Photoshop Quick Mask

The Quick Mask in Photoshop is a really great way to make a selection - for most people it may be the very best way to make a selection.

Rather than try to outline an object with a lasso tool, what you do is paint over the object with your Wacom tablet or mouse (creating a Mask) and when you are done you have a very precise selection. 

One advantage to making a mask is that you can stop selecting to sit back and admire your work which is not the case with the lasso selection tools.

You can also take advantage of the pressure sensitivity and precision of your Wacom tablet.  Set the brush to change size with pressure and when you come close to the edge of your selection you simply back of the pressure on the pen to get a smaller brush - this is dynamic size changes while you are working.

Another advantage is this - you can go in and out of the Quick Mask mode to refine your selection and that is really helpful especially if you have CS3, CS4 or CS5 with the Refine Edges capabilities. 

Quick Mask Selection Advantages

  1. You can take your time with the selection - stop for a rest if you feel the need.

  2. If you are working on a complicated selection just save your work as a .psd file and when you open it again the mask will still be there - very useful.

  3. It's easy to stop working and zoom in or out to work the edges of the selection - or scroll around as much as you like.

  4. Work a part of the selection, leave Quick Mask and promote the resulting selection to a new layer.  Do it over and over so you have a bunch of layers making it easy to fix any problems rather than re-selecting the whole thing again.

  5. If you make a mistake just change the foreground/background colors to paint out the mistake.

  6. Pressure sensitivity set to Brush Size makes it very easy to get nice crisp edges when using a Wacom Bamboo or Wacom Intuos tablet - they also make it easy to get around difficult areas.

Using Quick Mask

Step 1 - Enter Quick Mask Mode

This is done by clicking on the QM Icon at the bottom of your tool bar (it's the one outlined in red on the image) or with the keyboard shortcut - Q.  

Now you are ready to make your selection mask  ... but before you do that double click on the QM icon to bring up the QM Options ...


If you double click on the quick mask icon you will bring up another dialogue that lets you decide the color of your mask, the opacity of the color and if the area you are painting is either Masked or Selected. 

Masked Areas - this means that you are painting out the areas that you do not want to keep.

Selected Areas - this means that you are painting the areas that you want to keep.

It seems reasonable to me to paint the areas you wish to keep but you do whatever way feels best to you. 

When you have made your selection click OK.  Now you are ready to do some serious selecting. 

Pen Pressure

If you're a mouse person or a track pad'er then you really don't need to go over this section.  

Changing size on a Wacom Tablet with pen pressure is really useful when you come to an edge - simple back off the pressure and you have a smaller brush making it really easy to get a nice crisp edge around your selection.

The Brush Palette is where you make this change and its accessed by selecting Windows > Brushes or pressing the F5 key.

Highlight the words "Shape Dynamics" and then drop down the Control Menu and select Pen Pressure.  If you look at the bottom of the palette you will see a sample brush stroke that changes size with pressure.

Now select a nice round brush and dial up the hardness to 100% (to keep the edges sharp).

Its that simple and now you can change the size of your brush with pen pressure! 

Step 2 - Paint The Area to Keep

Now you are in Quick Mask mode and have your brushes all set - there is only one small thing to do and thats to set black as your foreground color.

Press the D key to select the default colors (black and white) and if black is not the foreground color press the X key. 

Start painting over the area you are selecting with light pressure at the edges.  I find it easier to outline the area first and then fill in the rest.  When you are done you will have the area you are selecting filled in with the red mask.

In this example with Anna (the truly awesome Bull Terrier) you can see her head is filled in and the work has progressed to her back.  Notice how crisp the edges are around her ears and her face.

If you make a boo boo (everyone does, you know) and go across and area that should not be painted - don't panic. Change your default color to White by pressing the X key and paint out the offending area.

When you are finished ... 

Step 3 - Back To Normal Mode

Press the Q key or select the little circle to the left of the QM selector to return to Edit in Standard Mode.

When you get there you will have the little marching ants around your selection.  Inspect it carefully to confirm that the selection is what you want.  To see your selection all by itself press Ctrl-J or Cmd-J to put the selection on a new layer and then turn off the background layer.

If you are satisfied then you are done and your work is finished (except the part about doing something with your wonderful selection).

If not then open your history palette and go back into the latest QM Mode and make any modifications you need to make.  You can flip in and out of QM as much as you need.

This really is a great selection tool and it works fabulously with a pen tablet.

Have fun selecting! 

Quick Mask Video

An Example

Going to a Comic Con is always a blast - the costumes, the great attitudes and the fabulous displays are always worth the time.

On my last visit I saw these rather neat looking helmets on display.  I've no idea who uses them or their significance but they deserved a few pictures.

I'm going to move the helmet to a new layer and add a different background.

After activating Quick Mask, I started painting in the helmet with some zooming in and out with some document rotating to insure that the edges were all done correctly.

My tablet was set to change brush size with pressure.  This meant I could back off pen pressure to make a thinner line on the edges which were the hardest parts to do correctly.

Here are two views - partly completed and completed ...

Once the mask is completed and Quick Mask is turned of then the 'marching ants' will show the selection.  If you've missed anything in the mask you'll see some 'marching ants' where they shouldn't be located.

Go back into QM to paint over the offending area or use the Lasso to add to the selection.

When you leave Quick Mask for the last time you can make some additional adjustments in the Select > Modify menu.  The adjustments that are available include ...

  • Border - this creates a really neat border.
  • Smooth - smooths out the selection.
  • Expand - expands the selection by the amount you specify.
  • Contract - contracts the selection by the amount you specify.
  • Feather - feathers the selection.

If you're not happy with the modification you've applied then step backwards (Alt-Ctrl-Z, Opt-Ctrl-Z) until the Mask is once again visible - then you can do some additional modifications.

When everything is perfect with the selection exactly how you want it - the selection can be moved to a new layer (Ctrl-J or Cmd-J).

This is how my Comic Con helmet looks when it's on its own layer with the Background turned off - looks good, doesn't it?

Once you've promoted the selection to its own layer then you can go about the business of making a new background for the layer.

I selected a black to white circular gradient with some text describing the image.  A drop shadow was added to the helmet layer.

Now I've no idea who wears the helmet in the Comic Con and world of fantasy world but I did see someone walking around with a very similar helmet.

The antennae thing is the same but the face plate is different.

He was a dashing figure, indeed, and was quite happy to pose for a picture ...!

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