Perform a "Layers->Mask->Add Layer Mask" and select "Transfer layer's alpha channel" as the initialize option. You can then edit the "alpha channel" by editing the layer mask. When you wish to transfer your edited layer mask back to the alpha channel, perform a "Layers->Mask->Apply Layer Mask".

Thanks to Raymon and "saulgoode" for clarifying the alpha channel <> layer mask, though I still don't grasp the concept. I found I could create a duplicate of the alpha channel, and directly edit that, but I couldn't figure out any way to make use of my edits except for channel to selection, which didn't really get me anywhere. The advantage to editing the channel mask is that you can set a color for the mask, which makes it easier to see just what you are doing. When I edit the layer mask, other than modulating the transparency of the connected layer,
I can't precisely see the effect.

there is one other thing:  In the add layer mask there is an option

Layer's alpha channel
but also
Transfer layer's alpha channel

What is the difference?

scott s.

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