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08. Help! My Layer Mask is Broken

Elements users send me lots of emails like this:

  • My layer mask doesn’t work
  • The new action I just installed doesn’t work
  • I run an action and nothing changes

I’ve been using Elements for many years now, and I’ve never once encountered a broken layer mask.

Friends, it’s user error.  Layer masks don’t break.  And I’m saying this with a smile because I’ve been there myself, multiple times.  Let’s end the layer mask mystery once and for all!

If you need a basic tutorial on layer masks in PSE, start here.  And then, when you think you’ve got masking down but your mask isn’t behaving like you think it should, come back to this article.

Layer Mask Troubleshooting

    • Make sure the regular brush tool is selected – not the Impressionist Brush or one of the others hiding under the regular brush tool
    • Check that the brush Blend Mode is Normal.  This particular setting is haunted and has been known to change frequently without the user knowing about it.
    • Turn brush opacity all the way to 100% to make sure you can see its changes,
    • Is the brush the right size?  If it’s too big or too small, you might not see it at all.
    • The layer must be turned on with its eyeball showing and active for editing (highlighted).
    • Make sure the layer mask is active for editing (has a white outline around it).
  • If all else fails, reset All Tools using the arrow just above the Tool Box
  • Sometimes, after running an action, you won’t see any changes.  Check these items:
    • Is the layer turned on?  If no eyeball is visible on the left of the layers panel, that means the layer is off.  Click it to turn on.
    • Is the opacity of the layer at least 1%?  If the layer opacity is 0%, that means the action maker wants you to increase the opacity in order to turn on the layer.
    • Is the layer mask black?  Remember that with layer masks, black conceals and white reveals.  If the layer mask is black, the effects of the layer are hidden until you paint them in with a white brush.

Never let those layer masks in Elements make you think they’re broken.  They’re not!

08. Help! My Layer Mask is Broken was last modified: June 25th, 2015 by Erin Peloquin


  1. Val
    Posted on February 21, 2013 at 10:31 am

    Thank you! Your explanation seems to be very detailed and easy to understand, I will try this tonight! I’m sure it’s just me doing something wrong and I really want to use this tool! Thanks!!

  2. Marilyn
    Posted on April 26, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Oh my Gosh! You saved me from the insanity of figuring out my brush and layer mask mystery. Thank You!

  3. John Church
    Posted on May 5, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    I am trying to get rid of a license plate number on a picture of a car . I use the masking tool and it looks great . The problem is I cannot save the changes no matter what I do .I cant believe its this hard to do and I am totally upset with Elements 11. Do you have ant idea how I can save my work ?

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