Adobe Photoshop CS3 Tutorials – Extract Complex Shapes

Resources March 10, 2008

Tutorial by Markus Ever tried to extract a model’s hair with the pen tool? Well, I gave up after a few minutes and eventually came up with another way to do that, which I’d like to share with you here in this Adobe Photoshop CS3 tutorial.

Step 1

Start with the image of your choice, I chose this one.

Step 2

Go to your Channels Palette and figure out which of these channels has the highest contrast between the object you want to extract and the background. Usually it’s the blue channel. Make a copy of that layer and make sure the layer is not hidden.

Step 3

Press CTRL+L to open up the Levels Window and drag the controllers to raise the contrast between background and the object which shall be extracted. Be careful, don’t overdo it. If the contrast is too high, we won’t be able to extract the smaller objects.

Step 4

Now use the Lasso Tool (M) to trace around remaining bright parts of the object you want to extract. In my picture for example, I made a selection of the model’s face.

Step 5

Fill the selection with black.

Step 6

CTRL+Click the channel in your Channels Palette to make a selection. Click on the main RGB Channel and now you can copy&paste the selection into a new file.

Final Image

Now you can start using your object for any kind of design project you want. This is how it looks when put on a simple white background:

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Cadence is You The Designer's senior blogger, and the most jack-of-all-trades of the staff. She's always trying out something different every day, some of which fuels her posts here on the blog. Let her know if you want us to post more about your favorite topic - she might know more than a thing or two about it!

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  • Peter Stein

    wow! this was very helpful! thank you so much, gotta try this one now :)

  • MediaMisfit

    Quick, simple and affective. I forget about the channels pallet all too often when working in Photoshop.

  • Jeff Namnum

    wow, you are the best!!! Like MM above I always forget the channels palette and wow this is a lot easier than zooming in to 4000% magnification ;)

    Thank you.

  • sol

    I totally needed this a second ago on a project I spent way too much time on. I’ll do this next time. Thanks!

  • surferJ

    This is a fantastic technique, but nothing new. It is admirable that you discovered it for yourself, which is of potentially more value, since it will help you see even more ways of “getting there”.

    Also consider additional tools, like dodge/burn around edges to increase contrast, curves, luminosity selections, etc.

  • Gino

    Yes, I wish I had known how to do this a long time ago!

    SurferJ – good idea using the other tools as well

  • JPOG

    Oh Thank You so much for posting that. It’s really helpful.

  • GregE

    This is one of the oldest Photoshop techniques on the books. I recall using this technique frequently as far back as Photoshop 3.X.

  • N3

    I’m sorry to argue about this, but you have a really simple background, wich actually it’s quite easy to get rid of, with that technique
    why not give us one with a hard background? like a girl with that type of hair in the woods?

    still, nice tutorial mate, simple and noob proof

  • Scott Williams

    Wow! Old School! I was trained way back on PS 2.5 (no layers, no history). Everything had to be done in channels. Thanks for the effective quick method. Now I have to go shake off the flashback jittererererers.

  • Mai

    Nice alpha channels… Very nice.. I also stumbled upon this rather sexy clipping path tutorial and they also have this tutorial on Image Masking

  • shital jethva

    wow its very nice and easy trick.. i was searching for this type of solution and at last i got it.
    Thanks buddy.
    good job.
    keep it up!!!

  • Asa

    Is this possible to do if you’re only using the trial version of CS3?

  • danny

    my photo blog is be my guest. Danny thnx again great idea great work!!

  • Fozz2k

    Brilliant!! More like this please! Keep ‘em coming!

  • Tashina

    I must be retarded or something I get as far as putting everything in black and then im stuck I cannot get it to allow me to copy and paste nor does it show the outline is this because im using the trial??

  • flashy

    Amazing design technique! Do you plan offering Flash tutorials next? Keep up the good work!

  • Harry Roberts

    Wow, pretty nifty! Cheers.

  • adnai

    i am off to trying it.i hope it works. i will get back to you. for the record…..your choice of image couldnt have been better.

  • Geoserv


    Im still learning how to create banners, this is beyond me, thanks for posting though.

  • Wisanggeni

    Bloody works!
    …and it’s simple too!!

  • kulpi

    it easy extract subject when background have one colour, do you know how extract with difficult background? i mean something like this

  • jrey

    thanks of idea.. astig ka!

  • zark

    hey…..can any one tell me plz that after selection how to make fill that selection with black ?????plz help me

  • Diane UHLS

    How do I subscribe to your feed. I am new to this so I have no idea what that means.

  • Nikhil

    Wow !!! this is too good way to crop a complex image. Thnx a lot bro. I will using this from now on. Thanx again….


  • maruthi

    this type of tutorial is very useful

  • priyanka dewatwal

    wow……………this is great. thank u very much……….

  • vee

    its not working out how do i fill the black

  • raj

    im nt getting the exact image …but a black one..plz help me in getting the image..!

  • Kym

    ok so i was tryin this with yer exact same picture and i dont know what im doing wrong. im doing everything i can by what u said but its selecting the BACKGROUND instead of HER. i dont get this im so cofused. i dont understand how to use the levels thing too. someone help?

  • Kym

    honestly this makes not sense to me. i dont really know photo shop well so this is useless to me unless u go MORE indepth. i try the same thing on my own picture and the entire thing goes freaking BLACK. on yers i do the same exact thing u are from the directions and its trying to take the background and when i do happen to get the full girl there is no color its all shaded white n crap. so e mail me back or something cuz i’d like to figure this out. seems simple but really its not imo

  • http://--------- renz

    Awesome maN

  • er

    Noob here, don’t have a fucking clue what’s going on. I have my image and this layer level. What the fuck am I supposed to do now? Copy and paste? Ta fuck?

  • er

    I don’t get it. I think there are steps missing, big time.

  • rush

    dude..this is a nice work…but i still have a question…who is that girl..i want to know her name…thanks for your attention

  • bL@cK_cuRR@nt_l!p$

    thnx a ton.. really helpful..