How to Copy Layer Mask to Another Layer or Document in Photoshop

How to Copy Layer Mask to Another Layer or Document in Photoshop
Layer masks are building blocks of Adobe Photoshop and it is essential to know how to use them. In this post, i will explain to you how to work more efficiently, in particular how to copy layer mask from one layer to another or even from one to another open document. The first part of the tutorial is valid for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements while the second part is for Photoshop users only.



To follow along with me you can download the free image I am using from morqueFile and Photoshop actions from Graphic River. Actions I will use in the tutorial are sample files for Photo Edges Actions Vol2.

Copy Layer mask by Alt/Opt + dragging it

Here is one real world example to get started: you have generated borders using actions downloaded from above link and one of them is exactly what you want. Borders or edges are actually created using a layer mask in this case..
Layer with layer mask in Photoshop

Now you want to use the same layer mask for some other image or in other words to apply same edge effect. Do you need to open another photo and to re-run actions again? No, you can place the second photo above and to copy layer mask. In this way, you can keep both or as many photos as you want in the same document and to export photo you like or photo you need for the particular project.

If you are InDesign user, for example, you can use Object > Object Layer Options to manipulate layers visibility and preview both images (or as many as you have) from the same document.


Let's go back to Photoshop and our layer mask. After placing your second photo you will need to copy existing layer mask. What you need to do is to select layer mask, to hold down Alt/ Opt and to click and drag mask.

When you are above the second layer to which you want to basically paste mask, the gray border around layer will appear and it is time to release the mouse. To ensure everything works fine, take a look at the cursor. Your cursor will turn into doubled Move Tool: one instance of Move Tool will be black and another which indicates that you are copying something will be white and beneath.
Copy layer mask to another layer by Alt + dragging

Copy mask by loading selection

Now, what if you have multi-layered file and layers are not one above another. It can be done by Alt/Opt dragging but also it can be a pain with many layers in the layer stack. There is a quick solution for that:

  • Ctrl/Cmd + click on layer mask which you want to copy to load it as a selection. 
  • Find layer to which you want to apply the same layer mask, select it then click Add layer mask icon at the bottom of Layers panel. 

The same technique you can use with mask saved as Alpha channel after loading saved selection from Select > Load Selection.
Load selection from Layer mask in Photoshop

Copy/Paste Layer mask

You can also copy/paste layer mask from one layer to another in the same or different open document:

  1. Alt/Opt + click on Layer mask which you want to copy (1).
  2. On your screen will be displayed grayscale mask. Select everything from Select > Select All (2)
  3. Copy content to your clipboard from Edit > Copy (3).
  4. Copy layer mask to clipboard
  5. Select layer to which you want to paste layer mask and click Add layer mask at the bottom of Layers panel (4).
  6. Next step is to show newly created blank Layer mask in main image area by Alt/Opt + clicking on it (5).
  7. With blank layer mask visible in image area paste content (copied Layer mask) from clipboard from Edit > Paste (6).
  8. The Last step is Alt/Opt+ click on Layer mask (7) to exit isolation mode and to get rid of marching ants (Ctrl/Cmd + D).
Paste Layer mask from clipboard

Copy mask between documents by dragging selection

Now, what if you want to use the same layer mask in some other open documents? There are a couple of solutions and the first one I will mention is one that works for every document regardless of document size.

I will quickly pass through this technique, for more details read tutorial: Quick Move Selection From One Document to Another in Photoshop.

Basically you need to load layer mask or Alpha channel as selection and then to drag the selection to another document. To be able to drag selection you must have some of the selection tools (Lasso, Marquee...) active and tool must be set to New selection (first option on the right side of tool icon in Options bar). After dragging the selection into another document select layer to which you want to add a layer mask and click Add layer mask at the bottom of Layers panel.
Drag selection from one document to another

Copy mask to document with same dimensions

This technique will work only if both documents: one in which you want to use (paste) existing layer mask (or Alpha channel) and another from which you are copying mask have same dimensions: Width and Height in pixels (resolution pixel per inch does not play any role).

Scene number one: you have layer mask

  • Click on the layer mask to select it then go to Channels panel. 
  • In Channels panel, you will see Alpha channel (Layer mask) active. 
  • Right click on it and choose: Duplicate Channel... 
  • In Duplicate Channel dialog select in Destination section from Document drop-down list name of the document to which you want to duplicate Alpha channel or in other words document to which you want to copy/paste layer mask.

Duplicate channel in Photoshop


  • After duplicating channel you will need to click on RGB composite channel at the top of Channels panel because you can not do anything while Alpha channel is selected in Channels panel. 
  • Next step is to load Alpha channel as a selection (Ctrl/Cmd + click on it), to select the layer which needs a mask and to click Add layer mask at the bottom of Layers panel.


Another even better option is to select layer mask in the document from which you want to copy mask then to switch to document with same dimensions and to choose Select > Load Selection. In Load Selection dialog choose the name of the document in which you have selected Layer mask from Document drop-down list then choose from Channel drop-down list name of layer + Mask.
Load selection after selecting layer mask in another document with same dimensions

Scene number two: you have Alpha channel saved
In case you have Alpha channel saved and that means you have saved selection from Select > Save Selection there is another option.

You can load any saved selection in any open document from the Select menu if documents have same dimensions, don't you know?

All you have to do is to load Alpha channel as a selection from Select > Load Selection, then to select the layer which needs a mask and to click Add layer mask from Layers panel.
Load selection in document with same dimensions when Alpha channel is saved

Product used in this tutorial:
Adobe Photoshop CS6

Reference
:
Mask layers

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