I have a layer in Photoshop that I'd like to use as a layer mask, is this at all possible?

It's a black & white layer with some gradients that I would like to apply to another layer that's a solid color, but I can't figure out how to just edit a layer mask to copy and paste the image in.

P.S. I have Adobe CS5

  • @ JKirchartz Can you be more specific? 1. How do I copy the layer? Did you mean duplicate it or something else? 3. Where is the mask channel I shoudl paste to? Thanks
    – user33459
    Nov 12, 2014 at 10:33
  • I've updated my answer to be more specific.
    – JKirchartz
    Nov 12, 2014 at 20:32

4 Answers 4


Layer masks are located under the channels tab.

  1. Copy the contents of your layer by selecting it then pressing Ctrl+A to select all followed by Ctrl+C to copy.

  2. Select the layer that you want to mask and create a new mask by clicking the "add layer mask" icon at the bottom of the layers panel.

  3. Go to channels tab (at the top of the layers panel), and select the mask channel, it should be named <layername> Mask. Make sure the contents of the mask are selected (Ctrl+A), and paste the contents of the original layer into the mask channel Ctrl+V)

  • 2
    Doesn't work. The objects I copied in step 1 get pasted into the middle of the layer mask, rather than the positions they were copied from. May 17, 2015 at 20:50
  • @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft did you Ctrl+A to select all of the contents of the layer you're pasting into?
    – JKirchartz
    May 18, 2015 at 16:47
  • 2
    The trick for transparent layers I use is to create a new fill layer of white (or black) and merge this layer with the transparent layer that I want to be my mask. Then I copy this newly merged layer that has no transparency to use as my mask using the instructions in this answer. This solves the misplaced layer issue by removing the problematic transparency altogether. Oct 24, 2017 at 17:42
  • 5
    NOTE: If you're using Creative Cloud versions of Photoshop the instructions here will not work as the interface has changed. Jul 25, 2018 at 0:37
  • 2
    Works with Photoshop CC but the mask channel must be visible when pasting
    – Cubius
    Jan 13, 2020 at 11:09

There is another easier (imo) way to do this. Create a new layer mask for the layer you wish to apply the mask to. Click on the mask in the layer panel, then go to image > apply image.

This allows you many options, including adding layers from any open document, controlling opacity, blending modes, channels, etc.

In this case, if you already have your black and white layer ready, just select the layer name from the drop-down, hit OK, and it's done.

  • This method is excellent for preserving the transparency from a bitmap layer to a layer mask; when I needed to produce a set of alternate colour logos. Awesome technique.
    – starlocke
    Dec 17, 2015 at 16:29
  • Apply image seems to only apply whatever the currently displayed composite is from the CURRENT document. BEFORE you "Apply Image" you must first turn off all the layers you DON'T want to be part of the mask. Perhaps there is a way to designate what to apply? Jul 25, 2018 at 0:07
  • @SteventheEasilyAmused Apply image has a lot of options. Including the option to select which layer you want to apply. Though it does only allow to select either one of the layers or "merged".
    – fadelm0
    Jul 25, 2018 at 6:28

For future reference – everything that they said above is correct, but if you have transparency, you need to tell it to paste in the specific location on the canvas that you copied from. You do that with "paste in place": Edit > Paste Special > Paste in Place, or just Shift-Cmd-V/Shift-Ctrl-V.


This isn't exactly a layer mask but creates a similar effect. In the Layers panel, put the "layer mask" layer underneath the layer that you want masked. Right click on the layer that you want masked, then choose "Create Clipping Mask."

  • Welcome to GD.SE! Can you please add screenshots to explain better what you mean ...
    – Mensch
    Nov 19, 2018 at 20:24

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.