Common Photoshop Masking Problem and Solution

There’s a common Photoshop masking problem that seems to be affecting users with increasing regularity. When users create a layer mask, the mask somehow becomes inverted. This doesn’t seem to happen every time they use a mask and can seem intermittent.

In this tutorial I’m going to share an example of this masking problem as well as how to fix it. I’ve also included a video demonstrating the problem together with the solution at the bottom of the tutorial.

If this problem has affected you or could affect someone you know, please share this tutorial. It can be a tricky problem to resolve if you don’t have the solution. It’s also not confined to recent versions of Photoshop. I’ve seen examples of it affecting people using versions of Photoshop CS from many years ago, as well as the latest Photoshop CC edition.

Photoshop Masking Problem Example

Let’s start by creating a simple luminosity mask from this image.

Starting Image to demonstrate the masking problem

To create the mask, first open an image and then switch to the Photoshop Channels Window. There you can use the “Load channel as selection” icon found at the bottom of the Channels window (see number 1 in the screenshot below). When you click this, it loads the image as a selection and you will see “marching ants” appear.

Channels window showing load and save icons

Now you can save the selection as a new channel by clicking the “Save selection as channel” icon (see number 2 in the screenshot above). This is also at the bottom of the channels window. When you click the icon, it adds a new alpha channel to the image, and you should see this in the Channels window.

Below you can see an example of a correct alpha channel together with one showing the problem.

Examples of correct and problem mask created in Photoshop

Notice that the problem channel is an inverted version of the correct channel.

In case you’re wondering why I’m talking about channels when this is a masking problem, it’s because they are interchangeable with masks. Alpha channels, Selections and Masks are all interchangeable. You can load Channels as selections and then convert them to masks. If a problem affects one it will ripple through all of them.

A Surprising Twist to the Masking Problem

Now let’s look at a surprising twist to the masking problem.

Let’s repeat the steps to load the RGB channel as a selection using the icon at the bottom of the Channels window. But this time, rather than using the icon to “Save the selection” let’s use the save command found in the Photoshop Select menu.

To save the selection, click the “Select” menu and then the “Save selection…” option found below it. This opens the “Save Selection” dialog where you can enter the name of the channel to create.

Photoshop Save Selection dialog

When you click OK button the dialog closes, creating the new channel. This time the channel’s created correctly. This inconsistency can make tracking the problem down difficult and frustrating. If someone uses both methods to create their mask, it can appear to sometimes work and at other times fail.

Photoshop Masking Problem Solved

The solution to the problem’s found in a very unlikely place and its related to the Photoshop Quick Mask Mode.

You can access the Quick Mask mode using an icon at the bottom of the “Tools Palette” on the left of the Photoshop interface.

Quick Mask Mode icon in Photoshop Tools Palette

Clicking this icon will toggle the Quick Mask mode on and off in Photoshop. Alternatively, you can press the shortcut key Q on your keyboard.

Now, if instead of toggling the Quick Mask mode you double click the icon, it opens the Quick Mask options dialog.

Quick mask mode options in Photoshop

Here you see two options in the “Color Indicates” section. The first is for the mask colour to indicate the “Masked Areas” and the second is for the colour to indicate the “Selected Areas”. In Photoshop installations affected by the masking problem, you will find they are set for the colour to indicate the “Selected Areas”. To fix the problem just select the “Masked Areas” option and click OK.

Now if you try to create and save a mask using the icons at the bottom of the channels window you will find that they work correctly.

Photoshop Masking Problem Video

If you would like to see the Photoshop masking problem demonstrated, together with the solution, please watch the short video below.

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You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish a new video every week, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.

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The Photoshop masking problem appears to affect people without warning. Even if your Photoshop installation has been working correctly, it can sometimes suddenly get this problem. When it does you find that any mask saved using the “Save selection” icon in the Photoshop channels window becomes inverted.

If you know any Photoshop users, please share this tutorial as you never know who’s affected.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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