How to Paste an Image into a Layer Mask in Photoshop
Learn the simple trick that lets you paste an image or a texture directly into a layer mask in Photoshop! A step-by-step tutorial for Photoshop 2023 or earlier.
Copying an image from one Photoshop document and pasting it into another is easy. Photoshop places the image on its own layer, which is usually what we want.
But pasting an image directly into a layer mask is not so easy. At least, not until you've learned the one simple trick I show you in this tutorial. I also show you a couple of quick ways to adjust the contrast of the image after pasting it into the mask, which can have a big impact on the intensity of the effect.
Which version of Photoshop do I need?
I’m using Photoshop 2023 but this applies to any recent version. You can get the latest Photoshop version here.
The document setup
To demonstrate how to paste an image into a layer mask, I'm going to create a layer mask on a type layer and then paste a texture image into it. But you can use these same steps with pixel layers and shape layers as well.
Here's the texture image I'll be using, which is open in its own document.
And here's the document with my text. It's just a simple type layer above a background image.
Let's get started!
Step 1: Add a layer mask
Then add the mask by clicking the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.
A layer mask thumbnail appears on the layer.
Step 2: Open the image to paste into the layer mask
Next we need to open the image we're going to paste into the mask.
In my case, the image is already open in its own document so I'll switch to the document by clicking its tab at the top.
Step 3: Select and copy the image
We need to move the image into our main document (the one with the layer mask). And an easy way to do that is to copy and paste it.
Select the image by going up to the Select menu and choosing All.
Then copy it by going up to the Edit menu and choosing Copy.
Step 4: Switch back to the main document
With the image copied, switch back to your main document by clicking its tab.
Step 5: Change your view to the layer mask
If we were to simply paste the image into the document (by going up to the Edit menu and choosing Paste), Photoshop would paste the image onto its own layer, which is not what we want.
Instead, the trick to pasting into a layer mask is to first change your view in the document to the layer mask itself.
To do that, on a Windows PC, hold the Alt key on your keyboard. On a Mac, hold the Option key. Then with the key held down, click the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers panel.
Notice that my view has changed from my text to the layer mask. It looks like we're viewing a plain white background but that's because the mask is currently filled with nothing but white.
Step 6: Paste the image into the layer mask
Now that we're viewing the mask, we can paste our image into it by going up to the Edit menu and choosing Paste.
It may look like we've just pasted the image into the document.
But we know it was pasted into the layer mask because we can see the image in the layer mask thumbnail.
Step 7: Resize the image inside the mask
Before switching out of the layer mask and back to the main view, resize the image inside the mask if needed.
To resize the image, go up to the Edit menu and choose Free Transform.
This places transform handles around the image. But in my case, because my image is larger than the document it was pasted into, most of the handles are outside the visible area of the canvas.
Zooming out the view the transform handles
To view all of the handles, I'll go up to the View menu and choose Fit on Screen.
And now all of the transform handles are visible.
Resizing the image inside the layer mask
Notice in the Options Bar that the link icon between the Width and Height boxes is selected. If yours is not, click on it to select it. This will lock the aspect ratio of the image as we resize it.
Then simply drag the handles to resize the image.
I'll center the image as well by clicking and dragging inside the transform box.
I'm not worried about those areas on the sides that are still outside the canvas because I'm just using the image as a texture. As long as it will fit nicely inside the text, it's good enough.
To accept it and close Free Transform, click the checkmark in the Options Bar.
Removing the selection outline
Go up to the Select menu and choose Deselect to remove the selection outline from around the image.
Zooming back in on the document
Then I'll zoom back in by holding the Ctrl key (on a Windows PC) or the Command key (on a Mac) and pressing the plus sign on my keyboard a couple of times.
Step 8: Change your view back to the main document
Change your view from the layer mask back to the main document by clicking the layer's visibility icon in the Layers panel.
And now we see my type with the texture image inside the layer mask.
How to boost the contrast of the image inside the layer mask
At this point, we've pasted the image into the layer mask and we could stop here. Or we could adjust the intensity of the effect by boosting or fading the contrast of the image inside the mask. And here are a couple of quick ways to do it.
How to boost the layer mask contrast
If the image you pasted into the mask is low contrast (mine is mostly gray with no truly dark or light areas) and you want to boost the contrast, click on the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers panel to make it active.
Then go up to the Image menu and choose Auto Contrast.
This instantly darkens the darker areas of the mask and brightens the brighter areas. And notice how much stronger the texture now appears inside my text.
How to fade the layer mask contrast
Or if the contrast of the mask is too strong and you want to fade it, again make sure the layer mask thumbnail is active in the Layers panel.
Then go up to the Properties panel and fade the mask by dragging the Density slider to the left.
And now the texture is less intense.
And there we have it! That's how to paste an image directly into a layer mask in Photoshop.
- How to place an image in text
- How to paste an image into a selection
- How to place an image into a shape
Don't forget, all of my Photoshop tutorials are now available to download as PDFs!