Lose the Eraser! Photoshop’s Three Best Ways to Cutout an Image

Photoshop's Three Best Ways to Cutout an Image

Here I’ll demonstrate the three best ways to cut out an image using Photoshop’s Magic Wand Tool, Polygonal Lasso Tool, and Clipping Path for an Image Cutout with Mask. As you know, or will certainly discover, the best method for cutting out an image often depends on the image’s unique composition coupled with the level of detail your project may require. For example, the fastest way to trace or outline an image you want to cut out is with the Magic Wand Tool if sacrificing some detail is okay. On the other hand, if you want really precise edges without a lot of ghosting or artifacts, then you should use the Polygonal Lasso Tool or the preferred method of using the Clipping Path cutout. For complicated images and strict project requirements that require high-quality output, use the Clipping Path approach and don’t look back. It also provides the most flexibility for making an unlimited number of fine adjustments after the fact. Below I have provided the pros and cons of each method and quick tutorials for each.

Method #1: Cutout Images with the Magic Wand Tool

Pros: Extremely fast for simple, uniformly high contrast areas of images.

Cons: Not too precise.

As previously stated, the Magic Wand Tool is the fastest method. I should amend this statement as, “It’s the fastest ‘IF‘ your image has a uniformly high contrast at the edge you wish to separate, and/or you don’t need something perfect for the end result.” Below are some examples of images with a uniformly high contrast where the object that’s being separated meets a fairly solid-colored background. So if you wanted to make the sky blue behind the Statue of Liberty then it wouldn’t be too hard to make a selection of the gray sky with Magic Wand Tool, remove it, then have a nice blue sky replace it. In fact, I’ll use that image as a demonstration.

Best images to cutout using magic wand have high contrast

Note: If you are following along it’s suggested you make a backup of your original image and only edit a copy.

(1) I open Photoshop with two layers. The top layer is the Statue of Liberty and the bottom layer is the sky replacement.

Statue of Liberty top layer New Sky is the second layer Photoshop with two layers

(2) With the top statue layer selected, I click on the Magic Wand Tool from the Tools Palette Magic Wand Tool and set tolerance to 32 which is actually the default (I adjust this number lower if I see too much intrusion, or higher if I don’t see the outline getting close enough to the object I’m separating).

(3) Using the Magic Wand Tool I then click once on the gray sky area to select all of the gray.

Using the Magic Wand Tool to select all of the gray sky

(4) I then cut out the gray sky Ctrl + X keys on the keyboard, or simply press the Delete or Backspace since I want to permanently delete the sky.

That’s it. I now have performed a simple cutout using the Magic Wand. Note: I also adjusted the levels a bit to make the statue a little less gloomy.

The cutout image


Method #2: Cutout Images with the Polygonal Lasso Tool

Pros: Precise.

Cons: If you mess up your selection outline it’s hard to go back! Hard to adjust after the fact.

I hate to admit it, but I use this method the most. The trick here is patience and utilizing Photoshop’s ZOOM (Ctrl and the plus + key) while outlining your image. (Ctrl and the minus key) will zoom you back out. I have a tutorial here that talks all about Using the Polygonal Lasso to Cutout an Image Background. Check it out if you want to try this method.

Below is an example of being zoomed-in while tracing the outline using the Polygonal Lasso to cutout a background.

Using the Polygonal Lasso to cutout a background

Method#3: Cutout Images with Clipping Path

Pros: Precise. You can adjust your cutout without much limitation.

Cons: Takes a bit longer.

Compared to the other methods previously discussed, this technique is precise and allows plenty of flexibility for adjustments.

My Mission: Rescue this guy from the museum garden and return him to his friends on Easter Island.

The Easter Island statue that needs to be cutout. The statues with their missing friend

(1) From the Paths menu (see the arrow) I chose New Path, named it, and pressed OK:

Select New Path in Photoshop New Path named

(2) Next, from the very same menu, I chose Clipping Path then chose OK. I left Flatness blank.

from the very same menu, I chose Clipping Path Clipping Path

(3) Next I used the Pen Tool Photoshop Pen Tool chosen from the Tools palette, and began clicking along the very edge of “the guy” to create an outline or Path. See the beginning of the outline below while I was zoomed-in:

beginning of the outline (path) while zoomed-in

Photoshop’s ZOOM (Keyboard Ctrl and the plus + key) sometimes helps. (Ctrl and the minus key) will zoom you back out. During this process, I accidentally started making points way outside of the area I wanted. It was about 3 points when I noticed the problem. I pressed Ctrl + Alt + Z on the keyboard 3 times to undo these mistakes.

(4) Escape plan foiled? During the process of outlining the image, I got pretty sloppy. But then I remembered the trusty Direct Selection Tool, allowing me to move those “Bad” anchor points inward. The image below shows 2 anchor points I could click and drag inward to fix the path, which I did. It’s a good thing I made a lot of anchor points or did I

pretty sloppy path - not a good outline Choosing the Direct Selection Tool

(5) I continued my path by joining both ends so I had completed a circle (A Closed Path). Whew…everything was looking good, until…

A Closed Path for the image cutout

(6) Things got really, really bad…During a final check before our escape, I realized there was yet another problem. In my haste, I had missed an entire area again. I had drawn way outside the lines, and this time there were no additional anchor points to make any adjustments! All seemed lost…

no additional anchor points

(7) Then I had a vision…it looked the shape of a holy Pen only it had a plus sign. What could it be? Oh YES! The Holy Add Anchor Point Tool!

The Holy Add Anchor Point Tool

(8) And with the help of the Add Anchor Point Tool, I was able to click on anchorless areas of the path to create several more points I could then adjust. My mission was almost complete.

(9) Moving back to my regular, less-than-holy Pen Tool Photoshop Pen Tool, I chose the Mask button which creates a new vector mask.

Photoshop Mask option

The final cutout image using Photoshop Mask <– WOWIE!

(10) That basically completed the process of how I cut out an image in Photoshop to save the day. THE END.

The final image with the cutout (mask) of the statue placed on top of the background image

Related posts in this series

How to Apply Photoshop Gaussian Blur to Photo Backgrounds | Best Ways to Cutout an Image | Removing a Zoo Photo's Background and Replacing it to Hide People | Photoshop CC Spin Blur Effect | Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool to Alter Landscape Photos