumbnail next to you layers thumbnail. You can make adjustments to this mask too.


To copy a mask in Photoshop you simply have to press Alt and drag your mouse over to the other layer. Besides, copying and pasting, masks can be used for a lot more purposes such as for cutouts, adjusting the opacity, softening the edges, and applying adjustment layers.