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Help! My Layer Mask is Broken

by Erin Peloquin on May 9, 2012 · 2 comments


Elements users send me lots of emails like this:

  • My layer mask doesn’t work
  • The new action I just installed doesn’t work
  • I run an action and nothing changes

I’ve been using Elements for many years now, and I’ve never once encountered a broken layer mask.

Friends, it’s user error.  Layer masks don’t break.  And I’m saying this with a smile because I’ve been there myself, multiple times.  Let’s end the layer mask mystery once and for all!

If you need a basic tutorial on layer masks in PSE, start here.  And then, when you think you’ve got masking down but your mask isn’t behaving like you think it should, come back to this article.

Layer Mask Troubleshooting

    • Make sure the regular brush tool is selected – not the Impressionist Brush or one of the others hiding under the regular brush tool
    • Check that the brush Blend Mode is Normal.  This particular setting is haunted and has been known to change frequently without the user knowing about it.
    • Turn brush opacity all the way to 100% to make sure you can see its changes,
    • Is the brush the right size?  If it’s too big or too small, you might not see it at all.
    • The layer must be turned on with its eyeball showing and active for editing (highlighted).
    • Make sure the layer mask is active for editing (has a white outline around it).
  • If all else fails, reset All Tools using the arrow just above the Tool Box
  • Sometimes, after running an action, you won’t see any changes.  Check these items:
    • Is the layer turned on?  If no eyeball is visible on the left of the layers panel, that means the layer is off.  Click it to turn on.
    • Is the opacity of the layer at least 1%?  If the layer opacity is 0%, that means the action maker wants you to increase the opacity in order to turn on the layer.
    • Is the layer mask black?  Remember that with layer masks, black conceals and white reveals.  If the layer mask is black, the effects of the layer are hidden until you paint them in with a white brush.

Never let those layer masks in Elements make you think they’re broken.  They’re not!

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