How to use Photoshop Quick Mask

What is a Photoshop Quick Mask

When you edit an image in Photoshop, you always need to make a selection or mask. There are many ways how to make a mask or selection. You can use the Quick Selection tool, Magic wand tool, or make the layer mask and then refine it. One of the most straightforward tools but very flexible and quick is the Quick mask tool. It is a special mode in Photoshop when you paint an area that should be masked, then you exit the Quick mask mode and automatically convert this mask to selection. You can then use this selection to applying any effect, adjustment, adjustment layer, remove background, and so on. I love using the Quick mask tool because it is effortless to run and use, and it is swift and responsive.

How the Quick Mask Tool Works

As we already mentioned, the Quick mask tool allows you to mask out an area of the image or photograph that shouldn’t be part of the selection or effect to be applied to it. It is based on defining the masking area. Typically you see the masked area in red color that means anything colored red is to be masked out or not a part of further selection.

How to activate Photoshop Quick mask

There are basically two ways of how to activate the Quick mask tool.

  1. Hitting “Q”

  2. Clicking the Quick mask button

Photoshop Quick Mask - Activation

The main reason I use the Quick mask tool is the availability and quick access to the Quick mask. Anytime you need to use a mask, just hit Q key, and you are in Quick mask mode. Another way of activating the tool is to click the Quick mask tool button located in the bottom part of the tool panel. 

Scenarios to use Photoshop Quick Mask

There are most common scenarios when to use the Quick mask tool. 

  • Masking out the unwanted part of the image.

    In other words, if you need to exclude a part of the image from selection and therefor from any effects applied to the selection, you use this approach. Simply enter the Quick mask mode. Select the brush, set the black as your foreground color, and start to paint the area that should be excluded. In spite of your foreground color is set to black you’ll see painted areas red. It is because you are in the Photoshop Quick mask mode. If you make a mistake and paint over a part, you did not want to simply choose the white as your foreground color and make the correction by painting it out. To speed up the whole process, hit X key again, and you’ll exchange the foreground and background color (Black / White). If you accidentally set any other color, just press D, which will set black/white foreground/background color combination. Then continue by pressing X to switch the white and Black colors again.
Quick Mask button
  • Enhancing the existing selection.

    You may get into a situation you’ve made a selection, and you want to precise it or enhance it. Here comes the Quick selection tool as an excellent and quick way how to do it. Say you have your selection loaded. Enter the Quick selection mask mode (Q), and you see how the selection changed to mask. The unselected part is red-colored, and your selection remains without red color. Now you can grab the brush tool. Set appropriate size and hardness and start to paint into the mask as you need. Again use black as your foreground color to paint out unwanted parts. Or switch the foreground color to white (X) and paint in to add to the selected portion of the image. After you finish the painting process (editing the mask), hit the Q key again to exit the Quick mask mode, and you’ll get the enhanced selection automatically. 

Tools used in quick mask mode

There are specific tools you use most often in the Quick selection tool:

  • Brush

The brush is your best friend when using the quick mask. You can mask out areas by painting with a brush with the black foreground color, which is the default mode when you activate the Quick mask mode. Or you can paint in the selection with the white foreground color. It is essential to make an appropriate brush setting before using it.

Photoshop Quick Mask - Brush Tool
Brush tool setting

Most often, you will use a soft brush for smooth transitions. It is necessary to set the right diameter and hardness, and it depends on the current situation or the object you are masking. These parameters can be set by clicking the Brush Preset Picker, or there is a quick shortcut to do so. Hit and hold the Alt key on Windows or Option key on Mac, right-click the mouse and drag the mouse vertically to change the diameter or horizontally to set the hardness.

  • Eraser tool

The eraser tool has basically the same function as the brush tool. Let’s assume you are masking out a part of an image in Quick mask mode using the brush with the black foreground color. If you want to correct something you masked by mistake, you can switch the foreground color to white and paint it out or select the Eraser tool and erase what you have painted with black.

  • Rectangle selection tool

Rectangle selection tools can be handy when you need to select a part of the image – for example, the sky and the switch it to the Quick mask mode and refine the masking/selection there. Then again, by exiting Quick mask mode, you’ll get refined selection. In some situations, when you are masking red-colored objects or image parts, it is difficult to find the edges when masking the requested area. It can be easily solved by changing the masking color for the Quick mas tool. Simply double click on the Quick mas tool icon, and the setting dialog will appear. Here you can change the default red color to any color you want.

  • Gradient tool

The gradient tool is useful in combination with the Rectangle selection tool to achieve continuous transitions between parts of images.   

Refine Quick Mask Selection

To refine your Photoshop Quick mask selection, you can use many approaches that Photoshop offers. Most used is a powerful tool that is available automatically whenever you make any selection, and it is called Select and Mask. This is a very well known dialog, where you can refine your mask/selection. But I would mention one of the newer functions, and that is Object Selection Tool. It allows you to add to your selection any object or part of your image. Choose this tool and draw a rectangle around the object. Photoshop will make an automatic selection of the object, and it will be added to your selection.

Quick Mask - Select and mask

Save Quick mask to Alpha channel

It is always a good idea to save your selection for further usage. The way how to do it is by using channels. As your selection is loaded to Select->Save Selection.

Save selection Photoshop

Then a dialog box will appear where you can input the name of your selection and whether you want to save it to now or existing channel. The great thing is you can use an existing channel and make a combination of it and your new selection via adding or subtracting from the current channel.

Save sleection dialog box

You will find a new channel or the new version of the existing channel in Channels palette and use it whenever you need it. By saving the image, you will also save the channels and, therefore, selection too. So your selection is ready to be used just by the reverse procedure. Go to Select->Load Selection, choose the file where you saved your selection as a channel, and it will be loaded. Channels can be used for more complicated selections.

Photoshop Quick Mask - Channels

Apply an effect to quick mask selection

The whole process of making a Quick mask should lead to applying an effect to the selected area of the image or cutting out a part of the picture. I use most often non-destructive effects by using Adjustment layers like Levels, Curves, Vibrance, Hue/Saturation, and so on.


Photoshop Quick mask is a useful and simple tool that helps you to create or refine masks and selections. In spite of new selection and masking functions in Photoshop, it remains one of my favorite tools because of its speed and simplicity. After little training and practicing, you will use it every time you will need to select, mask, or refine any existing selection or mask. Check out a great Quick mask video tutorial also here.

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