Brush Hardness for Masking

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Today’s Question: In the “always versus never” department, do you always use a soft-edge brush when painting on a layer mask for a targeted adjustment in Photoshop? Do you never use a hard-edged brush?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I almost always use a soft-edged brush when painting on a layer mask for a targeted adjustment. In rare cases when I am working with a very small brush size with an area of the image that includes an abrupt transition, I will use a hard-edged brush (or a relative high setting for Hardness). But those situations are rare.

More Detail: When applying an adjustment that only affects one portion of an image, it is important to have a degree of transition between the areas being adjusted and the areas not being adjusted. This is especially important when the adjustment you’re applying is relatively strong.

When the adjustment is relatively subtle, there isn’t as much need for a transition between the areas being adjusted versus not. When there is an abrupt transition between the subject you’re adjusting versus the rest of the image, you don’t need as much transition. And when you’re working with a very small brush size, the transition doesn’t need to be as significant.

However, in most cases I will use at brush with at least a slightly soft edge. It is somewhat common for me to increase the Hardness value for the Brush tool above 0% when painting on a layer mask, but extremely rare for me to increase that Hardness value all the way to 100%.