Photoshop Elements 9 Finally Gets Real Layer Masks
Users of Adobe Photoshop Elements have long envied some of the cool features only available in the full version of Photoshop. Chief among these is true layer masks. There are workarounds to add layer masks to Elements, but Adobe has finally given in and added the real thing to the new Elements 9.
Adjustment layers in Elements have had masks for a while now, but the day has indeed finally arrived where you can add them to regular image layers as well. Any layer other than the background layer that is, but that's consistent with how the full version of Photoshop handles layer masks. In fact, pretty much everything about layer masks in Elements works the same as in the real thing circa Photoshop CS3. Adobe hasn't graced Elements with the Masks panel yet, but the basics are all there. At the bottom of the Layers panel along with the "new layer" and other icons in Elements 9 is the standard square-with-a-circle-in-it icon for "Add layer mask." Select the layer you want to add a mask to and click the icon and you get a layer mask next to that layer in the panel. It's as easy as that.
And while I'm thinking of it, thank you Adobe for moving this row of icons to the bottom of the Layers panel in Elements, the same place they are in Photoshop. Previously they were at the top of the Layers list in Elements but the bottom in Photoshop, needlessly confusing folks who used both programs. This got fixed I believe in Elements 8 but I haven't mentioned it before. Just one of those pet peeves of mine when working in Elements that deserves a round of applause for fixing finally. I never understood why they put it at the top in the first place in Elements.
By the way, if you're not familiar with it, there is a great trick for adding masks using something known as a "clipping group" in the last few releases of Elements. Select the layer below the one you want to mask and add a new Levels adjustment layer to it. Leave the Levels settings unchanged and simply click on "OK." The unaltered Levels of course won't change anything, but they do give you a layer mask. Yes, it's on the adjustment layer rather than the image layer you really want it on, but here's where the trick comes in. Select the layer you really wanted to mask (it needs to be the one directly on top of the new Levels layer) and select Layer >> Create Clipping Mask from the menu (or use the Ctl-G keyboard equivalent). As a result, it will appear to become slightly indented in the Layers panel but will otherwise be unchanged. But if you now go back to the mask on the dummy Levels adjustment layer and paint on it, you will find it effectively masks the layer you just created a clipping group from. The Levels mask has been turned into the functional equivalent of an image layer mask but lives on the layer below it rather than next to it as the real thing would.
But you really don't need to know that now that Elements 9 finally lets you do it the right way.
There are plenty of other new features in Elements 9 too. The content aware capability Adobe added to healing brush in Photoshop CS5 has found its way to Elements now. Mac OS users will be grateful that they now can use the Organizer previously on present in the Windows version. On both platforms, you can now see the content all folders on your computer in the Organizer rather than just those you've imported images from. The Organizer can manage video clips too. You can produce quick and easy photo effects using the Fun category of Guided Edits. Publishing to Flickr, Facebook and other sites is now even easier. So too is people recognition for tagging images. And plenty more. I haven't been much impressed with the last few releases of Elements, but if you've been looking for an occasion to upgrade, version 9 should finally give you one.