Photoshop: The Adjustment & Masks Panels

Starting with Photoshop CS4, Adobe introduced new concepts that speed up your workflow and make the program considerably more intuitive to use. Two of the biggest philosophical and functional changes show up with the introduction of the Adjustment Panel and the Masks Panel.

The Adjustment Panel

In CS3 and older versions, you would typically click “Create a New Adjustment or Fill Layer” button on the Layers Palette and a separate (Modal) dialog box would pop up (you can still do this in later versions). Starting with CS4, Adobe chose to go “modular”. As you work with this new interface, you will discover that this Panel is a big improvement in speed and versatility.

Now you can choose your desired adjustment layer by clicking on the appropriate Adjustment Icon. Once you do this, all of your Adjustment Controls show up in the Adjustment Panel and work identically to the ways they do in earlier versions. In addition, the appropriate Adjustment Layer is added in the Layers Panel.

Screen shot of Adjustment Icons in Photoshop by John Watts

Screen shot of Adjustment Controls in the Adjustment Panel in Photoshop by John Watts

An explanation of some of the functions:

Toggle Layer Visibility: This works identically to the “Preview” checkbox in the old modal dialog boxes. By the way, Photoshop has conveniently added a red “slash” through the “eye” button when the layer visibility is turned off.

Reset Button: This returns the adjustment to its default settings.

Delete Layer Button: This discards the current adjustment.

 Standard vs. Expanded View: This expands the width of the Adjustment Panel. I prefer the Expanded View, as it is easier to see the Adjustment controls, but it comes at the expense of “screen real estate”.

Return to Adjustment Panel: Returns you to the Default Adjustment Panel View. If you click on a new Adjustment Icon, Photoshop adds this new Adjustment Layer above the previous one.

Clip to Layer Button: Most of the time, it’s best to leave this one alone. Otherwise, click it to affect only the layers below it in the Adjustment Panel.

Previous State Button: Click to view the previous state of your adjustment.

Screen shot of the Masks Panel in Photoshop by John Watts

The Masks Panel

When working in Layers and Layer Masks, the new Masks Panel centralizes all of the tools and controls you’ll need to customize your Layer Mask in one location. To access any of these features, you must have a Layer Mask to work in, and it must be active by clicking in the Layer Mask Thumbnail

An explanation of some of the functions:

Mask Density:  This is just an Opacity slider. If you’d like to adjust the opacity of your Mask, here’s an easy way to accomplish it.

Feather Edge: This is a non-destructive way to feather the edge of your Mask. In CS3 and older versions, you arrived at the proper feathering via trial and error. Now, you can do it “on the fly”.

By the way, I find myself using the “Gaussian Blur” less frequently and using this tool instead.

Examples of image using Masks Panel tools and controls in Photoshop by John Watts

Mask Edge: This is a shortcut to the “Refine Edge” tool (to be discussed in a future article).

Color Range: This is a shortcut to the “Color Range” tool (to be discussed in a future article).

Invert Selection:  This simply inverts your selection.

Delete Mask: This deletes your current Layer Mask.

Disable/Enable Mask: This disables your Mask, which is good for ‘before and after” scenarios.

Load Selection from Mask: This reloads your selection, allowing you to use another adjustment or tool with the same selection..

Until the next time, have fun and stay well!

by John Watts, Watts Digital Imaging

All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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