Cutting Photos from Backgrounds using Quick Select & Refine Tool in Photoshop

Photoshop Refine Edge Tool

Many people ask me how I cut out objects in photos, from the background using Photoshop. Of course once the photo is removed from the background, it can be used in other backgrounds, or different back dropped photos. This is one of the quickest and easiest ways to remove a photo or object from the background in Photoshop. It should be noted this method looks good, though is not exact, and there are more ways than one to extract a photo from the background using Photoshop. This method is also only possible using Photoshop CS5, CS6, and CC.

  1. I am going to use a picture of my daughter. It is a good picture which has a good contrast on several parts of the photos, and poor contrast in other parts of the photos, including some crazy hair. This makes selecting her hair pretty difficult.
    Photoshop Cutting Techniques Allison
  2. Select the Quick Select tool in Photoshop & make sure “Add To Selection” is selected. This allows you to use multiple strokes to make the quick selection in case the Quick Select Tool over selects and you need to Undo.
    Photoshop Quick Select Tool
  3. Click inside of the outer boundaries of the person, in this case my daughter, and slowly push the selection towards the outer boundaries, thus selecting your object. Since the “Add To Selection” is selected, you can do this in increments, and select different parts of the image as you go. You can zoom in a little and make your Quick Select brush a little small to select smaller items. As you can see I am only concerned with the major objects as I will address the smaller hairs and gaps later.
    Photoshop Quick Select 1Photoshop Quick Select 2
  4. Now with the Quick Selection active (Marching Ants showing), click on any “Selection Tool” and you will see the “Refine Edge…” button appear.
    Photoshop Refine Edge Tool
  5. You should now see the Refine Edge Tool Window open & active, with one of the Masks applied. As you can see, the Quick Select Tool did an okay job especially with the body, but with the head and hair, the mask is very hard and edgy, and there are no fine strands of hair showing.
    Photoshop Refine Edge Active
  6. There are several Masks you can use to refine the edges of this photo but my favorite is the Overlay, then the Black Mask to preview possible glowing, as you can see casting and white glows easier which occur when pasting the cutout items on another background, specifically darker backgrounds. In the following procedures, you will be using the Zoom Tool, Refine Radius Tool, & Remove Refine Radius Tool. You can access the Refine Radius Tool by click and holding on the Brush icon in the Refine Edge Window.
    Photoshop Refine Edge Window
  7. With the Refine Radius Tool active, you will then paint over edges that look hard or edgy to allow Photoshop to find the edge, and soften it. You will also paint over the hair, including the fine strands of hair. It might not look like you are refining the hair due to the Overlay Mask being active, but trust me, you are. You will keep on brushing over the edges with the Refine Edge Window open until you refine the edges and hair you want to keep. You will want to make sure you are zoomed in a little for more precised brush strokes in refining the edges. In the below photos, I will be addressing my daughter’s head, body, and hair. On full images, I like to set the Smart Radius check box on, and on the Radius slider, use 2.0px. I also set the Output To, to New Layer with Layer Mask.
    Photoshop Refine Edge Window 2
  8. Brushing the edges and hair with the Refine Edge Tool. You can be broad and do not have to brush stroke every strand of hair, just the general area. If you think you have over done the Refine Edge Tool in an area, just select the Remove Refine Edge Tool and brush it out, and then try again with the Refine Edge Tool.
    Photoshop Refine Edge Brush brushing_2 brushing_3 brushing_4
  9. After you are done brushing the edges and hair of the photo you want to crop our of the background, with the “New Layer with Layer Mask” or just “Layer Mask” selected in the Output To, click on okay. You will now have a layer mask where you can hold the Ctrl Key while clicking on the mask, to select the object to the new photo for pasting. As you can see, most of the hair came over with only a few artifacts. There are definitely more ways and even better ways to extract photos from backgrounds using Photoshop, but this method is quicker and easier than most.
    Photoshop Refine Edge Tool Final
    Photoshop Refine Edge Tool Final 2

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