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Background Masking Techniques in Photoshop part 5

Pen Tool Technique

My final technique will be to use the Pen Tool to create a path that outlines the object, then use the path to create a selection for a Layer Mask.

Choose the Pen Tool. In the horizontal options bar, make sure that “Paths,” not “Shape layer,” is selected. Then, start using the Pen Tool to create a path around the object. I find that it’s helpful to zoom in for greater detail.

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Here’s my completely outlined bee. You can see all the different points that I created using the Pen Tool, as well as the resultant path.

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Open the Paths palette and Ctrl-click (Command-click for Mac) on the path layer. This creates a selection from the path. In the diagram, you can see the dotted line that shows the selection.

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If you have a pretty solid-shaped object, you can skip the next step. Because I have a fuzzy, plush object, I’m going to feather my selection slightly so that the edges will be a little blurred. I choose Select > Feather and make a Feather Radius of 1 pixel.

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Finally, I click the Layer Mask icon in the Layers palette to create a layer mask from my selection. This hides the background and isolates the bee.

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Here’s the final picture:

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In summary:

Pen Tool Technique:

  1. Use the Pen Tool (set to “Paths,” not “Shape Layer”) to create an outline of the object.
  2. Ctrl-click (Command-click for Mac) the path layer to make a selection.
  3. Use the selection to create a layer mask.

My take: This method works for any object, regardless of the background, and is also quite precise. It’s reasonably fast if you’re comfortable with using the Pen Tool; otherwise, this method might take a long time! This method is probably better for objects that have crisp, hard edges, and, similar to Quick Mask mode, you may have a slight color halo if the object has picked up some of the background colors.

So, there you have it: five different ways to isolate an object from a background! Here’s a quick summary of the different methods and when I think they’re best used.

  1. The Magic Eraser Technique
    Great for erasing backgrounds that are mostly all the same color that contrast with the object (set a high tolerance and use one click!), but may involve a bit of touch-up work at the end. No good for objects that are on multi-colored backgrounds.
  2. The Background Eraser Technique
    This technique would be great on a photo object that is already “isolated” but has a solid, contrasting background color. Even still, I might pass up this technique for the next method, as they’re essentially the same and I think the Extract method goes a little faster.
  3. The Extract Filter Technique
    Works best for erasing mostly solid-colored, contrasting backgrounds. Photoshop also does a nice job of getting rid of the color halo problem – but you may have to do some additional touch-up work at the end.
  4. The Quick Mask Technique
    Almost the ideal solution: relatively quick, pixel-perfect control over edges, and works with any kind of background. Plus, by using a layer mask, you don’t actually delete any part of the background. The only complaint I have with this method is that you may get a color halo.
  5. The Pen Tool Technique
    Fantastic technique for objects with hard edges, and it works with any kind of background. You can be as detailed as you want to get a perfect outline, and you can always go back and modify the path if you need to. Plus, you get lots of practice using the Pen Tool.