Creating montages

Creating montages with masking layers enable you to create a complex-looking montage of futuristic images with the minimum of fuss.

Using masking layers can seem like a daunting prospect to a Photoshop artist a complicated task and maybe even unnecessary. But the truth is they are a very powerful tool for producing complex looking composite effects. And, with the help of this tutorial, they’re nothing to be afraid of.

Through this tutorial, we’ll also take a brief look at clipping groups and apply a few blending modes to the creation of our illustration. Most of the elements have already been created for this tutorial, which gives us more time to focus on new techniques. This walk-through assumes that you’re relatively proficient in the basic tools and editing procedures of Photoshop.

Download files for this project [ 19.86MB]

Part 1: Basic layer masks

Create the four small screen images that appear in the foreground of the illustration, and see how simply layer masks can be used.

Special effects

Making changes to the masks means you can actually apply a variety of cool special effects and filters to the layer without affecting any of its elements.


Before the time of unlimited undos, channels reigned supreme. Nowadays, masking layers are not permanent, and therefore give you the opportunity to make changes at a later date.

Step 1

1. Open sc3.psd from the download and create a new layer above it: Layers > New Layer. Then fill it with the colour R: 211 G: 229 and B: 194 by clicking the foreground colour on the tool palette. Then go to Edit > Fill to fill the layer with that colour.

Step 2

2. In the colour-filled layer turn its blending mode to Hard Light, which is located in the drop-down box at the top of the Layers palette. Now click the New Layers mask icon at the bottom of the Layers palette or go to Layer > Add Layer Mask > Reveal All.

Step 3

3. In the tools palette make the foreground colour black, then select the Brush tool making sure the Airbrush option is selected. In the brush palette, select a brush size of around 100 pixels in diameter with a hardness of 0 per cent and Spacing of 25 per cent. Then paint over the image but leave the model’s helmet visor untouched, making sure the layer mask thumbnail is selected in the Layers palette. Then flatten the image (Layer > Flatten Image) and save it as sc3.jpg.

Step 4

4. Now open sc2.psd and grid1.psd. Working in grid1.psd, Select > All then Edit > Copy, then switch to sc2.psd and Edit > Paste.

Step 5

5. Create a new layer mask for Layer 1 Then, using the Gradient tool with a standard gradient and the foreground colour selected as black, drag the gradient from left to right over the image. This makes the composite around the model’s face clearer.

Step 6

6. Now flatten the image and save the file as sc2.jpg. These screens will be used at a later stage in this tutorial.

Step 7

7. Open sc4.psd and grid2.psd. Working with sc4.psd, go to Layer > Duplicate or drag the layer in the Layers palette down to the New Layer icon, then go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/ Saturation. Set Hue to -32, Saturation to +24 and leave the Lightness alone.

Step 8

8. Create a new layer mask and again using the Gradient tool with black for the foreground colour and white as the background colour, drag it from left to right creating a subtle colour blend between the two layers.

Step 9

9. Now paste grid2.psd into sc4.psd, then Image > Adjustments > Invert. Then Select > Colour Range, and, using the Eyedropper tool, select the largest black area and click OK – you may need to select the Image button. See image.

Step 10

10. This has created a selection. Now click the layer mask icon and, with the layer mask thumbnail selected, invert the layer. Then click the layer’s original thumbnail next to it and select Screen as the blending mode, and next to the drop-down box set the Opacity to 72 per cent. Then drag the whole layer into the Layers palette below the Background copy this will create another subtle blending effect. Flatten the image and save as sc4.jpg

Step 11

11. Open sc1.psd. Duplicate the layer and then invert it. Then open the Hue/Saturation dialogue box and set the Hue to +180.

Step 12

12. Now open shape1.psd and copy and paste it above the original background layer. Now create a clipping group. Hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac), position the pointer over the line dividing the two layers. Layer 1 and Background copy in the Layers palette (the pointer will change to two overlapping circles) and click. Follow this by flattening the image and saving as sc1.jpg

Part 2: Creating a background layer

Now buiId the background with some of the techniques you’ve just used in Part 1

Vector Masks

One area that’s not covered in this tutorial is vector masks. A vector mask creates a sharp-edged shape on a layer and has the benefit of adding an illustrative element with a sharp clean edge.

Chain reaction

While working through this tutorial, you’ll notice that a small chain icon link will appear between the layer image thumbnail and the mask itself. This is to link the mask to the contents of the layer. You’ll notice if you drag the layer contents around on the canvas with the link turned on, that the mask will follow. This helps to keep the masked-out area of the layer consistent with the image it was created for.

Step 13

13. Open Background1.psd. Duplicate the layer ‘blue background’ and rename it ‘green background’ by double-clicking on its name. Open the Hue/Saturation dialogue  box and set the Hue to -68. Go to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to around 7.3 and click OK. Then set the blending mode for this layer to Screen.

Step 14

14. Now create a new layer mask for the green background, using the Gradient tool with the Radial gradient enabled and with the foreground colour set to black and the background colour set to white in the tool palette. Create a gradient on the layer mask over the white explosion. Experiment until you get a nice transition from blue to green. Save the file as maskillo.psd.

Step 15

15. Create a new layer above the green background layer and rename it ‘glow’ Using the Elliptical Marquee tool, make a selection around the focal point of the explosion and go to Select > Feather and set the Feather Radius to 44 pixels. Click OK and then Edit > Fill with a white foreground colour.

Step 16

16. Make another new layer and rename it as ‘background shape’. Fill the layer with a white colour and then create a new layer mask. Then, using the Polygonal Lasso tool, create a selection similar to the shape above and then fill it with black.

Step 17

17. Open shape2.psd and then select all and copy then paste it as the top layer in maskillo.psd. Switch the blending mode to Hard Light. Move the layer so that the largest central circle is circling the glow. Now create a new layer mask, and use a standard gradient with foreground black and background white and from the top right of the shape create a gradient that causes the shape to gradually blend into the background. Call this layer ‘circle shape’ and then save.

Step 18

18. Place the pointer over the circle shape thumbnail in the Layers palette. Right click or Option Click the thumbnail. This should create a selection around the shape. Go to Select > Inverse. Then create a New Layer and call it ‘stroke 1’. With the foreground colour set to white, go to Edit > Stroke and set the stroke width to 2 pixels and click OK. Set the blending mode to Overlay.

Unlinking layers and masks

If you click the disconnect link. the layer and mask are separated. You can then drag the layer contents around without the mask following it the mask remains fixed in the position where it was originally created, or in the last position you moved it to

Effects with filters

You can experiment with the layer masks you have created. Try applying certain types of filters to them to create an even greater range of composite effects. Trying a variety of gradients in the masking layer at different angles will produce some interesting effects.

Step 19

19. Go back to the circle shape layer and duplicate it, then move it to the top of the Layers palette. Click the layer mask thumbnail and drag it to the trashcan icon at the bottom of the layers palette. A dialog box appears click the discard button. Then Edit > Transform > Rotate. Select one of the corners with the pointer, which should be selected with the Move tool, and rotate it clockwise to the position above. Then Then double-click it to set it. Then Edit > Transform and scale it to the size roughly above. Create a new layer mask and, using the Gradient tool again from the top of the layer, make a gradient.

Step 20

20. Using the same procedure as in step 18, stroke the layer and call the new layer ‘stroke 2’. Again, set the blending mode to overlay.

Step 21

21. Go back to the circle shape copy layer and duplicate it. Drag it to the top of the Layers palette. Click the Lock Transparency button on top of the Layers palette and fill with the colour white. De-select the Lock Transparency button and select Gaussian Blur with a radius of 6.0 pixels. And set the blending mode to Overlay. This should give the impression of a slight glow.

Step 22

22. Open cubes.psd and copy and paste it into – your maskillo.psd document and rename the layer ‘cubes’ Set the blending mode to Hard Light. Rotate the layer so it’s in the same position as above.

Step 23

23. Duplicate the cubes layer and then position and rotate it like the above image. Rename the layer ‘cubes2’

Step 24

24. Duplicate the cubes2 layer and position and rotate it like the above image. Rename the layer ‘cubes3’

Part 3: Building up the foreground

It’s time to focus on the foreground elements

Step 25

25. Open machine1.psd and copy and paste it into maskillo.psd. Position it like the above image and set its blending mode to Hard Light and its Opacity to 71 per cent. Rename the layer ‘machine1

Step 26

26. Go to View > Rulers, Using the Pointer move tool, click on one of the rulers and drag it across the image. This should create a guide. Move it until it snaps itself into position with the outermost edge of the machine layer element. Do this another three times. See above image for reference.

Step 27

27. Now open machine2.psd and copy and paste it into maskillo.psd and rename it ‘machine2’. Position it exactly over the machine1 element. It should snap into place because of the guides.

Displaying channels

Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac) selects and displays the layer mask channel. Click on the layer mask thumbnail to view only the the greyscale mask. Then to redispIay the layers, do the combination click on the layer mask thumbnail or dick the Eye icon

Mask on top

You can also hold down Alt+Shift (Windows) or Option-Shift (Mac) and click the layer mask thumbnail to review the mask on top of the layer in a ‘rubyish’ masking colour. Clicking the thumbnail turns it off.

Step 28

28. Create a new layer mask for the machine2 layer and, using the Gradient tool with black and white selected as normal, create a gradient from right to left, so that the machine1 layer is viewable about halfway across the document.

Step 29

29. Open machine3.psd and cut and paste it into the illustration. Rename the layer ‘machine3’ and position it exactly over the other two layers, as in the screenshot above.

Step 30

30. Create a new layer mask for the machine3 layer and, using the Gradient tool with black as your foreground colour and white as the background colour, make a gradient from left to right. You’ll now have a smooth transition between all three layers.

Step 31

31. Now go back to the machine1 layer and make a selection of it. Create a new layer below it and then fill the selection with the colour white. De-select the selection and Gaussian Blur it with a radius of 14.6 pixels. Set the blending mode to Hard light. Rename the layer ‘glow2’ At this stage, go to Views > Show > Guides to hide the guides.

Step 32

32. Using the Magnify tool, zoom into the centre of the illustration (see screenshot). Then using the Pen tool and Convert Pen tool, create a path as above. Click the Work path in the Paths palette and rename and save the path as ‘glow’

Step 33

33. Create a new layer above the machine3 layer and rename it ‘glow3’ on the Layers palette. Make sure the glow path is selected and make it a selection by clicking the ‘Load path as Selection’ button at the bottom of the Paths palette.

Step 34

34. Go to Select > Feather and make the Feather Radius 12 pixels. Then fill it with the colour white and make the opacity of the layers 62 per cent. And then de-select.

Step 35

35. Open models1.jpg from your download and copy it and paste it as the top layer of our illustration. Rename the layer as ‘models’ and in the Hue/Saturation dialogue box, set the hue to -66, and position the image as it appears in the above screenshot. Save the file.

Step 36

36. Create a new layer mask for the models layer and, again using the Gradient tool with black and white and from left to right, create a small gradient over the model’s left shoulder so it blends into the cubes below this layer.

Part 4: Incorporating your four initial images

This is the part where you add the screens you made earlier

Grouping layers

Clipping groups is a very powerful feature which enables you to group together a number of Layers.


One of the beauties of Photoshop is that there are no hard and fast rules. There are numerous ways to do the same thing and by experimenting you’ll find the
way that best suits your artistic needs and methods.

Step 37

37. Create a new path layer in the Paths palette and rename it ‘screen1’ Zoom in on the first screen coming out of the machine and use the Pen tool to make a path around the angular black shape.

Step 38

38. Now open the sc4.jpg we saved earlier, select all and copy it. Going back to maskillo.psd, convert the screen1 path to a selection. Then go to Edit > Paste In To, which pastes the sc4 image into this area. Rename this layer ‘screen1’

Step 39

39. Staying with layer, go to Edit > Transform > Distort, and reshape the layer to fit. See above for the correct perspective. Make sure the pointer is selected to the Move tool.

Step 40

40. Open sc3.jpg and repeat the same procedure to fit the image in the second screen coming out of the machine. Rename the layer ‘screen2’ and the Paths layer ‘screen2’

Step 41

41. Open sc2.jpg and repeat the same procedure to fit the image in the third screen coming out of the machine. Rename the layer ‘screen3’ and the Paths layer ‘screen3’

Step 42

42.  And finally open sc1.jpg and repeat the same procedure to fit the image in the final screen. Rename the layer screen4′ and the Paths layer ‘screen4’ . Save the file.

Part 5: Finishing off

In this final part, use masking layers to add a bit of post production to the final flattened file.

Step 43

43. Now go to Layer > Flatten Image and then duplicate the flattened layer. Set the blending mode to Overlay and Gaussian Blur the duplicated layer with a radial of 6.0 pixels.

Step 44

44. Create a new layer mask for the duplicated layer and create a gradient across the entire image from right to left so that only part of the left layer is revealed around the explosion.

Step 45

45. Click the layer thumbnail so you come out of the layer mask and, using the Hue/Saturation dialog box, set the Hue to -38. Save this file as maskillo2.psd. Both maskillo files are in the download for reference.

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