Cutting out backgrounds can be time consuming and tedious if you are doing them regularly, but many images require it, even if you are only wanting to add a more inspiring sky to an image where perhaps a grey, dull sky is the let down of the shot.
There are various ways to remove backgrounds, some are quicker than others, for example, it is possible to use the magic wand tool to remove a plain background, this can be relitively efficiant, though often leaves a residue of pixels around the image that has been cut.
Using channels is a very effective way for the experienced photoshop user, however, you do need to know what your doing and it can be time consuming. This method really comes into its own when you are wanting to preserve fine detail, such as hair. We will cover this option in a seperate tutorial at a later date.
Here we shall only be talking about cutting out the background using the pen tool. Its not an easy tool to master, but, can ultimately be fast and precise with some practice. This skill is essential to know when using Adobe Photoshop.
The pen tool takes a bit of getting use to, but it’s a tool well worth learning and getting control of.
The short video at the bottom of this tutorial is intended as a visual guide to assist you.
With the Photoshop pen tool, you have two options, 1, Create a new work path or 2, Create a new shape layer.
We will use the Create a new work path option as this the most commonly used. You can find these options in the top left hand corner of the Photoshop menu bar.
Using your pen tool click on a blank canvas. Each time you click you create an anchor point.
The most common mistake when first using the pen tool is to try to click and anchor the tool with each movement of the pen. This is a very basic use for the tool and can work around sharp or straight lines, however, where there is a curve involved in the image being cut out, it creates a jagged finish to your image.
The best technique with the pen tool is to keep all your movements smooth, dragging the pen whilst holding down the left click of the mouse or touchpad. Work around the area you are cutting out, keeping your action smooth, if you make any mistakes, you can delete the anchor point by placing your pen tool over the undesired anchor, right clicking and chosing ‘delete anchor point’ from the menu.
The trick is to know where to put anchor points, and this is something that comes with a little practice. The pen tool does become very easy, but initially it will be slow, so try not to get put off.
After you have gone around the entire area of your image that you have chosen to cut out, it is important to close the work path so that it can be made into a selection. This means that your last anchor point must meet up to the first anchor point. Once you have made your way around the object you must click once more on the starting point. When you get to the starting anchor point it will be marked with a small circle.
Next you will want to right click to bring up the menu options for the pen tool, select make selection and set the feather value to around 1 or 2 pixles, depending on what you are cutting out. This will turn your closed pen line into a series of marching ants around the cut image. From here you can hit ctrl J and place the cut image onto a separate layer, or you can erase within the marching ants selection if you are wanting to erase it. And that just about covers this pen tool tutorial!
There will be a second part to this video showing how to make ajustments to your cut image to refine and enhance it. You will be able to see the second part over the coming weeks.
We hope you enjoyed this tutorial on cutting out with the pen tool in Adobe Photoshop!