Using And Embellishing Photo Masks

Add extra embellishments to a digital photo mask with this easy, ingenious method.

I love working with photo masks because they add another dimension to a design. Many of the French Kiss Collections masks are purposefully understated as I’d rather give you the option to customize them for your image.

Leslie Nicole Vintage Rose embellishing masks

The Original Textured Image

I started with this image I made a couple of years ago. While rearranging things in the studio I looked down to see I had placed some dried roses on a vintage ephemera paper. I whipped out my camera and captured the spontaneous still life. I combined it with a watery acrylic texture, Provence from the Studio No. 5 petite collection using a blend mode of multiply at 100%. To tone down the text, I duplicated the texture, set it to a blend mode of normal, filled the layer mask with black and dabbed away with a brush in white to cover the text a little.

Leslie Nicole Vintage Rose textured

Using The Photo Mask

In looking for an image to try with one of the Brayered Blocks photo masks, I ran across the rose image and instantly had the idea to pair it with a Chalkboard Texture. (Free for a limited time on the Facebook page.)

  1. Open up your files. Open up a photo (or illustration, etc.), a photo mask, and a background texture.
  2. Place the Photo Mask. Drag it onto the background document. Hold down shift as you drag to center it.
  3. Place the Photo. Drag the photo onto a layer above the photo mask. Hold down shift as you drag to center it.
  4. Create a Clipping Mask. Select the photo layer. Use the keyboard shortcut Command + Option + G (Mac) or Control + Alt + G (PC).
  5. Make Adjustments: Move the photo layer around until the mask is completely covered. You may need to resize the photo or the mask or both until you no longer see any of the black in the mask and the composition is pleasing to you.

Your layers should look like the layer panel below. See the little arrow to the left in the photo layer? That indicates that there is a clipping mask.

Photoshop clipping mask

The arrow in the photo layer indicates a clipping mask.

 Adding Embellishments

OK, let’s get fancy with the mask and add some vintage French script, a vintage French postcard and postmark.

You’ll need to have an image that extends enough beyond the mask to ensure that additive embellishments that extend beyond the mask show up.

There are a number of ways to embellish the photo mask. The easiest way would be to just stamp right on the mask itself. Stamp with the brush tool in black to add to the mask. Stamp with the eraser to subtract from the mask (cut holes in it) or use a layer mask (the preferred method).

I’m going to show you another way to add to a layer mask.

  1. Select the photo layer.
  2. Duplicate the photo layer. Command + J (Mac) or Control +J (PC)
  3. Add a layer mask filled with black. Option (Mac) or Alt (PC) click the New Layer Mask icon. That’s the little dark rectangle with the white circle in the middle at the bottom of the layer panel.
  4. Now, stamp in white onto the layer mask!


  1. Your image will need to extend enough beyond the mask in order for you to see the effect.
  2. If you unlock the layer mask from the image,  you will be able to move around the layer mask to move the location of the embellishments. Click on the little chain between the image and the layer mask. Be sure you don’t move the duplicated image though, just the layer mask! To be extra careful, you could lock the layer. The lock options are just below the blend modes on the layer panel. This will keep the image in place, but allow you to move the layer mask.
  3. Don’t like what you’ve done? Just fill in areas you don’t like with 100% black. Or just start over by refilling the layer mask with black.
  4. To use an overlay instead of a brush to embellish a mask either make it into a brush or click the overlay layer with the Command key (Mac) or Control key (PC) to select the black areas, then select the layer mask of the photo layer and fill the selection with white.

This is what my layer mask looks like. (Minus the logo!)

Layer mask with vintage brushes

The layer panel will now look like this:

embellished layer mask

This method won’t work for subtracting from the mask. To do that, you will need to use a layer mask on the photo mask layer.

That’s one way to embellish layer masks. I’ll show you other ways in future tutorials.


Used in this tutorial:

French Kiss Collections Studio No. 5 Textures

French Kiss Collections Brayered Blocks photo masks

1828 vintage French script Photoshop brushes

Vintage French Postcards Photoshop brushes

The Chalkboard textures are available for a limited time for free for newsletter subscribers.

Chalkboard textures

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2 Responses to Using And Embellishing Photo Masks

  1. Lorelei November 1, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    Wow! Thanks a ton for this very helpful tut! I LOVE your tuts!!! (Almost wrote tutus!) They are always clear and always have ideas I hadn’t thought of. These are gold! I’m so grateful for your teaching heart. Also grateful these are at no charge. (Except then I have to have the elements that go into these beautiful images! You are sneaky!)
    Lorelei recently posted..Reception 2 Friends/Family

    • Leslie Nicole November 2, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

      Thanks, Lorelei! Can’t help it—I use these elements! I always enjoy your creativity. Love seeing your interpretation and vision. xx Leslie

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