Have you ever found yourself wanting to copy a Photoshop layer and paste it into the layer mask of another layer, and not being able to figure out how to do it? I ran into this problem recently. So frustrating! It took many failed attempts before I finally found something that worked, and I want to share it here with you.
I’m using a thank you card as an example. It has a pretty effects layer with a watercolor pattern. In this particular scenario, I could have just added a white wreath and white text over the watercolor layer and be done with it. However, I wasn’t sure if I also wanted to add a bit of a darker stroke to the layer effect. In order to achieve that, the wreath and text had to be copied into the layer mask of the effects layer. In the end, I decided to not use the stroke effect, but this card still made a nice example for this tutorial.
Please click on the thumbnails in this tutorial to view larger versions of the images. Also, I have made the wreath and a whole bunch of hand drawn olive branches available as a clip art set you can find in my Etsy shop. It has PNG files in different colors, EPS vectors, and I threw in Photoshop brushes as a bonus!
Step 1: copy to clipboard
First, activate the layer you want to copy, select the stuff you want, and then copy it to your clipboard. So far, so good. This is the easy part!
Step 2: select layer mask
Now, select the layer mask you want to copy the contents of your clipboard into. If you haven’t added the layer mask yet, this is the time to do it. You can do so by clicking the small button at the bottom of your layers panel that has a rectangle with a circle in it. Make sure to click the empty layer mask that was added to your layer to select it.
Step 3: open channels panel
With the layer mask selected, go to your channels panel. If it’s not already visible, you can open it by clicking the Windows menu, and then Channels. There should be at least five channels: RGB, Red, Green, Blue, and the one you are looking for: the mask channel for your layer. This is most likely the one at the bottom, and it is not visible by default.
Step 4: make mask channel visible and selected
Before you can actually do anything with the mask channel, you will have to make it visible. You can do so by clicking the little eye icon to the left of the channel in the panel. You also have to select this channel, by clicking on the channel itself (not just the little eye icon).
Step 5: paste clipboard contents
You can now paste the contents of your clipboard into the layer mask channel. You will want to do so by using the Edit, Paste Special, Paste in Place menu items to make sure everything is pasted back in the exact same position it was in when you copied it.
Step 6: make mask channel invisible again
Almost done! The last thing you need to do is make the mask channel invisible again by clicking the little eye icon so that it is grayed out again. Now select the RGB channel, and switch back to your layers. You can now delete or hide the layer you copied, and you may also want to deselect.
Step 7: finished!
You have now successfully copied the contents of one layer to the layer mask of another layer. If you want to add elements from other layers to the layer mask, all you need to do is repeat steps 1-6. The image below is an example: the finished thank you card.