Working with Masks in Adobe Fireworks


What is a mask?  Chances are, if you've never used a photo or graphics editing program before, what comes to mind is probably a Halloween mask that you wear on your face. Although that's not what a mask is in Fireworks, the purpose of both types of masks is the same.  In Fireworks, a mask is used to either hide or show part of an object. In other words, you can use a mask to hide certain objects in a document or to give a semi-transparency to those objects. You can also use a mask to reveal certain objects while hiding the rest.

We are going to focus on creating and using masks in this article.   You will learn how to:

  • Create a bitmap mask

  • Create auto vector masks

  • Create a vector mask

  • Use the Properties panel to customize your options for masks

About Bitmap Masks

A bitmap mask can be created using the Brush tool, other images, or selections that you create. You can create a selection using the lasso or marquee selection tools, as well as the Magic Wand. To create a mask using the Brush tool, all you have to do is paint on the section of canvas that you want to use as a mask.  

With all masks, whether bitmap or vector:

  • Black will hide what's under the mask. 

  • White will reveal it. 

  • Gray will produce a semi-transparency. 

Creating a Bitmap Mask

Take a look at our document in the snapshot below. 

We want to create a mask that will hide the center portion of the image in our document.

To do this, go to the Layers panel. Note that we have our current layer selected.

Next, click on the Add Mask button (circled below) to create a new mask.

You will now see the new mask added to the layer.   Right now, the layer is transparent. We know this because it's white.


  • Black will hide the object beneath the mask. 

  • White will reveal it. 

  • Gray will produce a semi-transparency. 

Make sure the mask is selected. You see a green border around it in the Layers panel when it's selected.

Now we are going to go to the Tools panel and select a selection tool.  

We are going to select the Oval Marquee tool from the Bitmap area.

Drag your mouse over the document to create the oval marquee.

Next, select the Brush tool in the Tools panel.

Go to the Properties panel to select your brush size and other options.

Drag the brush across the selected area.   As you can see, we have masked the area inside the marquee so that the area beneath the mask is revealed. 

You can change the fill color to grey in the Tools panel to create a semi-transparency. 

NOTE:  In the example we used, we had two image layers stacked on top of each other. This meant that we could not see the bottom layer when we created the mask.   If you wanted to reveal a certain object, you might need to see the bottom layer. To be able to do this, go to the Layers panel and temporarily reduce the opacity for the top layer while you create the mask.

About Vector Masks

Vector masks, also known as clipping paths, can be applied to vector shapes or images, bitmaps, groups, or even graphic symbols.   A vector mask will crop or clip the objects that are beneath it to conform to the shape of its path.   Think of a vector mask as a cookie cutter.

There are two modes you can use for vector masks: Path Outline or Grayscale. 

If you use Path Outline mode, the path acts as the mask. 

If you use Grayscale Appearance, the pixel values of the vector's fill, stroke, and shape are used to create the mask. Shades of grey will be used in the mask to create visible, semi-transparent, and hidden areas.   

The Auto Vector Mask

An auto vector mask is a mask that you can quickly apply to any object or vector shape. Auto vector masks are neat to use because they allow you to easily apply semi-transparent masks to objects and vector shapes. Once you've created the mask, you can then edit its properties to customize it for your needs.

To create an auto vector mask, first select the object or vector shape you want to use.

We've selected the top shape in the image below.

Next, go to Commands>Creative>Auto Vector Mask.

In the Auto Vector Mask dialogue box, you will see different masks that you can apply.

Notice the solid grey areas of each mask.   As we stated earlier in this article, grey means the mask will be semi-transparent. The grey and white checkered areas are completely transparent.

Below you can see the mask we've selected, and its effect on our vector shape.

Select the mask, then click apply.

Now take a look at the Properties panel.

As you can see, it's a Grayscale Appearance mask.  

You can edit the properties of the mask here as well.

If you click on the swatch to the right of the paint bucket, you can change the gradient of the mask. This will alter or adjust the "grey" areas in the mask.   Remember, shades of grey in the mask determine the parts that show, are semi-transparent, or are hidden.

You can also determine the fill for the gradient.

From left to right, there is No Fill, Solid Fill, Gradient Fill, and Pattern Fill.

Let's change our mask to No Fill.

As you can see in the snapshot above, No Fill removes the greys from our mask so that the whole object is visible.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Adobe Fireworks course?

Solid Fill is shown below:

Since we the gradient fill was the one we used in the original mask, let's take a look at Pattern Fill.

When you click on Pattern Fill, you will see the Pattern pop-up menu. 

Choose a pattern from the Pattern dropdown.

You can also set the type of Edge you want for your fill. 

Once you've decided on the type of fill, you can also choose a stroke color and width.

Then, decide if you want to align the stroke to the outside, inside, or center. 

Creating a Vector Mask from a Shape

In Fireworks, you can use a vector shape as a mask. To do this, draw a vector shape that you want to use as a mask, as we have done below.

Next, use the Pointer tool to select the object beneath the mask, then go to Edit Cut.

Next, select your mask, then go to Edit>Paste as Mask.

To paste the object inside the mask, go to Edit>Paste Inside to paste the image inside the masked area.

Going from Path Outline Mode to Greyscale Appearance

In the last section of this article, we created a mask using the Path Outline mode. Let's do that again, then show you how to create a mask in the Greyscale Appearance mode.

As you can see, we have created a vector shape in the snapshot below.

Create the mask, then choosing Edit>Paste Inside.

Next, we are going to go to the Layers panel and select the mask.

Now take a look at the Properties panel.

As you can see in the snapshot above, we have created a Path Outline mask. 

Let's change that to Grayscale Appearance.

Click the Gradient Fill button in the Properties panel as we did with auto vector masks. 

Note: You could also click on the No Fill, Solid Fill, or Pattern Fill button. We just chose Gradient Fill for demonstration purposes.

You can also choose a Blend mode.

We chose Luminosity.

Using and Creating Styles

 You can apply these things to objects or shapes, and you can even apply the same filters and options to several objects or shapes in a document.   However, you can also save the filters and options that you apply to one object. This collection of changes that you made then becomes what is called a style.  You can then quickly and easily apply that style to other objects in the document.

In this article, we will learn how to:

  • Use style presets

  • Create new styles

  • Redefine styles

  • Save styles

  • Create style libraries

  • Import and export style libraries

Working with Style Presets

Style presets are pre-defined styles that have been created for you by Fireworks CS6. You can apply any of these styles to objects in your document.

To use a style preset, go to the Styles panel

If there are not any styles applied to the document, you will not see anything listed in this panel.

Click the downward arrow beside Current Document in the Styles panel.

In the snapshot above, you can see a list of the categories of style presets that you can use.

Let's click on Wood Styles.

These are the types of wood styles that you can apply to the object.

Let's show you what we mean.

In the document below, we have drawn an arrow shape.

We are going to use the Pointer tool to select the arrow, then go to the Styles panel.

Once again, click the downward arrow beside Current Document. Select Wood Styles.

Choose a wood style to apply to the arrow. We chose the first one on the left.

The predefined style is then added to our arrow, as shown above.

Creating a Button Bar with Predefined Styles

Let's learn to create a button bar that can be used for navigation on a website using predefined styles.

To do this, we are going to start out by creating a rounded rectangle shape.

Next, we are going to go to Edit>Clone to clone the shape.   The cloned shape will appear on top of the original shape. Use the Pointer tool to drag it away.

We are going to create four buttons. Once we have done that, we are going to press CTRL+A to select all the buttons.

Now, we will go to the Align panel and click the Align Left Edge button.

We are going to add the value of 10 in Spacing, then click the Space Even Horizontally.

We now have our button bar that is ready for a style.

Let's go back to the Styles panel.

With all buttons selected, choose a style to apply to them.

We are going to the Plastic Styles category and applying the third style in the first row.

Our buttons now look like this:

Editing Styles

To edit a style, select the object for which you want to edit the applied style. We are going to select one of the buttons in our button bar.

Go to the Properties panel, as pictured below.

Here you can change the things such as the fill or stroke color, the texture, and even the filters that were applied to create the style preset.

In the snapshot below, we simply changed the fill color.

Redefining a Style

In the last section, we changed the fill color of one button.   Now we want to apply the change we made to the style to the rest of the buttons.

To do this, go to the Properties panel.

Click the Redefine Style button.

The style changes are then applied to all the buttons.

Saving a Style

To save a style, select the object that has the style applied that you want to save.

Go to the Styles panel.

Click the Menu Options button in the upper right hand corner of the panel.

Select New Style from the menu.

You will then see the New Style dialogue box.

Enter a name for the new style, then select the properties that you want saved with the style.

Click OK when you are finished.

NOTE:  Whenever you apply filters and adjust the properties for objects in your document, you can then save those changes as a style by following the steps we just learned to save a style.  

Creating and Exporting a Style Library

Whenever you save a style that you created, that style can only be applied to that particular document. In other words, the styles you create are document specific. In order to make it so that the styles you create can be applied to any document – and even shared with others – you must create a custom style library.

To create a custom style library, go to the Styles panel.

You will see the style that are currently applied in your document.

Click the Menu Options button located in the top right corner of the panel.

Select Save Style Library.

Enter a name for this new library in the File Name field, then click the Save button.

As you can see in the snapshot above, the style library is saved to the Fireworks Styles folder.

If you want to share this style library with co-workers or even friends, save the style library again by following the steps we just learned, except this time save the library to your desktop or another location on your computer. You can then email it to anyone who you want to share it with.

Importing a Style Library

Just as you can export a style library and share it with others, you can also import style libraries that others have created.

Style libraries always have the extension STL. 

To import an STL file, go to the Styles panel.

Click on the Menu Options button located in the top right corner of the panel.

Select Import Style Library.

Locate the STL file, click to select it, then click the Open button.

The library is then imported and ready for you to use.