How to cut out anything in Photoshop, 3 best ways to remove backgrounds from photos
The best 3 ways to cut out anything in Photoshop CC (2 for all versions)
Learn how to cut out photos and objects in Photoshop. One of the mot popular tasks in Photoshop is cutting out things, AKA remove the background. In this tutorial we will look at quick Select, Refine Edge and the Pen tool. Your choice will depend on the image, see the difference and then choose the best option for your task.
The three methods I’m showing here are Quick select and Select and mask, which is great for things like hair and fur. Then I’ll show Color range which is awesome for things like trees. Finally, Ill give you a crash course on the pen tool and why you should use it. You’re thinking, “I don’t have all day” All this happens in 15 mins. If you use Photoshop this is time well invested.
Which is your favoriate method? Let me know in the comments.
The photos used in this tutorial come courtesy of Adobe Stock.,
Links to images used (Download the watermarked versions for free)
Method 1: Cut out Hair in Photoshop
For the first method, (Which works on Photoshop CC only) we will start with this image Woman with red hair.
She has curly hair, so it will be a bit tougher than straight hair. This technique also works on fur.
Step 1. The selection.
Grab the quick select tool from the toolbox.
Rather than select our subject, we will select the background because it’s simpler. (If it was a complex background, select our subject instead. Here is a tut for cutting out against busy backgrounds)
Drag your quick select tool over the area to select it. If you go too far, Alt/Option, drag to deselect areas.
When everything is selected, we need to inverse the selection so that our subject is selected. Choose Select>Inverse or Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+I.
Step 3. Refining the selection.
Click on Select and Mask from the top toolbar, this will take you into the Select/Mask workspace.
Increase the Transparency so that you make the background invisible. (This is just for preview purposes).
Change the view to black or white, whichever shows the edge the best.
Grab the refine brush for the left toolbar.
Paint over the areas of the flyaway hair. Make sure you get all the ends of the hair and don’t go too far into the image, you just want to get the edges, so you can tell Photoshop what is hair and what is the background.
You will notice as you refine, the entire selection gets smarter and the selection will get better.
Here is a secret weapon in Select and Mask when it comes to hair. Turn on Decontaminate colors. Immediately, the color fringing disappears.
Change output to: New Layer with Layer Mask, Click ok.
Result, cut out hair.
And now we have a nice cutout. You will see a layer mask on the layer that you can use to further refine the cutout if you need it.
Method 2: Cut out Trees with Color Range (Works on all versions of Photoshop).
In this tutorial, we will cut out The Tree using color Range. This tool is also great for cutting out transparency, like glass smoke and liquid (see tutorial).
This is the best method when we need selections and the subject is complex with lots of holes, but a uniform color behind it.
Step 1. Using Color Range to make a selection in Photoshop
Choose Select>Color Range.
The dialog box pops up.
Choose the left Eyedropper tool.
Click on the background, choose the most common color and close to the subject. I clicked on the sky blue. Notice the Window in Color Range shows some bits of white. Those are the selected areas.
Step 3. Refining the selection
Click The eyedropper that has a + next to it.
Drag this across the background to add to the selection. Here I dragged to the right of the tree to pick up all the blues and whites.
I was missing a tiny bit, so I clicked again in the white area. Look at the preview window. Notice is a nice black and white, This is the goal, to get close to this.
Slide the fuzziness slider to refine the selection and get our subject nice and black and the background white.
Notice the marching ants section. We have successfully selected the background.
Step 5. Masking the selection
Let’s cut this selection out: Because the background is selected, we want to invert the area that is cut out. (Show the subject and hide the background). Because of this we will hold down the Alt/Option key and click the new Layer mask. (If the subject is selected, then don’t hold down Alt/Option). Click the Layer Mask icon.
You will see a layer mask has been created, (More on Layer masks here).
And here is our nice, clean cutout.
Method 3. Using the Pen tool in Photoshop to cut out hard edged selections
When it comes to clean edges, nothing beats the pen tool. This makes it the best choice for simpler shapes that need a crisp edge. It’s one of the hardest tools in Photoshop to master, but once you get it down, it will be so useful to you. I have created an in-depth tutorial on the pen tool that will take you from total beginner, to a decent understanding of the capabilities of this powerful tool. Make sure to finish this tutorial and watch the video above first.
Here is the image of The car that I used from Adobe Stock. Let’s cut it out.
Step 1. Making a rough edge with the pen tool
I have my own way of using the pen tool, that I think works pretty quickly, I’ll introduce you to it here.
Choose the pen tool from the toolbar. Make sure the options at the top say path and not shape.
Click on the corner where you want to begin and drag in the direction that you want o make your path
Choose the first curve in your object and then click and drag again. This time you will see an elastic line between the 2 points. Notice how it changes when you drag close or further away from the point, or what happens when you change direction. Don’t worry about perfection at this point, all we want to do is make a path that roughly follows the outline of the shape.
Notice when I got to the right wheel, I made a few points around the car, I am keeping the ground, so I don’t need to select the bottom of the car.
To finish drawing your path, move the cursor over the very first point. As you hover, you will see a little circle. Click on that point to close the path and finish drawing.
Tip: The goal is to outline the subject with the least amount of points possible.
Step 2. Refining the path
Some people strive to get their paths perfect the first time around, and that’s ok too. Personally I like to break it into 2 phases.
Under the Path Selection tool, choose the Direct Selection tool.
You can now click on a point to activate it.
Zoom in nice and close and carefully drag the points into position. Click the ends of the handles to change the angle of the curves. Push and pull these end points to change the steepness of the curve. It may seem weird at first, but it will get easier with a little practice, hang in there!
Tip: To move just one side of the curve, hold down Alt/Option as you drag on an endpoint.
Step 3. Adding points to the curve
When you drag a point into tight areas with lots of curves, it will be tricky at first.
Here we have dragged the point into the mirror, but we aren’t getting the right curve on the top.
Choose the pen tool with the + on it to add a point.
Click and release on the line, where you want to add another anchor point. You will now see a new point.
You can go back to the direct section tool, or keep using the + pen tool (they work the same for dragging points)
Grab the new point into position and now you have a nice curve. Don’t worry if you are getting confused, check out this simple tutorial on the pen tool
Finish refining the path using the techniques shown.
Step 4. Finishing off the path.
Once you are done, let’s consider moving the outside points to fully cover the sky.
Drag the corner points until you have something like this. If you have gotten this far, congratulations!
Step 5. Making a selection from a path
Go to the Paths panel
You will see our path as “Work Path”. You can save and use this path as a clipping group in InDesign or Quark Xpress. (If you are going to a layout application for print, this is the best option because the path is a vector which sales and prints better than pixels.) For compositing work in Photoshop, convert to a selection and mask as in the following steps.
In this case, we are going to turn it into a selection. Hold down Cmd/Ctrl and click on the work path in the Paths panel.
You will now see the marching ants section.
Hold down Alt/Option to create an inverted mask.
And we now have a perfect cutout with the cleanest edges you have seen.
Alright, I have just shown you 3 methods for cutting out different images in Photoshop. The is a big tutorial, so make sure you watch the video at the top. I have also included more in-depth tutorials on the individual techniques in the links below. You may want to bookmark this page (and share with your friend). I think it will serve as a good “selection resources” landing page for you.
Here is a short list of my other tutorials on cutting out and extracting.
Thanks for checking out this tutorial and explore PhotoshopCAFE, there is a lot of useful content on the site.
See you soon,
If you like these kinds of techniques, check out my practical project course (Sky City Project) that will help you put all these skills to work in a real-world project. All the resources: photos, brushes etc are included.