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Photoshop tutorial for making smooth cutouts

This morning I wrote this for DolphinDancer, but I have written the same information a few other times to help other people, too. I had the brainwave of posting it for anyone to make use of… not a bad brainwave considering I’ve only had one cup of coffee, eh? [Yes, that’s a Canadian “eh” :) ]
If you have insight or encouragement for other photoshoppers, please leave a comment.

Okay, DolphinDancer, here goes… I’ve got Photoshop Elements 6.

I’m hoping that these tools are the same in your photoshop program. If not, you are allowed to say a bad word or two, but no throwing things, ’kay? :) For most people, this process of getting cutouts that look good takes waaaaaaaaay too long… I simply accept it as part of the process that is necessary for achieving a nice-looking mix of images.

In a situation like the moon, where you’ve got a nice contrast along the edge, the magic wand tool SEEMS LIKE the perfect way to start. It is merely a GOOD way to start. Zoom in… LOTS. I generally zoom in 5 stages/steps to work on edges. When you zoom in, which I ALWAYS do, to check how smooth the edge is all the way around, you will invariably find places where the line has followed the color rather than the edge. (Dumb machine should KNOW what we want, right?) So, to make that line where it needs to be:

1. Switch to the lasso tool. I always use the polygon lasso because it means that I don’t have to try to be flawless in following that line… I can set the pointer on the edge and click, then move forward and click again. [Right-click on your lasso button to see if you have the polygon option.]
– HOWEVER, you must remember to tell the silly computer that you want to add to the current selection, or subtract from it. To do this:
a) hold down the “shift” key before you do your first click with the lasso… you will see a little “+” with the lasso. Let go of the shift key while you click your way along the edge you want to salvage, and around the area that you want to include in the selection. To close the lasso you can either touch back at the first point again, or (much easier) just do a double-click.
b) hold down the “alt” key before you do your first click with the lasso… you will see a little “-” sign with the lasso.
*if you click where you didn’t want to, use the “backspace” key to undo a click.
if you discover that you messed up with the + or – sign and the computer did something you didn’t want it to, use the regular “undo” function. [ I always use the keyboard option of “Ctrl z” to activate “undo”… it’s quicker than going to the pulldown menu].

2. You will see dozens of tiny bumps and hollows along the edge, but you can ignore those because you can deal with them in “Refine Edge”. This button should be at the top of your image window. [Apparently Elements 5 has only “Feather” :( ]
a) “Smooth” — this will smooth out the line automatically, but it can be a problem in a spot like the corner where edges come together, so you don’t want to over-do it. I seldom use higher than a 2 setting. Many of my cutouts are done entirely with the lasso, so I have this set at zero.
b) “Feather” — for me, this is the key tool for making cutouts go together naturally. On your moon cutout, I would have probably set the feathering at about 5, which is much higher than most times I use it. Our eyes always see a “feathered” edge when we look at the moon, rather than a crisp sharp edge. For most cutouts like a rose or cup, I usually use 2.
c) “Expand/contract” — when you first zoom in after using the magic tool you will see that the line actually leaves a dark ring attached to the moon. That’s where there’s a transition from dark to light, and that dark edge on the cutout is a problem, depending on where you want to use the cutout, like your moon in a daytime sky. You can “expand” or “contract” the selection line… a very convenient tool, sometimes.

Have fun playing with these tools… they are the key to having cutouts that work convincingly when you add them to other pictures. Wahoo!! :) :)

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Photoshop tutorial for making smooth cutouts by 

Working with DolphinDancer I wrote this step-by-step look at the photoshop tools, and how to use them, to achieve smooth and “feathered” edges in cutting out part of a picture. Uses Photoshop Elements 6… yes that’s the cheap one :)


  • Ann Rodriquez
    Ann Rodriquezabout 6 years ago

    I’m favoriting this for future use! : ) No time to fully let it sink in right now, but this is something I’ve been wanting to learn. Thanks for sharing!!!

  • You are VERY welcome, dear Ann. I actually wrote it for YOU… honest! :) :) I’ve been urged to write more of these, so you’ll probably see more of them. TEd

    – MooseMan

  • Justine Devereux-Old
    Justine Devere...about 6 years ago

    GREAT!!! i’ll try it out when i have 5 mins!! cheers for sharing! :))

  • :) :) I’m sitting here smiling inside knowing that I may have been a help… I’m glad I had the idea to post it. Is there something else you’d like me to do a tutorial about, or are you at a stage of jumping at anything I might write to help? Ciao… feel free to ask questions if I confuse you with something.

    – MooseMan

  • Barbara Manis
    Barbara Manisabout 6 years ago

    Very kind of you to do this!

  • Thank you Barbara. Can I ask how you happened onto my tutorial? the reason I ask is that it has been up for about three weeks, and suddenly today there’s a flurry of activity of comments and favoritings, so I’m curious. Ted

    – MooseMan

  • BettinaSchwarz
    BettinaSchwarzabout 6 years ago

    Glad you had that brainwave (one cup of coffee, huh? so what do you come up with after two or three ??? ;-) )
    Seriously – awesome of you to post it here! Very helpful, so I’ll favourite it so I can easily refer back when I have some time to experiment and play and learn … and possibly ply you with more questions ;-)

  • Hi Bettina, thanks tons for note. After two or three cups of coffee… that’s when I produce my baaaaaaaad work. [Spelled like that, “baaaaad” is the fun kind of “bad” :)] I’m very happy to help, and will gladly write more if there’s something you wonder how to do. How did you happen onto it? There’s suddenly several favoritings and comments after three weeks of silence, so I’m curious. Thanks, Ted.

    – MooseMan

  • Barbara Manis
    Barbara Manisabout 6 years ago

    I was looking at favorites of my watchlist. I can’t remember who it was, but that’s how I found it! Thanks again!

  • Stephen Mitchell
    Stephen Mitchellalmost 6 years ago

    Great article, though a little wordy. This same technique can be used in GIMP, using the same tool-instructions.

  • Downhill13
    Downhill13almost 6 years ago

    Thanks for the hints. I am just learning CS2 all by me self and love to collect info as I stumble along. You go to my watchlist so I can keep track of what you are up too!! Thanks!
    Be well, Stan

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