Path vs Mask

Hey all… this may just be symantecs or terminology, but why does anyone use masks? Doesnt creating a path layer with the pen tool away from the actual object layer allow you to do everything and anything with that path area? I.e., if you CNTRL+Click on that path layer, it will highlight the path area, and then you can go to any image layer you want and do whatever you want, from cropping, inverse cropping, create a layer of any color and opacity, or edit whatever is within that path area in any way PS allows you to…

So in other words, is masking just another way to achieve the same result, or is there something the “mask” feature allows that what I mentioned above cannot do? Personally it kinda annoys me for the masking process to highlight areas while I am pathing, but maybe I am not even on the right track here, dunno… any elucidation would be awesome, because for some reason I “hear” more about masking than simple pathing and go.

Hi JMasterJ,

From my experience, using a path is great for masking out sharp, or clean edges (such as a guitar body), but using a pixel mask is better, and necessary, for when you need to use a gradient for masking away things (white reveals, black conceals). You can also use vector and pixel in combination. Hope that helps.

A path is just a selection drawn with the pen tool, so yes you are right that it can be re-purposed for a mask among other things.

One thing that a mask layer has as an advantage is that it is linked to the thing it is masking. When you have complex layers in a file and multiple interactions going on it can be helpful to have a mask linked directly to a file rather than a path layer sitting randomly somewhere.

We’re lucky to have multiple ways to do things and achieve the selections and looks that we want these days. In my opinion it is better to know your tools and work out your own workflow that you understand, can replicate and use well.

(After reading some more stuff on this thanks to another friend…)
Ok, I have used masking before to create faded backgrounds etc., which of course a simple selection area cannot do. I also just read that it seems THE most important difference in what I see is that selections are done for me, mostly the pen tool and creating paths, and masks are done with brushes… so that means while brushing away or into am image I can save that work as a layer instead of having to do it again if there is a mistake etc… Also another HUGE thing there was since we can use brushes to create masks, using unique brush shapes, wow that is big.

Am I on the right track now? Is there anything else, or any other huge points (somewhat like I have illustrated above) that I am missing hat masks can be useful for over pathed selections? I guess I have gotten so good at accurate pathing that I never really found the need for masks since I dont do a lot of creative work with images in that way… thats what working for bland retail does for you.


You can also easily create areas of hard and soft masking using opacity and brushes on the same mask. From memory using a shapes you have to apply the effect to the whole area.

I love masks as much of my creative process allows me to chop and change elements in a photo that I do or don’t want easily. It becomes easy to quickly fade a highlight or corner that you want so much detail detracting from the main element. I know I can whack a mask on and blot something out roughly to see whether I want to take the time to actually do it more accurately.

Ya I can see how for some things masks can be a lot faster since u r using a brush, and pathing there is no choice but to be real accurate and slow… but with a selection, you can also just fill the selection with white or black and use trans/opacity brushes to do similar things cant you? I know it may be more of a pain but I am just making sure what IS possible or not for future ref… thanks!