This tutorial is an overview of creating and manipulating masks in Adobe After Effects. We’ll go through how to create them using the shape tools and the pen tool then how to manipulate them.

Recapping the Creating Masks Tutorial in After Effects

To begin have After Effects open and create a new Comp. The composition’s details don’t necessarily matter for this tutorial but I’m using 1920×1080. In the Comp create a new Solid by hitting Command+Y if you’re on a Mac or Control+Y if you’re on a PC. Make the Solid the Comp size and give it a color that isn’t black.

Creating Masks in After Effects Using Shape Tools

In the Toolbar find the Shape Tools. There are five different Shape Tools — Rectangle Tool, Rounded Rectangle Tool, Ellipse Tool, Polygon Tool, and Star Tool. The keyboard shortcut is “Q” and if you keep hitting “Q” it will cycle through the different Shape Tools. I typically stick with the Rectangle Tool or Ellipse Tool (it should be called a Circle Tool, guys).

Shape Tools in After Effects for Creating Masks

Activate the Shape Tool you want to use to create the mask. With the Solid layer selected, click inside the Composition Panel and draw a shape. This creates a mask, hiding the part that isn’t inside the shape you drew. But let’s say you want it to be the opposite.

With the Solid layer selected, hit the “M” key to bring up the Masks parameters for the layer. The Mask parameters should already be up if you just performed this action. Hitting the “M” key twice in a row will make all the Mask parameters appear so you don’t have to twirl it open. For the Mask’s mode change it from Add to Subtract.

Mask Parameters and Modes in After Effects

Under these Masks parameters you’ll notice some other options. You can feather the mask, change it’s opacity, and adjust it’s expansion.

To remove a Mask on a layer select the Mask in the timeline and hit delete or backspace.

Creating a Mask in After Effects Using the Pen Tool

Activate the Pen Tool in the Toolbar or by using the keyboard shortcut “G”. I have no clue why “G” is the shortcut. With the Pen Tool you can create whatever kind of shape you want. Click in the Composition Panel to start creating your shape. Click around to make the different points/sides of the shape then to close the shape and finish your masterpiece click on the very first point that you made. You’ll notice a the box for this point is larger than the rest and the Pen Tool has a small circle next to the cursor when you hoover over this box — this signifies that this is the first point on the Mask’s path.

How to Manipulate Masks in After Effects

Whether you created a mask using one of the Shape Tools or Pen Tool you’ll adjust it the same way. If you want to move the entire mask, select the mask in the Timeline. You’ll notice all the boxes around the mask in the Comp are now filled in and selected. Click any of the boxes and drag it around the Composition Panel. Alternative you can use the arrow keys to move the mask.

To add a point to the mask, activate the Pen Tool (doesn’t matter how the mask was created initially). Then click on the part of the mask path where you want to create a new point. You’ll notice the cursor will have a plus (+) icon next to it when it’s on a blank spot of the mask path. Once created, click the box and drag it wherever you’d like. You can do the same with any other point as well.

To move multiple points at the same time, select a point then hold down shift and select the other point(s). Then you can click and drag the points or use the arrow keys and they’ll move as one.

In order to make a point that’s rounded or change a rounded point to straight, hold down the Option if you’re on a Mac or Alt if you’re on a PC and click one of the points.


Masks create a ton of possibilities. This tutorial on Masks in After Effects should have given you a basic overview on how to get started with them. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.


Additional Suggested Viewing: Show and Hide Properties Tutorial in After Effects

Did you enjoy this video? If so, I’d love to keep in touch. All you have to do is go here to stay in the loop on new blog posts, tutorials, and announcements.

– Josh