I kinda achieved what I wanted by creating a symbol with the photos and circles together (the circles being the mask for the photos) and then applying a mask to the symbol (using the rounded rectangle as the mask).
The problem is being able to edit the circles mask. I can unlink it from the photos, but basically have to ungroup the mask, edit the circles and then reapply the mask.
Ah well. That'll do for now.
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The short answer to your question is "yes". Just apply a Group (Command-G) to the first masked object or group. Then it can be applied as a mask to the next object or group.
Thanks for that.
The annoying thing is that I constantly have to ungroup in order to edit the mask. Ah well, not so bad.
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Yeah, I guess your symbol method might give you quicker access to the objects in some ways. I'm wondering how far you could take that... If you converted every component into a symbol first, perhaps you could edit each piece (both objects and their masks) without ever having to ungroup. The downside is, I'm not sure it would make things that much easier, as symbols don't update live on the canvas, last I checked.
I'm a little rusty on how to edit complex masked objects. You can definitely use the layer thumbnails to select mask vs. object. You may also be able to use Select > Subselect to delve further into a mask (without ungrouping) in some cases...
I thought I almost had it with your final suggestion.
I tried the subselect option on the actual mask (which is a group of objects in itself) but when I attempt to move an object I receive an error message:
"Could not complete your request.
The selection was incorrect for this operation"
I'll keep playing, but maybe it's time to move on.
Between the ability to select thumbnails in the Layers panel, and occasional use of Select > Subselect, you've actually got pretty good options for editing a simple mask. Once you start nesting them, though, you'll probably have to ungroup.
The cool thing is, you've got options for nesting masks and working non-destructively. And grouping and ungrouping isn't a big deal, particularly if you remember the shortcuts for it (Command-G and Shift-Command-G). On the other hand, it might be nicer if Fireworks offered the ability to "unfurl" a group or a mask via an arrow, while still seeing the full effect of the mask.
I just tried out my earlier symbol suggestion and realized that while one can apply a mask to a symbol instance, it may not be possible to apply a symbol instance as a mask, which is a bit surprising. (At least, that option seemed to be greyed-out in CS6.) So my earlier idea may just be purely theoretical.
Yep, it isn't ideal, but it's a lot more useful than most other applications so I won't complain... too much.
Yer, I tried your symbol suggestion myself and encountered the same problem. I'm only on CS5, but it looks like things haven't improved.
Thanks again for all your help.
They look very promising. I'll check 'em out.