Working with Layers and Masks

Layers / Mask / Selections

When more complex editing is required, Capture One’s Layers tool enables you to combine brush adjustments, gradients and repairs to masked areas using multiple layers.

Overview of layers and masks

The tools in Capture One typically apply global adjustments to the whole image, however there are times when you want to perform corrections to a specific part of the image. For example, you might want to simply sharpen the eyes in a portrait, fix some blemishes or apply a graduated filter effect. There are just two selection tools that enable you to do that in Capture One, and both can be accessed from either the Layers tool or the Cursor tool bar. The most versatile is the brush tool. This lets you apply adjustments to specific areas in an image, and forms the basis of the clone and heal tools used for retouching. The second, the gradient tool, is used specifically to apply image adjustments gradually over much larger areas. 

Both the brush and gradient tools work by painting or applying a mask on a layer to the area you want to adjust. Once the mask has been created you apply the parameters in the same way as you would when making global adjustments. You’re not limited by the number of masked areas you can create on a single layer, however any adjustments you make are applied by the layer, so all the masks on that layer are treated equally. While that’s fine when you want to apply the same adjustment or multiple adjustments to different areas, when you want to adjust multiple areas using different adjustments, you create a separate mask on another layer. It is for that reason that you can create as many as 16 individual layers per image.

The brush tool in the Layers panel lets you apply adjustments to specific areas in an image, and is used in conjunction with the clone and heal tools used for retouching, while the gradient tool is used specifically to apply image adjustments gradually over larger areas.

Creating and selecting layer types

Although you can create a mask and layer together simply by selecting either the brush (B) or gradient (G) and start drawing, edits are applied by layers, so when more complex editing is expected, it is best to get organized and create and name individual layers first. This is especially the case when you need to use the clone or heal tools to repair images. Even though they adopt a similar brush that’s used for adjustments, they can only be accessed through dedicated clone or heal layers. Note image adjustments can only be applied to masks using adjustment layers. 

  1. Go to the Layers tool or go to the Viewer’s tool bar and long-press on the create New Layer button (+) icon. The layer menu opens.
  2. From the menu, select from the following choices:
    • New Empty Layer - New layer without mask using the brush or gradient for image adjustments.
    • New Filled layer - New layer complete with a mask covering the whole image. Used for brushing away adjustments, or brushing away the mask, when it is the simpler option.
    • New Clone Layer - New layer specifically for repair using the cloning brush.
    • New Heal Layer - New layer specifically for repair using the heal brush.
  3. The layer type is added to the Layers tool (press return to enter a new name), and to the drop-down menu in the Viewer’s tool bar.
  4. Draw a mask on the image. Select mask visibility as required. See here for more details.
  5. When selecting the Heal or Clone Layer options, Capture One automatically selects the source point after drawing. If the appearance of the target area doesn’t match the surrounding pixels, click on the source point and drag it to set your own sampling point. The source point can be moved anywhere within the viewer. For more information, see the Repairing Images section.
  6. Remember to select the Background Layer in the Layers tool, or Viewer’s tool bar, to make any global adjustments to the image.

Although you can create a mask and layer together simply by selecting either the brush (B) or gradient (G) and start drawing, edits are applied by layers, so when more complex editing is expected, it is best to get organized and create and name individual layers first.

Deleting a layer

The Layers tool allows you to quickly delete a Layer along with any masked areas and adjustments applied. Warning! Deleting is immediate, however you can undo the command if selected inadvertantly; from the main menu, select Edit > Undo (cmd/ctrl+z)

  1. Select the image or images in the Browser.
  2. Go to the Layers tool and select the relevant adjustment layer from the list (when selected the bar will be orange or silver-colored, depending on focus).
  3. From the Layers tool, click on the Delete Layer button (- icon). Warning! The layer is deleted immediately along with masked areas and adjustments.
  4. The selected Layer is deleted.

The Layers tool allows you to quickly delete a Layer along with any masked areas and adjustments applied.

Working with multiple layers

Layers are an essential feature for images that require complex adjustment. You can have as separate as 16 separate layers associated with one image. Each layer will be displayed in a list or stack in the Layers panel, along with a description of its type, master opacity and a checkmark indicating that the layer is enabled. To see the effect of the layer on the image and, therefore, the masked selection and any adjustments or repairs applied, simply select the Background in the panel and toggle the checkmark next to the layer. When enabled, Selection Points for each Layer are visible in the Viewer, you can use them to switch quickly between them without a returning to the Layers panel.

Clicking on the Create New layer button adds a layer to the top of the stack. Layers aren’t linked in the stack but you can move them up or down to organize them. Simply click and drag it up or down the stack to reposition. Layers can be renamed as well from the Action menu, or the context menu using cmd/ctrl-click. You can tell if a layer is selected, it will have an orange bar when active, so that you can perform commands from the Layers tool and Action menu. When the layer bar is silver, the layer is selected and but focus has moved away to other actions or tools, such as when drawing masks or applying adjustments to that layer. Layers can be quickly discarded by selecting in the stack and pressing the Delete Layer button, though this will also delete any selections and adjustments or repairs made.

Layers are an essential feature for images that require complex adjustment.

Switching between layer types

If you make a mistake during layer selection or you change your mind, you can easily switch between them.

  1. From the Layers tool, click on the lozenge-shaped button with the layer type displayed. The Layer type menu opens.
  2. Select the new layer type from the list.
  3. The Layer’s tool and Viewer’s tool bar is updated with the new type.
  4. Alternatively, go to the Layers tool and click on the Action button (…) in the title bar, or select the layer in the list and ctrl/right-click, and then select the new layer type from the list in the menu.

If you make a mistake during layer selection or you change your mind, you can easily switch between them.

Creating a mask

When you apply either the brush (B) or gradient (G) to an image, the Layers tool automatically creates a mask from the selection, along with an adjustment layer. If you’ve selected the adjustment parameters before drawing, you can apply the effect as you draw. However, if you've previously created a layer, as detailed above, and now want to create a mask to apply adjustments to retrospectively, the action of applying a brush stroke or gradient to the image will automatically create a mask. Note when you want to remove blemishes, you will have to select either a clone or heal layer from the Layers tool or Viewer’s tool bar. See the section on Repairing Images for more details.

  1. Select either the brush or gradient from the following:
    • Keyboard shortcuts, brush (B) or gradient (G).
    • Mask Cursor group (fourth group from the right) in the Cursor tool bar. Press and hold button to display the menu and select either Draw Mask (B) or Gradient Mask (G).
    • Draw Mask button in the Layers tool’s foot bar (second group from the left). Press and hold button to display the menu and select either Draw Mask (B) or Gradient Mask (G).
  2. Modify the the brush settings and set the display mask options before applying a mask. See here for more information.
  3. Brush over the area of the image you want to apply the adjustment to, or click and drag the gradient cursor in the image, as appropriate. A mask is created from the selection and is displayed in a semi-transparent red color (default color), depending on the display mask options selected (toggle M to view/hide). 
  4. After the first brush stroke or stroke of the gradient cursor, an adjustment layer is automatically created and added to the Layers tool. If you've previously created a Layer, and it is selected (in the Layers tool), the mask will be added to that Layer.
  5. Remove any unwanted part of the mask by selecting Erase Mask (E) and brushing away the semi-transparent red areas.

When you apply either the brush (B) or gradient (G) to an image, the Layers tool automatically creates a mask from the selection, along with an adjustment layer.

Deleting a mask

Capture One offers a clear mask option for the Layers tool that allows you to quickly delete the mask without using either the eraser or deleting the adjustment layer itself. As this option only deletes the masked areas on the selected layer on the chosen image, regardless of the number of variants selected, it is particularly useful when you’ve applied adjustment settings or a Style or Preset to multiple variants and you don't want that choice affecting the others.

  1. Select the image or images in the Browser.
  2. Go to the Layers tool and select the relevant adjustment layer from the list (when selected the bar will be orange or silver-colored, depending on focus).
  3. From the Layers tool, click on the Action menu button (…) icon, and choose Clear Mask from the list.
  4. Any masked areas are removed from the selected Layer only. The Layer itself is not deleted.

Capture One offers a clear mask option for the Layers tool that allows you to quickly delete the mask without using either the easer or deleting the adjustment layer itself.

Filling in a selection

The Fill Mask option enables you to quickly fill-in an outline drawn with the brush. It's an ideal aid to your workflow when working with large selections, particularly when there are areas that require intricate brush-work. Simply select the brush, draw around the edge of the area that you want to mask, then use this option to complete the selection. If there are multiple areas on a layer, the Fill Mask command will fill each. If you haven’t drawn an outline, the Fill Mask will completely fill a layer with a mask (like the New Filled Layer option), which is useful when brushing away adjustments is the simpler option.

  1. From the Layers tool, long-press on the Add or Erase Mask button and select the brush using the Draw Mask (B) option. Repeat and select the Always Display Mask (M) option. 
  2. Carefully draw around the edge of the area that you want to apply the mask to; the outer edge of the brush stroke will form the edge of the mask. Ensure that there is a continuous outline around the area required.
  3. Go to the Layers tool and click-on the Action menu button (... icon) and select Fill Mask from the menu. The selection is filled automatically with a mask.
  4. Toggle the mask off using shortcut (M), or select Never Display Mask (M) option from the Layers tool.
  5. Apply the desired adjustments to the masked area.

The Fill Mask option enables you to fill an outline with a mask drawn with the brush, thus saving you from filling it in.

Applying different adjustments to the same area

Although you can apply more than one adjustment to the same masked area, when you want to add a different adjustment to exactly the same area of the image and retain separate control over each using another mask on a different layer, Capture One has a simple to use Copy Mask From function. It is available from the Layers tool’s Action menu button (…) icon.

  1. Go to the Layers tool.
  2. Select the Layer you want to copy the mask from in the list or stack. For example, Layer 1.
  3. To check it’s the right mask and layer (as the function will overwrite an existing mask), click on the Add/Erase Mask button and select Always Display Mask (M) from the menu.
  4. Create a new layer, or select an existing Layer you want the copied mask to be applied to. For example, Layer 2.
  5. Click on the tool’s Action menu button (…) icon, in the title bar, far right corner. The Action menu opens.
  6. Select Copy Mask From > Layer No. (e.g., Layer 1). The mask will be copied and applied to Layer 2.
  7. The copied mask is ready to apply adjustments to.

Although you can apply more than one adjustment to the same area when you want to add a different adjustment to exactly the same area of the image and retain separate control over each, Capture One has a simple to use Copy Mask From function.

Inverting a mask

The Invert Mask option is used to create a reverse selection of a mask. This is adopted, typically, when drawing a mask on a small area and reversing the selection to include the rest of the layer is the simpler option. The option can also be used to invert the Display Grayscale Mask so that the edge and the selection may be more clearly seen. The Invert Mask option is always used on a single layer, but it can be used to copy a selection to a second layer.

One common technique, favored by fashion photographers working on location, is to make the subject standout from the background using color to emphasize the distance between them. Although the human visual system can compensate for color differences under a mix of lighting conditions, it is hardwired into our subconscious that distant scenes such as mountain ranges always have a cool-blue look, while features much closer to hand have a warmer-look about them. This effect can easily be accomplished using layers and the Invert Mask option and the local Color Balance tool.

  1. Go to the Layers tool.
  2. Click-on the Create New Layer button (+ icon) in the tool’s foot bar to create the first adjustment layer, leave as Layer 1.
  3. With the layer selected in the Layers tool (indicated by an orange or silver-colored bar, depending on focus), select the brush tool (B) from the tool's foot bar and draw a mask on the subject that you want to isolate from the background.
  4. Verify the accuracy of the mask drawn, toggle Always display Mask (M) and tidy-up the mask as necessary. (Use shortcuts to switch between the brush (B) and eraser (E).
  5. To add a second mask with a separate adjustment, a new layer must first be created. Repeat step 2, leave as Layer 2.
  6. Click-on the Layers Action menu button (... icon), or ctrl/right-click on Layer 2, and select Copy Mask From > Layer 1.
  7. Repeat and click-on the Layers Action menu button (... icon), or ctrl/right-click on Layer 2 a second time, and select Invert Mask
  8. Double click on Layer 1 in the Layers tool to rename it. Add a meaningful name to aid organization, such as foreground or subject. Repeat for Layer 2 and add a relevant name, such as background.
  9. Select Layer 1 (foreground) and adjust the Color Balance tool, adding a warm color balance setting as desired.
  10. Repeat the process with Layer 2 (background) using a cooler, blue color balance setting, or a use a suitable preset.

The Invert Mask option is used to create a reverse selection of a mask, for example when drawing a mask on a small area and reversing the selection to include the rest of the layer is the simpler option.

Refining the mask edge

The Layers tool offers a refine mask option, which enhances the precision of the mask along the border. When applied, the tool affects all the masks in an individual layer, whether that’s one or several. The Refine Mask tool’s edge-detecting technology makes it ideal for fixing edges, creating accurate and clean selections of complex elements from backgrounds, such as when masking hair or fur, or other objects with intricate or fine details. It can also be used to improve brush work along the horizon in landscapes and cityscapes, for example, as well as other elements with high-contrast edges. If the image has high noise levels or has low contrast, the Feather Mask should be used instead.

The Refine Mask tool should be used at the end of the workflow. However, it is typically an iterative process, and some tidying of the mask edge may be necessary using the eraser brush (E) before reapplying the Refine Mask command. Adjusting the Amount slider or text box alters the width or radius of the edge of the mask in pixels (px), with a range of 0-300 and a default of 10px. However, the tool will recall the previous set value. In general, start with the default setting, enable the Display Mask (M) or Display Grayscale Mask (Alt-M), then gently move the slider to the left for a smaller radius and harder, sharper edge, or to the right when haloing or other unwanted artifacts are observed and a slightly softer edge is required, with wispy hair, for example. The tool doesn’t work with offline images.

  1. Go to the Layers tool.
  2. Create a masked selection using either the brush mask (typically, with the auto mask option enabled), or the create mask from color range (found in the Color Editor tool).
  3. Select the layer in the stack, if not already selected.
  4. Click on the tool’s Action menu button (…) icon, in the title bar, far right corner. The Layers Action menu opens. 
  5. Select Refine Mask… from the list. The Refine Mask dialog window opens.
  6. Drag the slider to the left, beneath 10 (default) to improve quality for hard, clean edges, or above to the right to a maximum of 300px for softer transitions when masking fine detail such as individual strands of hair. Alternatively, select the box and enter a value directly, or select then use the arrow keys or (Shift+arrow keys) to adjust by fixed values. The image will be updated with the effect in the Viewer.
  7. Click Apply to confirm the setting, or Cancel to reject it.

The layers tool offers a refine mask option, which enhances the precision of the mask along the border.

Blending the mask edge

The Layers tool offers a feather mask option, which enables the user to modify the width of the transition of the mask’s border after the mask has been drawn. The Feather Mask tool determines the thickness of the blending at the edge and therefore allows you to alter the smoothness of the application of adjustments to the selection. It is especially useful when masking elements of images with indistinct edges from high noise levels or low contrast. Available under the Layer tool’s Action menu (…), the Feather Mask tool features a slider and box to enter a value, either directly or by using the arrow keys (use shift+arrow keys to modify the amount by fixed values).

Adjusting the Amount slider or text box alters the width or radius of the transition of the mask in pixels, with a non-linear range of 0-100 and a default of 10px. However, the tool will recall the previous set value. In general, start with the default setting, enable the Display Mask (M) and set the image magnification to 100%, actual pixels, then gently move the slider to the left for a smaller radius and thinner, more defined and accurate edge, or to the right when working with an uneven edge or a smoother look is required. The Feather Mask tool should be used at the end of the workflow, before applying image adjustments or enhancements. The tool only affects the mask(s) on the selected layer and doesn’t work with offline images.

  1. Go to the Layers tool.
  2. Select the layer in the list that you would like modify.
  3. Click on the tool’s Action menu button (…) icon, in the title bar, far right corner. The Action menu opens. 
  4. Select Feather Mask… from the list. The Feather Mask dialog window will open.
  5. Drag the slider to the left, beneath 10 (default) to reduce the feathering effect, above to a maximum of 100 to increase, or select the box and enter a value directly, or select then use the arrow keys (or shift+arrow keys) to adjust by fixed values. The image will be updated with the effect in the Viewer.
  6. Click Apply to confirm the setting, or Cancel to reject it.

The Layers tool offers a feather mask option, which enables the user to modify the width of the transition of the mask’s border after the mask has been drawn.

Fading adjustments

The Layers tool features a master Opacity slider, which enables you to lower or fade the amount of one or more local adjustments already applied to the mask, without altering the adjustment tools individually. The master Opacity slider is located beneath the title bar in the Layers tool. Selecting a layer enables the Opacity slider for use with only that layer. Only one can be adjusted at a time, and all the masks applied to the layer will be adjusted by the same value. When working on an image with a number of layers comprising of complex masks and adjustments, you can modify the effect of each layer very quickly. Next to the slider is a box where you can enter a value (%), either directly, or by using the arrow keys (use Shift+arrow keys to modify the amount by larger values). To save a result and compare the effects between adjustments, remember to use the Clone Variant option.

  1. Go to the Layers tool.
  2. Select the layer in the list with the adjustment you want to fade. (The mask should already have some local adjustment applied to it.) The master Opacity slider is then enabled.
  3. Drag the master Opacity slider while observing the effect on the image in the Viewer. Alternatively, select the the text box and enter a value directly, or select then use the arrow keys (or Shift+arrow keys) to adjust by fixed values. The image will be similarly updated with the effect in the Viewer.
  4. When the slider is moved the mask will be hidden (regardless of the visibility setting selected), so that you can see the effect of the applied local adjustment on the image. The mask reappears after a short delay.

The Layers tool features a master Opacity slider, which enables you to lower the amount of one or more local adjustments already applied to the mask without altering the adjustment tools individually.

Displaying masked areas

Being able to see the mask on-screen is crucial when making accurate selections, while at other times, for example, when brushing-in adjustments, it can obscure your view. Thus, when using the brush (B) or applying a gradient filter (G), the Layers tool has several display options to suit a particular task.

After the mask has been applied you can evaluate the selection more clearly with a grayscale mask. This black and white preview shows the masked area in white, unmasked as black and gray tones depending on opacity. It is ideal for inspecting edge accuracy and the uniformity of the selection itself with regards to opacity. The masked area itself can be tidied up using either mask type.

  1. Go to the Layers tool.
  2. Long-click on the Add/Erase Mask button (Brush/Gradient Filter icon) in the tool's foot bar, and select from the following:
    • Always Display Mask (M) - useful when examining the mask for drawing accuracy and feathering effect.
    • Only Display Mask When Drawing - the recommended option for quick drawing.
    • Display Grayscale Mask (Alt-M) - useful option to verify the accuracy of mask edges, including the overall effectiveness of the selection when inverted.
    • Never Display Mask (M) - used when drawing individual local adjustments directly to the image or layer.
  3. Once selected the choice is saved. Use the keyboard shortcut (M) or (Alt-M) respectively, to toggle the mask on or off.

Being able to see the mask  on-screen is crucial when making accurate selections, and at other times, for example when brushing-in adjustments, it can obscure your view.

Changing the color of the mask

The mask created when making a selection is displayed as a semi-transparent red color. This default color can be changed from the Preferences.

  1. From the main menu, go to Capture One > Preferences… (⌘,) Mac, or Edit > Preferences (Windows). The Preferences dialog window opens.
  2. Select the Appearance tab, then under Layers, click-on the Mask Color box. Depending on the OS, a color dialog window opens.
  3. Select the color from the choices available. The chosen hue will added to the Mask Color box.
  4. Close the Preferences window and the mask color will be enabled. There’s no need to restart the application.
  5. If a mask has already been created, click on the Display Mask (M) option in the Layers tool to update the color.
  6. To return to the default, reopen the Appearance tab and click on the Default button at the bottom of the page. Note, any other changes on that page will also be returned to the default settings.

When creating a mask the overlay is displayed as a semi-transparent red color. The color can be changed from the Preferences.

Modifying the size of the Layers tool panel

Like a number of the tools in Capture One, the size of the Layers tool’s panel can be adjusted to accommodate the number of layers in use.This is especially useful where there can be as many as 16 individual layers to display and work with. Along with two fixed size options an Auto size option varies the size of the window depending on the size of the other tools’ windows in the tool tab, when either opened or closed. Note, it may be possible to increase the size of the window by closing others in the same inspector. Note also that, certain tools can be resized when removed from the inspector to float in the viewer.

  1. In the Layers tool's title bar, click on the Action menu (…) icon. The Action menu opens.
  2. Select from the following choices:
    • Small Size (fixed)
    • Medium Size (fixed)
    • Auto Size (automatically determined by the size of the other tools’ windows in the inspector)
  3. The window size is saved automatically.

The window size of a number of tool’s can be adjusted for convenience.

About selection points

A single selection point will appear close to the first application of a mask in an adjustment layer or in a repair layer. One Selection point will appear per layer, and will change color from silver to orange when active. Clicking on one will select that layer in the Layers tool, making it a quick and efficient way to move between them when editing, if there are several associated with that image.

  1. Ensure the Draw Mask and Show Selection Points options are both enabled in the Layers tool. Long-press on the Add/Erase Mask button and select from the menu.
  2. To move between layers, click on the relevant selection point in the Viewer. Note, the selection point will change from silver to orange when selected. Toggle Display Mask (M), or Display Grayscale Mask (Alt-M) to view the selection. 
  3. To move the masked area, click the selection point and drag to the desired location. The mask will move with the selection point.
  4. When the Show Selection Point isn't already enabled, cmd/ctrl-click on the mask instead and then drag to the new position.

A single selection point will appear close to the first application of a mask in an adjustment layer or source point in a repair layer, regardless of whether it’s a series of brush strokes, a single stroke or a gradient mask.

Keyboard shortcuts

The Shortcut manager has been expanded to include a number of commands, so that you can add your own customized keyboard shortcuts when working with layers. Shortcuts greatly improve the efficiency of your workflow. The shortcut manager is accessed from the main menu, under Capture One/Edit (macOS/Windows) > Keyboard Shortcuts. For more information on the subject, see the section on Keyboard Shortcuts.

The Shortcut manager has been expanded to include a number of individual shortcuts when working with layers, which would be impractical to add to the main menu.