How to Mask Hair, Fur, and Other Wispy Things in Photoshop CS6 - dummies

How to Mask Hair, Fur, and Other Wispy Things in Photoshop CS6

By Barbara Obermeier

Because a mask allows for a 256-level selection in Photoshop CS6, it does a great job of picking up those elusive strands of hair and such that would otherwise probably be cut off in the selecting process.

  1. Choose File→Open.

    Select an image that contains something hairy, furry, or fuzzy. A portrait is an ideal choice.

    For your first attempt at this technique, start with an image that has a simple and uncluttered background.

    [Credit: © Image #17030425]
    Credit: © Image #17030425
  2. Choose Window→Channels.

    Start with the channel that contains the most contrast between what you want to select and what you don’t.

  3. Choose Duplicate Channel from the Channels panel menu. In the Duplicate Channel dialog box, name the channel mask and click OK.

    You’ve created an alpha channel for the mask. Now, you can edit the mask without harming the original channel.

  4. Make sure the alpha channel is selected in the Channels panel and choose Image→Adjustments→Levels. Boost the contrast in the image by dragging the Input sliders for shadows, midtones, and highlights.

    Make the element(s) you want to select to be all white or all black with a little gray in the wispy areas. In other words, you want to change most of the pixels in the image to either black or white.

    You can select the person and his or her hair either by selecting the person or by selecting the background and inverting the selection.

    In a mask, traditionally, white represents a selected area, black represents an unselected area, and gray represents a partially selected area.

  5. When you’re done, click OK to close the Levels dialog box.

  6. Refine the mask by selecting the Eraser tool and selecting Block Mode from the Options bar.

    The Block Eraser is a great tool for cleaning up masks. It allows you to paint inside the mask without creating any feathered edges.

  7. Press D to access the default colors.

    The Eraser tool paints with the background color, so be sure you have the color you want before you drag. Press X to switch the foreground and background colors.

  8. Clean up your mask by painting with black and white.


    Make sure to use short strokes so you can undo any mistakes you make.

  9. Use the Zoom tool to touch up the details.

    The Block Eraser tool has only one size, so you have to zoom in to paint thinner strokes and zoom out to erase a larger area.

    Remember to leave some gray around the wispy areas; otherwise they may look chopped off.


  10. Click the first icon on the left at the bottom of the Channels panel to load the mask as a selection.

    A selection marquee appears around your mask.

  11. Return to the composite image by clicking the RGB channel (or CMYK, if warranted).

    The selection outline appears in your composite image.

  12. If you need to invert your selection, choose Select→Inverse.

  13. Now you can do one of several things:

    • With the Move tool, drag and drop your masked image onto a second image.

    • Choose Window→Color and mix a color of your choice. Choose Edit→Fill, and in the Fill dialog box, choose Foreground Color for your Contents. Click OK. Photoshop replaces the background with a solid color.

    • Bring a second image into your masked image. You can do this one of two ways. Press Backspace (Delete on the Mac) to delete your original background. Then with the Move tool, drag and drop the second image into your masked image. Make sure the second layer is under the masked image.

      Or, even better, with your selection still active from steps 10, 11 and 12 above, click on the Add layer mask icon in the Layers panel. The advantage to this second method is that if you need to some heavy duty fixing on your mask you do so on the layer mask and the original image is still intact.

    No matter which option you take, check the edges to see how clean your mask is. If you see a lot of background fringe (pixels around the edge of your element from your original background) you may need to do some clean up.

  14. Make any final edits you need to make.

    [Credit: © images Image #17030425, AlexMax Image #7458774]
    Credit: © images Image #17030425, AlexMax Image #7458774
  15. Save and close the file.