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How to cut out hair in Photoshop

When changing backgrounds in Photoshop, getting an accurate selection around hair is tricky - here's how to do it using the Refine Edge tool in three simple steps.

 cut out hair with Refine Edge

If you’d like to change the background colours or make a composite in Photoshop CS6, you’ll need to use selection tools to isolate your figure. The biggest challenge with this is getting an accurate selection around hair.

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There’s no perfect solution to the problem, but since CS4 Adobe has made things much easier with the introduction of the Refine Edge command, which as the name suggests, can be used to refine the edges of a selection (or a Layer Mask, with the almost identical Refine Mask command).

To access Refine Edge, you’ll need to make an initial selection with any of the selection tools. If you have a clean background you could use the Magic Wand or Color Range command, but if the background is more cluttered, you may find the Quick Selection tool gives you a better starting point.

Click here to download your start image

01. Make a selection

 cut out hair 1

Open the start image and grab the Quick Selection tool from the Tools Panel. Paint over the head with the tool to make a selection (hold down Alt and paint to subtract areas from the selection if it goes wrong). When you’re happy, click on the Refine Edge button which can be found at the top of the display.

02. Refine the edges

 cut out hair 2

Check Smart Radius and set Radius to 72. Check Decontaminate Colors and choose Output: New Layer with Layer Mask, then hit OK. Next, highlight the bottom layer, then click the Create Adjustment Layer icon and choose Solid Color. Set R:227, G:196, B:196 and hit OK.

03. Refine the mask

 cut out hair 3

Highlight the top layer’s mask then right-click it and choose Refine Mask. Grab the Refine Radius tool from the left of the Refine Mask box, then use it to paint over any gaps in the hair where you can still see the original white background. When you’re happy, hit OK.

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This tutorial first appeared in Practical Photoshop magazine, the number one magazine for lovers of photography and image-editing. Whether you're looking for digital darkroom tips, or want to get creative, you should definitely check it out!

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