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Quick Masks–what are they, why are they quick and what do they do?

Use Quick Masks to make accurate selections ready for further targeted edits.

You may have come across Quick Masks before and wondered how they differ from other mask types in photo editing workflows. In this article, Mike answers this question and looks at tips and tricks when working with Quick Masks.


Quick Masks are incredibly useful. They are most commonly used in conjunction with making selections to target areas for further adjustments—an example of which could be trying to recover detail in an overly exposed sky in landscape photography or making changes to skin tones in portraiture.

In short, Quick Masks facilitate making accurate selections and are often a great starting point to the next steps in photo editing workflows. This brings us to the first tip.

1. Use Quick Mask to check your selection

Making accurate selections, especially of challenging elements such as hair, can sometimes be tricky. Then, once created, how do we know that what we’ve selected is precise? Enter Quick Mask—your new best friend for previewing whether you’ve made an accurate selection or need to refine it further.

Quick Mask selection preview

2. Change preview type

By default, when entering the quick mask mode, you’ll be presented with a red overlay indicating what hasn’t been selected. This is already great, however, it may not suit all selection types, and, what’s more, it may not be your preferred way of working with selections and previews for further refinements.

The good news is Affinity Photo 2 offers a number of preview types to make it super simple to evaluate selections. You’ll find the following to choose from: Show Mask as Overlay/Black/White/Transparent.

Quick Mask preview types

3. Select with Soft edges

When making selections (using the Selection Brush Tool, for example), you may find that the pixels appear quite rugged as the tool is trying to select areas of varying tones. This is sometimes undesired and results in incomplete or inaccurate selections. To remedy that, and if you want to use the Quick Mask previews effectively, ensure the Soft edges option is enabled on the context toolbar while you’re making your selection.

Soft edges option

4. Refine your selection in Quick Mask mode

Once you’ve made your selection, it’s great to toggle Quick Mask on and off to preview and evaluate the range for accuracy. To make amendments to the areas that need more attention, and with the Quick Mask mode on, use the Paint Brush Tool and switch between black and white (keyboard shortcut X) colour while painting to precisely target pixels.

Refining selection with the Paint Brush Tool

5. Use the Grow/Shrink option

To further refine selections, or as an alternative to the above point, you may want to dial into the parts of your image using the Grow/Shrink option.

The way to use it is to make your initial selection, as required, and then choose Grow/Shrink (from the top Select menu) where you’ll be setting a negative pixel value in the dialog—as you do so, observe your selection area changing. You then need to add a Mask to the pixel layer you’re working on and, using the Paint Brush Tool in Quick Mask mode, paint in gently in black or white to add or subtract from the selected pixels.

Grow/Shrink option

6. Take your time

Creating pixel-perfect selections can take a little time to master. In the end, the more you practice, the better you’ll get, and with the use of Quick Mask in Affinity Photo 2, you know the app has your back to help you get to the point where you can start targeting areas for further edits to take your compositions to the whole new levels.