Making silhouettes in Photoshop

This brief tutorial will go over how to trace and “cut out” an object in Photoshop and create a black silhouette, a la iPod ads.

Let’s start with this picture I downloaded from istockphoto.com (ID – 110035). While the white background makes it easier to cut out, any background with enough contrast to the foreground object should work (and you can always touch up afterwards!).

Now, I’ll use Photoshop’s handy Extract filter. Go to Filter > Extract and the Extract dialog window will pop open.

Using the brush tool, I outline the shape that I want to cut out along the edges. Then I fill the shape with the paint bucket to show the areas that I want to “keep.” When you outline, then fill, you’ll be able to click the “Preview” button to view the extraction. When I’m done, I click “OK.”

I fill the background with a contrasting color so that I can see how well the extraction did. As you can see in this closeup, some of the edges are a bit “transparent.” It actually makes the highlights look like the green is “reflecting” off of them (a good effect if I want to add a background to this image), but I want a solid shape for a silhouette. So, let’s paint the edges back in to be solid.

Choose the History Brush from the tool palette.

Open the Histroy tab. Find the last state before the extraction and click in the left column to mark it with the history brush icon.

Go back to your document and, using the History Brush, carefully paint inside the edges to make the slightly green areas fully solid. Here’s what the foot looks like now:

When I’m happy with it, I add a new layer and fill it with black. Then I Ctrl-click (or Command-click in Mac) the extracted layer to get the outline of a shape. With the black layer still selected in the Layers Palette, I add a layer mask… and my silhouette is complete!

(If I worked for Apple, I might now add a white iPod and wire silhouette to the image. But since I don’t, I’m done!)

Sorry — I can’t provide the download because I’m using someone else’s image.

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  • Borgendorf

    This is a nicely done tutorial on extracting. I’d like to point out that the iPod effect is more complex than this. View one of the commercials frame-by-frame and you’ll notice that the people are not solid black; they have highlights. For your example, you might paint with a low opacity white on the mask to let some of the original photo show through. A good spot would be the shine on the boots that you pointed out. Thanks for a good article.

  • http://www.lowter.com charmedlover

    Nice, much better than the Color Overlay mode I use. I’m going to try this out.

  • aRNELdOZ

    Thanks man, been trin’ to do that for ages, tryed some other ways but u’rs is best – wooh

  • johnathon vasquez

    wow! you explained to easily. THANK YOU. it works just like you said….you should consider teaching……be swell!
    johnathon

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  • chey

    from the step after ur supposed to fill the extract with the I get lost…i’m new to ps and i really wanna make a silhouette…the only other program i have is psp7 can u please help?

  • Schwarzer Spiegel

    Thanx! you

  • Kevin

    Can you clarify more on the Ctrl Click? Mine doesnt really do anything with it i cant the black and white layer mask

  • http://www.pixelmill.com corriehaffly

    Kevin, you want to make sure that you’re control-clicking the layer in the Layer Palette (not in the document). I’ll try to post a quick tutorial to help illustrate this as well.

  • chaky

    When i CTRL – Click it only appears “Load selection” on the layer menu, yes am left clicking the black layer.

  • guest

    top top tutorial.!!!
    1. why at the end do you add a layer mask?
    it doesnt do anything.
    2. how do you sharpen/smooth the borders of the black figure???

  • Anonymous

    I barely get these directions. How come when I’m done some of the picture I want “erased” comes back? I also cant find the part you mention with the history brush, last state before extraction, it does not have the extraction listed. I cant continue after that ..

  • acslator

    i find it easier to select the outline of the figure you want with the polygon lasoo tool, then duplicate that selecction twice in a new canvas, have the top layer as black and te second as colour. HTen take an eraser tool at 15% opacity an highlight key areas i.e shine on boots and skin.

    Not sure how to put the ipod on though

  • Elyme

    Hi there,
    Great tutorial, I just get stuck on this part could you explain a little more in detail? I understand the CLTRL-click but from then on im lost… :(

    When I’m happy with it, I add a new layer and fill it with black. Then I Ctrl-click (or Command-click in Mac) the extracted layer to get the outline of a shape. With the black layer still selected in the Layers Palette, I add a layer mask… and my silhouette is complete!

  • lemonaden

    This is by far the best way to do this. Its fast and works like a charm! The ‘smart highlighting’ option works AMAZING too. www.adenmott.com

  • Rickey

    I don’t understand the CTRL + Click. It doesn’t make any sense to me…

  • http://www.sitepoint.com AlexW

    I don’t understand the CTRL + Click. It doesn’t make any sense to me…

    If you are on a Mac, that would be pressing ‘Command’ and clicking the mouse button at the same time.

  • mike

    What a nice tutorial . . until that mysterious CTRL+click nonsense. What are you talking about? This doesn’t work even in Windows! Explain it without the CTRL+click please. Somebody should.

  • http://www.pixelmill.com corriehaffly

    Hi Mike -
    You want to CTRL+click on the layer thumbnail itself in the Layers palette.

    Hope that helps!

  • Anonymously

    how can u get this program ??

  • kallardnyc

    Great tutorial. How do you then smooth the pixelated (jagged) edges on the silhouette?

    Thanks…

  • CurlyQ

    I don’t know if it is just my Mac or what but above everyone is saying for MACs command click. I tried that a lot and it didn’t work for me. I have an iBook G4, bought in ’05′. I control clicked on the black layer, menu poped up, selected create clipping mask and my silhouette popped up. ta da. Is this the same action as in the directions?