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Extracting Hair

Extracting images from their source photographs, manipulating them, and then placing them into another document is a widely used function of Photoshop, and a staple of graphic professionals in many different creative positions.  As the experts will tell you, however, this task is not as easy as merely using the 'Extract' tool, especially when human hair or animal fur is involved. This tutorial details an simple yet devious workaround for times when you need to mask out hair/fur, but don't want to spend lots of time with your image and/or splash out on expensive dedicated plug-ins.

Step 1:  Open up your source image in Photoshop and zoom in to a comfortable magnification - you will need to get rather close to the image for this entire tutorial.  Duplicate the background (i.e. image layer) and make it active in the layer palette.   This will give you a backup to go back to in case you have any problems later.
As you can see, we have lots of stray hairs against a blue background. Nasty stuff really, and to use the Eraser Tool or quick mask mode to select each hair would take forever, giving us a result that would still look poor even after all that effort.

Step 2: Whip out the Pen Tool with the 'Paths' option set and begin tracing the character outline, making sure that you exclude all areas of background color.  Don't worry about leaving the stray hairs outside - that's ok, as we'll be making new ones later.

Step 3: Once you've finished your tracing and have a complete geometric shape (i.e. the path end and beginning are connected), click with your right mouse button inside the path and select ”Make selection” from the mini-menu that appears.  This should give you a selection around your image that resembles something like the image to the left.


Step 4: Now delete the selection and create a layer directly beneath your image layer filled with a sharply contrasting color. In my example I've chosen black because it contrasts well with the blonde hair. Now pick up your Smudge Tool and set the tip to a hard 2px brush, with a strength of 85%, 'finger painting' unchecked, & blending mode set to Normal.  
TIP: Using higher Strength values make hairs longer and more visible, while lower values make them shorter and more transparent). I usually use values between 80 and 90%. If you have a pressure sensitive tablet and pen you simplify this process greatly.

Step 5a: Now place the cursor just inside the hair, press and hold your left mouse button, and pull out a ”stray hair”. You should create something that resembles the image to the right below - It's not much, but it all adds up in the end!  The real trick is to make the single hairs look like they are actually part of the whole and not just 'stuck on frizz'.  This can take a bit of practice, but is easier if you have the original image nearby for reference.  Remember to use higher Strength values to make longer and more visible hairs.

Step 5b: Continue smudging hairs and details into the image.

To the left you'll see a part of the image before smudging, to the right the same area after being smudged. A world of difference isn't it?  The best part of this technique is that you recreate the blurry edges on hairs also present in the source photos, giving them a superior sense of realism. Another bonus is that you can change the background to any color and still get great results.

Step 6: After a bit of work you should be able to hide your color contrast layer and end up with something that resembles my image to the left.  To make the hairs you created more visible you can use the layer via copy command (Layer > New > Layer Via Copy) - Since the hairs are semi-transparent, adding more layers will make them more and more visible.

Step 7: Now all you have to do is add a new background beneath your cut out image, and you are done!   Quick AND believable - two words you don't often see together in a sentence!  ;)

- Tutorial written by Little T

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Last 5 User Comments

User:  kristineg (#57797)
Date: Tue Nov 10, 2009. 08:27:08

Post #20 of 20

Quote from ms.majesty;43199:
I really like this tutorial... thanks for posting it!!!:)

Love this tutorial....wanna try

Reply to this post

User:  Tamlin (#51839)
Date: Sat Jul 26, 2008. 13:07:21

Post #19 of 20

Quote from danishsyed88;51837:
I think the 4th step is wrong. As much as I understand, u do not delete the selection, but u have to select inverse and then delete.

You are correct - well spotted.

Reply to this post

User:  danishsyed88 (#51837)
Date: Sat Jul 26, 2008. 12:44:55

Post #18 of 20

Good job.

But I think the 4th step is wrong. As much as I understand, u do not delete the selection, but u have to select inverse and then delete.

I normally use magnetic lasso to select things, rather than the pen tool

@Tracy.S: When u selct the pen tool, I think u should click on the 3rd icon from the left (called paths) on the top. That should remove the filling thing.

Reply to this post

User:  mary (#45633)
Date: Fri Oct 26, 2007. 09:06:57

Post #17 of 20

Now the hair looks a bit weird...
maybe just a little touch up will do..

Reply to this post

User:  denmuel (#44935)
Date: Wed Sep 19, 2007. 10:52:08

Post #16 of 20

Hi, nice tutorial, but it was fake hair,
if you want to know how to cut out real hair,...

great way to selecting hair using LAB color,
very professional


Reply to this post

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