How to Invert Vector Mask in Photoshop

This tutorial covers the situation when you have created vector mask in Photoshop but your mask is exactly opposite of what you need. This can happen in a situation when is easier to outline what you do not need or what to hide with a vector mask.

Steps to create vector mask in Photoshop

  1. First thing first, to outline object which you want to mask you will probably use the Pen tool and Paths drawing mode from the options bar (see screenshot below).
  2. Pen tool active and drawing mode in the options bar set to Paths
    Pen tool active and drawing mode set to Paths (red circle)
  3. After outlining object use Path Selection Tool to select entire path and go to Layer > Vector Mask > Current Path or use keyboard shortcut: Ctrl/Cmd + click Add layer mask icon in the LAYERS panel to create a vector mask.

And let’s say you have exactly opposite of what you need. If you open MASKS panel, Invert option is grayed out so you can not use it.
Invert option for vector mask grayed out in MASKS panel
Invert option grayed out in MASKS panel with vector mask thumbnail selected in the Layers panel

Steps to invert vector mask in Photoshop

To invert vector mask follow the instructions below:

  1. First, click on the vector mask thumbnail in the Layers panel to select it
  2. Activate Path Selection tool from the toolbox
  3. Click inside path with Path Selection tool (anchor points will appear)
  4. Steps to activate anchor points which are defining vector mask
    1. Click on the vector mask thumbnail in the Layers panel 
    2. Activate Path Selection tool from the toolbox
    3. Click anywhere inside path to appear anchor points
  5. Click Subtract from shape area in the options bar
Step to invert vector mask: click on subtract from shape area icon
The fourth step is to click Subtract from shape area in the options bar what will invert vector mask what you can see in the Layers panel and by looking at masked image itself

That’s it! You have inverted your vector mask. And by the way, you can always soften vector mask edges using Feather slider from MASKS panel.

Invert vector mask in Photoshop CS6

In Photoshop CS6 follow the same procedure with small difference in interface. There aren't icons in the Options bar as in previous versions but instead use Path operations drop-down list to change to Subtract Front Shape (step 4 in above Steps to invert vector mask in Photoshop guide).
Invert vector mask in Photoshop CS6
To invert vector mask first select path then choose Subtract Front Shape from Path operations drop-down list

Reference:
Photoshop Help / Masking layers

Product used in this tutorial: Adobe Photoshop CS5
*Updated September 20, 2012
*Updated January 13, 2017

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