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quick mask and channels

saving & editing selections
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by JuliannaKunstler.com

Masks let you isolate and protect parts of an image while making a selection.

Temporary masks are called Quick Masks

Permanent masks are called Alpha Channels and are stored in Channels palette.

Objectives: Students learn to use channels and Quick mask for selections.
Essential questions:
1. What is channel?
2. What is Quick Mask and how it works?
3. How do you save and edit selections?


quick mask final


open image

Download and open the Swan image in PhotoShop.

quick selection

Let's start with selection the swan.

Choose Quick Selection tool.

swan selection

Select most of the swan.

Don't worry if you didn't get it all or selected too much. We are going to edit this selection in the following steps.

quick mask mode

In the tool box:

Choose Quick Mask Mode

channels palette

Open Channels palette.

Quick Mask channel will appear at the bottom.

quick mask mode

Red overlay - is masked area. It protects the area outside the selection.

To edit the masked area you can use eraser or brush tools.

eraser tool

Choose Eraser tool.

eraser options

Select a medium size eraser option and a medium hardness.

You will be changing the size of the Eraser tool as you edit your mask.

[ key to decrease the size, and ] key to increase it.

quick mask

Check your color swatches in the tool box.

They should be set to default colors:

Black foreground

White background.

edit quick mask

Zoom in the swan image for more accurate selection.

Erase all areas of the red mask that you want to remove from the selection.

swap colors

If you have erased too much and need to paint the mask back on - swap the colors.

Option 2: switch from Eraser tool to Brush tool.

edit mask

Get as detailed as you can with refining the selection of the swan.

Alter the tool size as you work.

standard mode

To preview the selection at any time - click on Quick Mask Mode button to return to Standard Mode.

refine selection

If you see that you need to continue editing the selection - return to Quick Mask Mode again.


Once the swan is carefully selected....

Switch to Standard mode.


Now it's time to save the selection of the swan.

After all you spent a lot of time on it!

The only way to save a selection is to save it as an Alpha Channel.


Open your Channels Palette

(Window > Channels)

Channels are grayscale images that store different types of information

color channels

color channels

The first four channels hold color information:

Color information channels are created automatically when you open a new image. The image’s color mode determines the number of color channels created. For example, an RGB image has a channel for each color (red, green, and blue) plus a composite channel used for editing the image.

red channel

If you click on Red channel -the image will appear black-and-white.

But don't worry. You did not change the image.

What you see is the amount of red color in the picture - darker the area - more Red color

green channel

Click on Green channel - you'll see the amount of Green color...

blue channel

Blue channel - Blue color.

See the different color channels? They all look different because the amount of each color varies.

rgb channels

Click on RGB channel - it will display all three channels - the full color image.

alpha channels

quick mask channelalpha channel

Any selection can be saved in Channels palette as an alpha channel.

Before you have saved the selection - it appears as Quick Mask channel. Quick Mask temporal channel is only visible in Quick Mask mode.

save selection

To save your selection:

Select > Save Selection

Name the selection ("swan")

Click OK

saved selection

See a new channel appeared in the palette. It replaced the temporary Quick Mask.

To view the image in full color make sure the RGB channel is selected .


It is safe to deselect the swan now:

Command/Ctrl D

alpha channel

Click on "swan" channel.

edit channel

You can edit the selection again if you need to clean up your mask (there might be a few spots that you overlooked).

edit channel

Zoom in and move around the selection to see any spots left.

rgb channel

When done - click on RGB channel.

load selection

Place the selection back onto the image:

Select > Load Selection

Choose "swan" channel


inverse selection

Now you are going to select the background - the area around the swan.

With the swan still selected - see the selection outline around the bird?

Select > Inverse


Now you should see the selection outline around the perimeter of the image and around the swan.

The swan is masked now (protected).

You can manipulate with the background without affecting the swan.

aadjust levels

You are going to adjust the tonal balance of the background.

Image > Adjustments > Levels

Increase the contrast of the photograph - make the lightest pixels white, and darkest - black (right now the lightest pixels are light grey, and the darkest are dark grey, as you see from the image on the left).


You are going to define the lightest and the darkest pixels as white and black.

To do so:

Drag the left (black) slider to the start of the graph.

Drag the right (white) slider to the end of the graph.

rgb levels

If you wish to adjust mid-tones - slide the middle (grey) slider.

Make sure the Preview option is checked.

adjusted levels

This is what the image looks like after we have improved the tonal values.

Let's apply an artistic filter to the background while it is still selected.

From the Menu bar: Filter > Filter Gallery

Choose Palette Knife filter. Experiment with settings. You will see the changes in the preview window. As you see - the filter is applied only to the background. The swan has not been edited.

Click OK when you like what you see.



new channel

Now it's time to improve the colors of the swan.

Load the swan selection.

You can do it by dragging the channel onto "selection" button at the bottom of Channels palette.

red channel levels

Because the swan is the focal point of the image - we'll use more elaborate way to improve the colors and contrast.

Image > Adjustments > Levels

Instead of adjusting RGB channel (all three colors), we are going to adjust each color channel individually for more accuracy.

Start with Red channel.

Drag the sliders to the histogram as shown.

green channel levels

Switch to Green channel.

Adjust levels.

red channel levels

Adjust Blue channel.

Click OK.



elliptical marquee tool

Choose Elliptical Marquee tool from the Tool Box.

feathering option

Change Feathering option to a higher number (50 - 100 px.).

Hold Shift and Command/Option and drag a selection around the swan.

new channel

Create a new Alpha channel by clicking on the New Channel button.

Your image window will display the new channel.

The new channel is solid BLACK because there is no selections on it... yet....

fill selection

In the Menu bar:

Edit > Fill

fill options

Choose WHITE for Contents.

channel selection

You will see a white circle with fading edges.

White color shows your selection

Black color shows what's not selected, masked, protected

Range of Greys shows pixels with a range of transparency: lighter the grey - more transparent the pixel.


rename channel

Rename your Alpha channel as "selection" or any other descriptive name.

Now your fading circle is saved as "selection" channel.

standard color mode

Click on RGB channel to return to full color view.

Next step is to remove the background around the round selection.

Select the entire image:

Command/Ctrl A

You should see the selection border around the perimeter of the image.

subtract from selection

To remove the circle from the "all image selection":

Select > Load Selection

Choose your "selection" channel

Choose "Subtract from Selection" option

Click OK


Now you see the background selected with a "hole" in it.

remove background

Delete the background:

Edit > Clear



crop image

Use Crop tool to remove the extra space.

Don't forget to hit ENTER



Compress/optimize it into a JPEG file and submit.