Photography: Create a Face Mask Illusion

Many iconic characters are characterized by wearing a mask: Batman, Spiderman, Jigsaw, Ghostface or even The Mask…Ironic, uh? Masks are used for hiding ourselves or even for showing a side of us that we don’t dare to show. In this tutorial, we won’t be talking about why masks are used, but instead, we’ll be learning to edit step by step a photo of a face in order to create a mask illusion.

As always, I invite you to use your own photos, but, if you want to use mine, you can download it from here. In case you prefer using your own, make sure that the model on it is holding his or her face. This way, we’ll be able to get a visually appealing result.



Step 1

Before starting, keep in mind the following specifications. Is your project just intended for web and social media? If so, the document must be set to RGB mode and 96 ppi. Otherwise, if you want to print the project, the document must be adjusted to CMYK mode and a resolution of, at least, 254 ppi.

Don’t forget to adjust the document parameters before starting off the project so that you can check previously how the colors will look afterward.

Step 2

Let’s open up a new document. First, create a new document (Ctrl/Cmd + N) and adjust it to the size of the image you’re going to use or the size you want to use for this image. In this case, I’ve decided to create a document that takes up the same space as the original image (1024×683 px) and then, I’ll cut it to adjust it to my needs. After that, to insert the image in the document, you can click on File → Place Embedded, or you can also drag the image on to the document while having it open.


Once the image is open, we’re ready to make the most of Photoshop! Shall we start?

First Steps

Step 1

Select the smart object, which is the layer where our image is, and duplicate it by pressing Ctrl /Cmd +J. Otherwise, you can go to Image → Duplicate… 


Step 2

Select the duplicated layer. Then, press Ctrl / Cmd + T or, if you prefer, go to Edit → Free Transform.


Then, click on the little cross in the middle of the bounding box and place it on the model’s elbow. This cross is the rotation axis of the image, so we can move the axis from the center to the elbow in order to rotate the image from this point.


Step 3

Generate a Layer Mask and delete the image’s area you don’t need, keeping only the face and the left arm until the elbow. In order to avoid doing a destructive editing, use layer masks instead. This way, you’ll be able to hide or reveal certain areas of the image and thus, enhance the result.


At this point, we have to delete from the original layer those areas we don’t want to be visible. This way, the result we get will be more realistic.

Step 4

At this point, as we’re working with this layer, I’ll move forward some steps and create the hole where the elastic band is supposed to go through. Select the brush and set it at the highest hardness so that the brush’s edges are hard and we don’t get a blur effect.


Detele the Remaining Areas

For these steps, we’ll be using the Selection tool, the Healing Brush and the Clone Stamp tool to cover those areas we want to hide.

Step 1

Remember that we are doing a non-destructive editing, that’s why we need to copy the original image’s layer.


Step 2

Let’s start working! I’ll be using both the Clone Stamp and the Healing Brush. When working with smart layers, it’s important to rasterize them so that we can use the layers on them. Right-click on the image’s layer and click on Rasterize Layer.


Step 3

I’ll begin by using the Clone Stamp. I usually work with a medium hardness to avoid hard edges. Then, I apply it to different areas of the image until getting the desired result. This step can be a bit tiresome, but it’s crucial for getting a good quality image. If you haven’t used this tool before, you may find it hard to use but don’t give up, it just takes practice. Well, and don’t get obsessed with getting a perfect image. Focus only on those areas that aren’t covered by the layer of the mask.


This image below is the result I got after some work. In this step, you also need to adjust the layer mask of the face mask.


The Elastic Band

Select the Pen tool and draw a curved line, starting from the elastic band’s hole to the fingers and coming back. Take your time and keep trying. It’s important we draw the line as if it were a tense band.

Step 1

Select the Pen tool (P) and stroke a path. If you’re capable, you can do this step with the Brush tool. In my case, I prefer working with the Pen since this tool allows us to modify the path whenever we need and adjust it until the line looks like a tense band. After stroking the path, go to the Path panel, double-click on the path and save it.


If you want to modify it, you just need to go to the Path panel, select the elastic band’s path and, with the Direct Selection tool (A), modify the path’s nodes and handles until getting the desired effect.

Step 2

To stroke the path with a brush, go to the Layers panel and create a new layer. Then, select the Brush tool (B), go back to the Path panel, select the band and click on the small circle you’ll find at the bottom of the panel (it’s an empty circle with a dotted line).

Don’t worry if you paint the face since we’ll be able to hide it later on. Make sure that the Brush tool is properly adjusted, it is, don’t use a too wide brush and select an adequate color. In my case, I’ve used red so that you can differentiate the path line and the brush line (in the original project, however, I’ve used black). Let me show you a cool tip to make your image more realistic. If you want it to be more realistic, just tweak the brush parameters.

If you are working with a graphic pad, you can control the width with the pressure. On the contrary, when working with the mouse, as I’m doing, you can go to the Brush Settings tab and, within the Shape Dynamics option, go to the Control pop-up menu and select Fade. This way, you’ll get a path control which goes from wide to thin. Although the effect obtained with this control is slightly artificial, its symmetry is great for getting a realistic image.


Step 3

Let’s go back to the Layer panel again. Create a layer mask on the band’s layer and delete the remaining areas that aren’t visible.


Most of the hard work is already over. It only remains to add the final details to make our image look real.

The Last Touch-ups

We’re almost finished. Let’s add some shadows to the elastic band and the mask. We’re also going to apply a texture to the band to make it almost imperceptible.

Step 1

To add the mask’s shadow, create a new layer below the mask’s layer.


Step 2

While holding Ctrl, click on the layer mask to work only on a certain area and then color on this layer with a dark brown (#70523c). 


Step 3

Now, as we want to make it look like a shadow, let’s apply a Gaussian Blur to this layer. Before selecting it, make sure that the area is deselected. Otherwise, the blur would only be applied inside the edges of the selection and wouldn’t make sense. So, after selecting the shadow’s layer, go to Filter → Blur → Gaussian Blur.


Step 4

Create a layer mask on the shadow’s layer and delete the unwanted areas. It’s also possible to do it with the Eraser tool, as I did. The result you’ll get should be similar to this one.


Step 5

Follow the same steps for creating the band’s shadow. In this case, however, it’s easier since we only have to duplicate the layer, move it slightly downwards and apply a Gaussian Blur. If you want to make it accurately, you could even use the same color of the mask’s shadow for the elastic band’s shadow. But we’ll see it in the following steps.

So, let’s duplicate the layer, apply the Gaussian Blur, move it and delete the unwanted areas.


Step 6

To apply color brown, let’s create a fill layer with a solid color using this tone. To do so, go to the Layer menu → New Fill Layer → Solid Color…, and select the same brown (#70523c). You can also create this layer of solid color directly within the Layers panel by clicking on the black and white circle at the bottom of the panel.


Step 7

The layer with a solid color is between the elastic band’s layer and the elastic band’s shadow. Now, we need to make sure that this layer only affects the shadow. Thus, hold Alt, hover over the line between these two layers (the solid color’s and the shadow’s ones) and then click on the little white square with a down arrow. A down arrow must appear on the left side of the layer which means that it has been linked correctly to the shadow’s layer.


Like True Professionals

Design and Photography professionals pay special attention to order and details throughout the process. For this reason, this last step will be about organizing layers by creating different folders and groups. We’re also going to apply the texture to the elastic band in a straightforward way.

Step 1

As I just mentioned, let’s use folders to order the layers and rename them so that we know where the specific items are. This way, it’ll be easier to modify something later on since all the elements are effectively organized. Although we’re are working with a few layers, it’s important to become used to this step and do it in all our projects.


Step 2

Let’s apply the texture to the band. Select the layer of the original image, duplicate it by pressing Ctrl / Cmd + Jand bring the copy forward the rest of the layers.


Step 3

Press Ctrl / Cmd + T to enable the Free Transform option. Hold Alt and scale it until the face covers the elastic band. To check it, just lower the opacity of the layer. But remember to reset it to 100%.


Step 4

Select the scaled layer and insert it into the “Elastic Band” group. Bring it above the elastic band’s layer. Then. repeat the same process to apply color to the band’s shadow. Hold Alt, hold over the two layers and click.


The band is quite lightened up, so let’s darken it. We can do it in different ways, in this case, as we applied a dark tone, I’m going to reduce the opacity and paint slightly on it in black.


And this would be the result:



As I said before, professionals like photographers, designers, painters…pay special attention to details. If you want to create a stunning project, it’s necessary to pay attention to details and working in a non-destructive way so that mistakes can be solved easily.


This is the end of the tutorial, although there’s still a remaining step: apply all you learned and put it into practice. Don’t forget to share your results with us through the Projects tab so that the entire Tutpad community can appreciate your work. If you have any doubt, don’t hesitate to write it in the forum.