How to Create Scary Halloween Masks in Photoshop

With Halloween approaching, Wex’s Daniel Hahn takes you through the process of creating scary masks in Photoshop – with alarming results!

Be warned: this content is not for the faint-hearted! In the following tutorial,

I will take you through the steps involved in creating some terrifying Halloween effects using Photoshop. For the result I want to achieve, I have merged very specific types of image but similar steps can be used to merge any two shots – the only limit is your imagination. I’m using Photoshop version 4, but all tools used in this tutorial are supported by older versions as well. The information in parentheses refers to keyboard shortcuts for PC/Mac users.

Big thanks to Conzpiracy Digital Arts of for allowing us to use his techniques.

Before and after. Initial image taken using the new Sony A77 II with the Sony 16-50 F2.8 lens

Apply Some Make-up

For a starting portrait, it is best to choose a high-resolution image with minimal shadows on the face and a neutral background. This minimises any work you will have to do later.

Before you start editing, it is advisable to create a copy of your original image (Ctrl/Command + J) – just in case anything goes wrong. To create the copy, select the layer of the original image with the left mouse button and pull the image to the new/copy layer symbol below. You can copy your image as many times as you need; just make sure you turn the layer you are working on visible and the copies invisible by clicking on the eye-symbol on the left-hand side of the layer.

Once you have chosen your image, you can start erasing any impurities by using the clone stamp (S) or healing brush tool (J). Sometimes, I remove the eyebrows to increase the ‘skull-like’ look – you will see why later in the article! Later versions of Photoshop have a content-aware tool that saves you the time of removing the unwanted areas on your own.

Plucking eyebrows without tweezers
Plucking eyebrows without the use of tweezers

If you are working with an early version of Photoshop (like I do) and want to remove large areas, it’s best to select the specific area first, then choose a small skin area outside the selected area and stamp or heal inside the selected area.

Creating Contact Lenses

The eyes are always the first area people look at in a portrait image, so it’s important to pay special attention to them. After you have completed the following steps, you will be able to change the eye colour at any time, without changing the original image.

How to create scary Halloween masks
Tools and layer guide


The darker the iris, the harder it can be to select the area. In case the eyes you are working on are very dark, open a new layer mask. Then open the adjustment layers (the black-and-white circle in the layers window) and choose curves. A curves window with a diagonal line will appear and you are now able to lighten up the area by moving the middle of the curve line up a couple of notches. Don’t worry if the entire image lightens up – once you make a selection, the brightened area will only apply to your selection.

The area you want to select is the iris, the coloured part of the eye. There are different tools to select an area, including the lasso tool, the quick selection tool and the polygonal tool (L). I like to use a combination of the polygonal tool and the lasso tool.

The key buttons, once the tools are selected, are Alt and Ctrl/Command. Once you’ve chosen a selection tool, hold the Alt-key and a + symbol appears beside your cursor. If you keep the Alt-key pressed, you can add to your selection without losing the previously selected area. Keeping the Shift-key pressed while selecting does the opposite and enables you to subtract an area you have already selected. But don’t worry if your selection is not 100% spot on – there are easy ways to smoothen the edges.

To do this, select the layer mask beside the curve symbol and hit Ctrl/Command + I (Invert) to invert the layer mask. The selected area should now appear darker. You can now see that the edges of your selection look very hard; to smoothen those, you’ll need to hit Ctrl/Command + D to deselect and again Ctrl/Command + I (Invert).

Scary Halloween Masks in Photoshop
After applying the layer masks

It is now time to work on the hard edges and apply the Gaussian Blur Filter (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur). Move the radius up until you are happy with your selection (I’ve used 4.0, but it can be different in your picture – tick the preview on and off to see the difference). With the curves applied, the eyes should already look a bit eerie and colourless. If you want to refine the edges even further and add colour to the iris, follow the steps in this section. If you are happy with the result so far, you can jump straight to the next section (White as a Ghost).

Before changing the eye colour, create a group (Ctrl/Command + G) – press the folder icon below in the layer window and call it ‘eyes’. A group enables you to work in a single section, which, in this case, is the selected eye area. The mask has to be copied to the group folder. To copy the mask, select it with the left mouse button, hold Alt and drag the cursor over the ‘eyes’ folder. Once you release the mouse button, the mask should now be applied on both the group ‘eyes’ and the layer ‘curves1′ (if the mask is only in the group ‘eyes’ and moved off the curve layer, just copy it back with Alt until it is in both).

With the group as a selected layer, you can now add the curves layer again to adjust the brightness, add a Hue and Saturation Mask and use the three sliders Hue, Saturation and Lightness to adjust the eye colour (see image above).

Scary Halloween Masks in Photoshop
Opacity and Flow options

The selected area might now extend over the eyebrows or inside the white area of the eyeball. If this is the case, choose the brush tool (B) from the left with a small diameter; set the brush to the colour black and Colour Burn mode (top left beside the brush) and set the Opacity and the Flow to about 50% to take out areas you don’t want to be coloured. Once you’ve added a curve mask in the ‘eye’ group, you can delete or disable the first curve that you might have created to help with your selection.

Another tip to make the eye look more natural is to darken the outside area of the iris. To do so, create another curve in the ‘eye’ group and darken the area by pulling the central area of the curve a bit down. Now hit Ctrl/Command +I to invert the mask, choose a soft (Opacity 40, Flow 40) brush with the selected colour (white) and paint around the outside of the iris. Feel free to test out some layer masks. You can also add another curve and when you are happy with the results, move on to the next part.

White as a Ghost

By now, the advantage of working with layer masks has probably become clear – you can switch them on and off without changing the original image you are working on.

To mute the skin colour of your model, create another group (Ctrl/Command + G) and copy the layer mask from the ‘eye’ group by clicking on the mask and holding Alt. Now pull the mask into the new group. I called the new group ‘skintone’. In ‘skintone’, choose the layer mask and press Ctrl/Command + I to invert the mask. The mask should be white with only the previously selected iris area black.

Similar to the eye-colour section you can now apply different masks in the skintone group to change your healthy-looking model into a sickly-looking undead monster. Because the eyes are in a different group, any changes made in the ‘skintone’ group should not affect this area. If the entire picture changes, check if the Layer Style is set to Pass Through and the masks inside the groups to Normal (this should already be set up automatically).

Halloween Masks in Photoshop
Added layer masks for skintone

Putting on the Mask

If you think your image looks ready for the Halloween party of your life, just wait for the next part!

First, find yourself a suitable skull image. If you have something at home that you want to shoot, make sure the item is evenly lit without shadows. You can also find a selection of free skulls on sites like Deviant Art in all different types and angles (in case you want to try a side profile).

Once you have opened the image, change the Opacity of the layer to 40% and match both images together. To transform the image press Ctrl/Command + T. Hold down the Shift-key and resize the skull so that it matches your face, then set the Opacity back to 100%.

Halloween Masks in Photoshop
Lining up with 40% Opacity

Your original image should now be covered by the skull image. Add a vector mask (between the fx symbol and the masks – looks like a folder with a white circle inside) to the image and select the paint brush tool (colour black). Before you proceed, make sure all the settings are set to ‘normal’. All modes should be in normal and Opacity and Flow in both the brush tool and the layer style should be 100%.

I made another group (Ctrl/Command + G) and named it ‘skull’. That keeps everything separate just in case you want to take the mask off again.

With the brush tool selected you can now make parts of the mask/skull visible. Set the Opacity and the Flow (top left) of the brush to about 40% and select the brush colour white. With the layer mask (beside the skull image) selected, you can now erase (black colour brush) and add (white colour brush) parts of the mask to your image.

To match the skin and bone colour of your two images, create a new Adjustment layer: Hue/Saturation. Because you don’t want this layer to affect the entire picture, select the adjustment layer with the right mouse button. Click on Create clipping mask and a small arrow should appear.

Scary Halloween Masks in Photoshop
Job done – ready for the party!

Get Scaring!

Ok… that should look very tasty now. When you’re satisfied with your image, save a version with all layers, as you might want to use or change parts of your project later. Make a copy of all layers (select all visible layers, right click, duplicate layers) under a new name (make sure your destination is new and you can name the file). Then right click the layers in the new image and Flatten the image.

If you want to add a very cool effect to the image, you can run an action script that you can download at Deviant Art.

Scary Halloween Masks in Photoshop

More images:

How to Create Scary Halloween Masks in Photoshop
Resident Evil style, featuring Daniel Hahn
How to Create Scary Halloween Masks in Photoshop
They Live style
How to Create Scary Halloween Masks in Photoshop
Side profile

If you have undertaken the steps above and would like to share your results, please add a link in your comment below. Happy Halloween!