How To Cut Out An Image In Photoshop – 5 Easy Ways
Let’s learn how to cut out an image in Photoshop. If you don’t know where to start or aren’t sure which method is best to remove a background from your photo, this guide will have all your answers.
There are a variety of tools that can cut out an image in Photoshop. Each tool will have its pros and cons depending on the image you’re trying to cut out. The best method to cut out an image will depend on how complex the areas around your subject are.
Luckily for you, cutting out an image in Photoshop is a ‘pain-free’ process; if you choose the right tool. Let’s dive in and learn about the best ways to cut out photos and objects in Photoshop.
Psst, if you’re new to Photoshop there’s something awesome for you at the bottom of this article…
1.Cutting Out Images With The Quick Selection Tool
What is the Quick Selection Tool?
The Quick Selection tool is one of the easiest ways to cut out an image in Photoshop. This tool allows you to essentially paint a selection onto your image. The Quick Selection Tool works best when there is a defined edge around your subject.
For example, a defined edge could be mountains against the sky. There is a clear and obvious edge for Photoshop to automatically select.
An undefined edge would be something like trying to cut out this tree against a busy background. The Quick Selection tool would have a difficult time deciphering the differences between the tree trunk and a similar background.
How To Access The Quick Selection Tool In Photoshop
You can access the Quick Selection tool on the top of your toolbar. The toolbar is found on the left-hand side of your Photoshop window. The Quick Selection tool is represented by a paintbrush and circular selection icon.
You can quickly access the Quick Selection tool by using the keyboard shortcut W.
When To Use The Quick Selection Tool In Photoshop
The Quick Selection Tool is a fast and effective way to cut out an image in Photoshop. Although it may need a bit of edge refining to be perfect, it’s a very viable option for cutting out any object with a defined edge.
The Quick Selection Tool works best when cutting out defined objects against clean backgrounds, shapes, and horizons.
How To Cut Out An Image With The Quick Selection Tool
Step 1: Access The Quick Selection Tool
Access the Quick Selection tool by pressing W on your keyboard. You can also find it in the toolbar.
Step 2: Ensure your Quick Selection toolbar settings are correct
Once you’ve accessed the Quick Selection tool, a settings bar will appear at the top of your screen. This is where you can choose how the tool operates.
Make sure the icon with the plus sign is selected so you can add a new selection. Next, you have the option to change the brush settings. What I find works best is a 50% hardness and 1% spacing for the most accurate results.
The best brush size will depend on the area you are trying to select. You can change the brush size at any time using the bracket keys, [ or ]. Another option is simply using the brush size slider in the upper toolbar.
Step 3: Paint Your Selection Around Your Subject
With your Quick Selection tool settings in order, it’s time to paint your selection. Follow along the edge you are wanting to select, taking care not to overlap the brush with your edge. Go around the entire subject until your selection looks something like this:
Step 4: Refining Your Selection
Although the Quick Selection tool does a pretty good job, it’s unlikely the selection will be perfect right away. You may need to get rid of part of the selection, to better fit around your subject.
To get rid of a selection made with your Quick Selection tool, simply hold OPTION (MAC) or ALT (PC) to erase parts of a selection. Notice how my brush tool icon changes from a plus to a minus.
If you don’t like shortcuts, you can also go to the tool settings bar and click the icon with the minus symbol.
Step 5: Apply Selection Onto A Layer Mask
Once you are happy with your selection, it’s time to apply it to a layer mask. With your desired layer selected and a selection active, click on the layer mask icon. The selection will automatically get transferred onto this layer mask.
If the result is the opposite of what you are wanting, click on your layer mask and press COMMAND + I (MAC) or CONTROL + I (PC) to invert your layer mask.
In this example, only my sky was visible on my layer mask. I inverted my layer mask to show the part of my image I wanted to cut out.
Benefits To The Quick Selection Tool In Photoshop
The Quick Selection tool is one of the fastest ways to make a customizable selection in Photoshop. Although it automatically makes selections around your subject, you are still in control of how and where that selection is being applied.
The Quick Selection tool is ideal for fast image cut-outs and background removals. It is one of my most used tools when I need to quickly cut out an image in Photoshop with little to no hassle.
Downsides To The Quick Selection Tool In Photoshop
Although it is in fact “quick”, as the name suggests, what you gain in speed you lose in quality. It can often be difficult to perfectly select an edge, and your selection may jump around to areas you don’t want to be selected. The final downside is that the Quick Selection tool will often leave your image with jagged and rough edges when zoomed in.
Fortunately, this issue can be quickly resolved using an edge refining trick. It’s the trick I’ve used to make my Quick Selections flawless and more professional. Click here to learn how to enhance the Quick Selection tool.
2. Cutting Out Images With The Object Selection Tool (Photoshop CC 2020)
What Is The Object Selection Tool In Photoshop?
The Object Selection Tool was newly introduced to the program in the latest Photoshop CC 2020 update. Unfortunately, if you are operating in an older version, this tool won’t be available to you.
The Object Selection tool works by automatically snapping to the edge of your subject. You can define the selection area with two modes that act similar to the marquee and lasso tools.
The Object Selection tool is a great alternative to the Quick Selection tool and requires far less manual painting. With the object selection tool, you define an area and Photoshop will do the rest.
How To Access The Object Selection Tool In Photoshop
The Object Selection Tool may not be automatically available to you. You’ll have to add it to your toolbar. You can do this by clicking on the three horizontal dots at the bottom of the toolbar. Click and hold these dots to select ‘Edit Toolbar’.
A dialogue box will appear and you will find the Object Selection Tool in the right panel. To add it to your main toolbar, click and drag the tool over to place it among your Quick Selection tool and Magic Wand tool.
Now you can access the Object Selection tool from your toolbar.
When To Use The Object Selection Tool
So when is best to use the Object Selection tool? If you are wanting to quickly cut out a person, even against a busy background; this is the tool to do it. Unlike most auto-selection tools in Photoshop, the Object Selection tool does a remarkable job to define edges and snap a selection to it.
The Object Selection tool works best when cutting out images of people, horizons, and objects against a relatively clean background.
How To Cut Out An Image With The Object Selection Tool
Step 1: Access The Object Selection Tool
Access the Object Selection tool by pressing W or clicking the Object Selection tool icon in your toolbar.
Step 2: Ensure Object Selection Toolbar Settings Are Correct
Once you have selected the Object Selection tool, a settings bar will appear at the top of your Photoshop window. This is where you can change the mode and selection method.
To get your selection started, make sure the single square icon is selected. This option allows you to create a new selection.
Step 3: Choose Your Selection Mode
Next, select your desired mode. You have two options: the rectangle or the lasso mode. The rectangle mode works a lot like the rectangular marquee tool. This option lets you draw a rectangular selection around your subject, and it will automatically snap to the edges.
The lasso mode allows you to hand draw a line to create a selection. Manually draw the lasso around your subject and finish by connecting both ends. This selection will automatically snap to the edges of your subject.
Personally, I prefer using the rectangle mode for its ease of use. Play around with both modes to see which works best for you.
Step 4: Create Your Selection
Click and drag to create your selection. In this example, I am creating a rectangle around my subject by clicking and dragging. Once the whole subject is within the rectangle, I let go of the mouse and Photoshop automatically selects the edges of my subject. It typically does an impressive job.
Step 5: Refine Your Selection
Like all automatic selections in Photoshop, they need a little bit of refining. In this example, a little bit of the edge got missed.
You can easily add to your selection by holding SHIFT (MAC and PC) or take away from a selection by holding OPTION (MAC) or ALT (PC).
You can also go to the settings bar instead of using a keyboard shortcut. The solid double square represents adding a selection, the single solid and single transparent square represents subtracting your selection.
Refine your selection by drawing near the edge of your active selection. It will add or subtract depending on your toolbar settings. Continue this process until you’re happy with the selection.
Step 6: Add Selection To Layer A Mask
With your selection active, select the desired layer and add a layer mask.
The selection will be automatically transferred onto the layer mask and cut out your image. If the result is the opposite of what you are wanting, click on the layer mask and press COMMAND + I (MAC) or CONTROL + I (PC) to invert the layer mask.
Benefits To The Object Selection Tool In Photoshop
The Object Selection tool in Photoshop makes clean automatic selections with less work than any other tool in the program. With the Object Selection tool, you can cut out an image with almost no effort.
The two selection modes work great to easily define the area or subject you want to select. I love using both the selection modes together to get great automatic image cutouts in Photoshop.
Overall, the Object Selection tool is fast, accurate, and works great if you don’t want to spend the time with more lengthy selection methods like channels or the pen tool.
Downsides To The Object Selection Tool In Photoshop
Although the Object Selection tool makes clean selections, it can be tedious to perfectly select an edge. Even with constant refining, Photoshop can still struggle to perfectly snap to the edge of your subject.
Constantly trying to refine your edge can become annoying when Photoshop just doesn’t seem to know exactly what you want. Fortunately, this isn’t a regular occurrence with the Object Selection tool. It typically will figure out what you’re trying to accomplish after a few attempts at refining the selection.
3.Cutting Out Images With Channels
What Are Channels In Photoshop?
Channels are a feature that breaks down your image into three colour channels; the Red, Green and Blue channels. Together these channels make up all the colours in your image.
Individually, these 3 channels represent varying layers of contrast in your image. You can leverage this contrast to create highly accurate selections to cut out images in Photoshop.
How To Access Channels In Photoshop
The channels can be accessed in your layers panel. At the top of your layers panel, you will notice a tab that reads channels. Click that tab to access your channels.
Unfortunately, there is not a native keyboard shortcut to access the channels feature in Photoshop.
If you do not see your channels in this location, go up to WINDOW > CHANNELS to get access.
When To Use Channels In Photoshop
Channels are most useful when you want to cut out complicated images with high contrast. For example, a tree sitting against a sky, a person against a light coloured wall or the silhouette of something against a bright background.
Remember, this tool operates primarily through natural contrast. The more variance in your photo, the easier time channels will have to cut it out. I personally love to use channels when I have a complicated selection like tree branches or hair.
How To Cut Out An Image Using Channels
Step 1: Access Your Channels Tab
Access your channels tab by click on the channels tab in your layer panel. If you do not see this tab, go to WINDOW > CHANNELS.
Step 2: Select the Colour Channel With The Most Contrast
Click on each channel thumbnail to see which one has the most contrast between black and white. When you click on a channel thumbnail the image will change from colour to black and white. Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong; this is supposed to happen.
In this example, the colour channel with the most contrast is the blue colour channel.
Step 3: Duplicate Selected Colour Channel
Select the layer channel with the most contrast. Click and drag this colour channel down to the new layer icon at the bottom of your channels window.
You will now have a duplicate of your colour channel. In my example, I now have a Blue Channel Copy.
Step 4: Add More Contrast With Levels Adjustment Layer
Click on your duplicated channel layer. With this layer selected, press COMMAND + L (MAC) or CONTROL + L (PC) to bring up your levels adjustment layer.
Increase your highlights and shadows range until your image is completely black and white with as little grey as possible. Ensure the edges around the object are clean and not broken apart by too much contrast.
Once happy with levels adjustments, click OK.
Step 5: Refine Black And White Areas With The Brush Tool
Remember to think of your image as a layer mask. Anything white will be visible, anything that is black will be transparent. There are likely areas of white or black where there shouldn’t be. In this example, there is white leftover on the inside of the area I want to keep.
It’s an easy fix to touch this up, simply grab your brush tool by pressing B and set your active colour to white or black. Paint over necessary areas as needed, making an effort to have the least grey leftover as possible.
Step 6: Turn Your Channel Into A Selection
Once you are finished refining the ‘mask’ your channel copy has created, it’s time to turn it into a selection. To activate a selection, hold COMMAND (MAC) or CONTROL (PC) and click on your channel layer thumbnail.
Photoshop will make a selection of your channel layer based on the black and white in your image. With this active selection, click back to your layers tab.
Step 7: Add Active Selection Onto A Layer Mask
Now back in your layers tab, select the desired layer you want to cut out. With this layer selected, click on the layer mask icon to apply your selection onto a layer mask.
Now you have successfully cut out your image! If the opposite of what you are wanting appears, select the layer mask and press COMMAND + I (MAC) or CONTROL + I (PC). This will invert your layer mask.
If necessary, you can further refine your selection by painting white or black onto your layer mask with the brush tool.
Benefits To Cutting Out Images Using Channels
A huge benefit of cutting out images using channels is that you can make very complex selections in a flash. Since the entire tool operates using contrast, you don’t need to get into the little details to manually select anything.
This tool is absolutely crucial if you are wanting to cut out complicated objects like a tree or hair in Photoshop. No other tool will be able to define small edges better than the channels tool. It is a serious game changer once you apply it to your workflow.
Downsides To Cutting Out Images Using Channels
Of course, nothing can be totally perfect. Channels are no exception. The downside to cutting out images with channels is that the image needs to have natural contrast. This method will not work in dark images where the edges you want to select are not easily defined.
Another point to remember is to not add too much contrast with your levels adjustment. If you add too much contrast, it will destroy tiny edges such as leaves or tree branches. While you are adding this initial contrast, you need to keep a very close eye that small details remain intact.
Unfortunately, it can be very easy to overdo the amount of contrast. This makes for a bit of a hassle keeping a close eye on the fine details.
4. Cutting Out Images With The Pen Tool
What Is The Pen Tool In Photoshop?
The Pen tool is one of the most versatile tools in Photoshop. If you want to make a selection with a flawless edge, this is the tool for you. The Pen tool can feel like a bit of a bear when you first use it, but with some time, it will become the most valuable cutout method in your Photoshop toolkit.
If you are completely new to the Pen tool and how it operates, I would strongly suggest reading my previous article that goes in-depth on how the Pen tool operates. This guide will help you go from a total newbie to a confident professional. Check out my Pen Tool Essentials Guide Here.
How To Access The Pen Tool In Photoshop
The Pen tool can be accessed in your toolbar, represented by the old fashioned ink pen icon. You can also use the keyboard shortcut P to access the Pen tool.
When To Use The Pen Tool In Photoshop
The Pen tool is best used when automatic selections just won’t do the trick. If you don’t want any mistakes made in your selection, the Pen tool is the answer.
The Pen tool works well to cut out an image in Photoshop because the selection is made manually. You are in charge of manually drawing the pen path around your subject; this makes a little more work but assures you you’ll get an extremely accurate selection.
You can use the Pen tool in just about any situation you see fit. It works best to cut out people, curved edges, defined edges, or objects against complicated backgrounds.
How To Use The Pen Tool
Step 1: Access The Pen Tool
Access the Pen tool by clicking on the Pen tool icon or pressing P. There are several versions of the Pen tool, but we will be sticking with the regular Pen Tool for this tutorial. You can learn about the other Pen tools here.
Step 2: Create A Pen Path Around Your Subject
First, ensure your Pen tool is set to Path.
Create a Pen path around your subject by clicking to add an anchor point. Move your cursor along the edge of the subject and add another anchor point. Continue this process all the way around the subject.
Pen paths will automatically form straight lines between two anchor points. That definitely won’t work for 99% of the images you try to cut out. Not to worry, you can curve the pen path by clicking and dragging when you place a new anchor point.
When you curve your pen path, you will notice your anchor point now has two control arms. These arms can be adjusted at any time to later refine the curve of your pen path.
You can hold COMMAND (MAC) or CONTROL (PC) and click on the control arm to alter both arms at once. This will change the curve on both sides of your anchor.
What if you only want to affect one side? Hold OPTION (MAC) or ALT (PC) and click on the edge of the control arm to adjust one side of the curve.
If you are feeling overwhelmed at this point, check out my Pen Tool Essentials Guide to help with anything you may be struggling with.
Try to stay on top of making your pen path as accurately as possible. This way you won’t need to go back later and refine anything. Spend time now, save time later.
Step 3: Complete The Pen Path
To complete a pen path, continue adding anchors around your subject until you connect back to your beginning anchor point.
Step 4: Create A Selection
With your pen path completed, you’ll need to turn it into a selection. Right-click inside of your pen path and select ‘Make Selection’. A selection dialogue box will appear. Set your feather radius to 0.5 and leave anti-aliased checked off.
Next, make sure your operation is set to ‘New Selection’. Click OK.
Step 5: Apply New Selection Onto A Layer Mask
With your selection active, select the layer you want to cut out. With the desired layer selected, press the layer mask icon. Your active selection will be automatically applied to your layer mask.
Voila! You have just learned how to cut out an image in Photoshop using the Pen Tool.
Benefits Of Cutting Out Images With The Pen Tool
The huge benefit of cutting out images with the pen tool is the quality. By manually creating a pen path you are telling Photoshop exactly where you want to select. You don’t have to rely on any fancy computer software to get it right. It’s just you and your two eyeballs calling the shots.
The Pen tool leaves your cutouts with flawlessly smooth edges and absolutely zero mistakes. There’s a lot less refining involved with this cutout method since you can manually refine as you create the pen path.
Downsides Of Cutting Out Images With The Pen Tool
As great as this tool is, it’s also extremely time-consuming. If you are just looking for a quick method to cut out an image in Photoshop, the Pen tool isn’t the option for you. This method takes some serious patience and dedication to get that perfect selection. But is it worth it? Of course.
5. Magnetic Lasso Tool
What Is The Magnetic Lasso Tool
The Magnetic Lasso tool acts very similarly to the pen tool, except it’s automatic. This tool automatically snaps to defined edges in your image and creates anchor points along the way. It’s a fantastic way to cut out an image in Photoshop if you are looking for a tool that’s almost automatic but still want some control.
How To Access The Magnetic Lasso Tool
The Magnetic Lasso Tool is likely hidden if you haven’t used it before. You’ll find it alongside the Lasso Tool at the top of the Photoshop toolbar. Click and hold on the Lasso tool and a little window will appear beside the toolbar. Go down and click on the Magnetic Lasso Tool.
You can also use the shortcut SHIFT + L to cycle through the Lasso tool options instead.
When To Use The Magnetic Lasso Tool
The Magnetic Lasso tool performs best when there is a mostly defined edge around your subject. You are able to manually tell Photoshop where you want the path to follow, so the Magnetic Lasso tool does its best to snap to the edges it think you want.
This tool is a great way to cut out an image in Photoshop. It performs well if the object has a moderately defined edge and is great if you want more control over the selection or you want a fast and accurate cutout.
How To Use The Magnetic Lasso Tool
Step 1: Access The Magnetic Lasso Tool
Access the tool by pressing L or going up to the top of the toolbar and manually selecting the Magnetic Lasso Tool Icon. If you do not see this tool, press SHIFT + L to cycle through the Lasso tool options.
Step 2: Ensure Magnetic Lasso Tool Settings Are Correct
Before you create a selection, you’ll want to dial in your settings. At the top of your window is the settings toolbar.
Make sure you have the single solid square selected to create a new selection.
Set your feather to either 0 or 0.5 and keep anti-aliased checked. I like to keep my width at 10px, contrast at 10% and frequency between 50-70. Feel free to experiment with these settings to see what works best for you.
Step 3: Create Your Selection
To create a selection with the Magnetic Lasso Tool, it’s very simple. Click once along the edge of the object you want to cut out. From there, just drag your cursor around the edge of your subject.
Here’s where you’ll start to understand why it’s called the Magnetic Lasso tool. As you drag the cursor, the lasso tool will automatically snap to the edges you are tracing along.
If you don’t like part of your selection, you can press delete on your keyboard to go back to the last anchor point. If you hate the selection altogether, press the escape key to get rid of the entire selection.
Continue tracing around the edges of your subject until you get back to the starting point. This will complete your selection.
Step 4: Apply Active Selection Onto A Layer Mask
With your selection complete, let’s add it to a layer mask. Select the desired layer you want to cut out and click on the layer mask icon. Your active selection will be transferred onto this layer mask.
Nailed it! You just learned another method on how to cut out an image in Photoshop.
Benefits Of The Magnetic Lasso Tool
The benefits to the Magnetic Lasso Tool is the fact you can have better accuracy, without all the work. All you have to do to define an edge is trace around it; the Magnetic Lasso tool does the rest.
How great is that?
This tool offers a unique way to create fast, reasonably accurate selections; nearly automatically. If you want similar control to the Pen tool, with more automatic results like the Quick Selection tool, this is the tool for you.
Downsides Of The Magnetic Lasso Tool
This tool can be a little bit finicky. It will snap onto shadows or unwanted areas around your edge. It can feel like tedious work constantly deleting recent points and trying again.
The Magnetic Lasso Tool has its definite advantages for fast selections, but it isn’t always able to make the best choices. To make the most out of this tool, you need to play to its strengths. Those strengths being sharp, well-defined edges.
What’s The Best Tool To Cut Out An Image In Photoshop?
So we just covered how to cut out an image in Photoshop in 5 different methods. So you’re probably wondering…
What tool should I use?
When it comes to cutting out images in Photoshop, it’s important to have a wide array of tools fo the job. By practicing and understanding each of the tools outlined in this article, you’ll be able to use different tactics to perfect cut out any image in Photoshop.
Ultimately, the best tool will always depend on the needs of the image. You want to play into the strengths of the tool. For example, you wouldn’t want to use the Quick Selection tool to cut out a tree when Channels has a far easier time doing the same job.
By understanding the strengths of each tool, you can make better decisions, regarding which tool is best for the job.
Final Thoughts On Cutting Out Images In Photoshop
Learning how to cut out an image in Photoshop is hard. There’s no way around it. There’s a lot to remember and it all feels very overwhelming. My advice would be to start simple and use automatic selection methods like the Quick Selection and Object Selection Tools.
Once you’ve gained some confidence with the cutout process, step into the more advanced methods like the Pen tool and Channels.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by this point, don’t feel bad. Have you ever heard the saying: “Photoshop wasn’t learned in a day”? Well neither have I, but it’s completely true. Photoshop can be challenging to learn without the right guidance and direction. That’s why I created my Photoshop Essentials Course.
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My Photoshop Essentials Course has over 100 learning outcomes throughout all 10 chapters of the course. It’s the Photoshop resource I wish I had when I was learning and is guaranteed to fast track your skills better than any other method currently available online.
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