Use Channels To Create A Silhouette In Photoshop

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In recent times silhouettes have been associated with the Apple iPod ads, but they have been used as an eyecatching graphic design device for years in everything from logos to poster design. This tutorial is in two parts, the first part is how to select the object you want to make a silhouette from using Channels, the second part is how to create that silhouette and add a color layer.

1. Open an image that contains an object that you want to turn into a silhouette. I’m using an image of a cute little kiwi by mmgallen which is free to download from Stock Xchng.

1-Kiwi

2. Open the Channel panel and click through each Channel (Red, Green and Blue) to see where the kiwi appears darkest. Usually this is the blue channel.

2-BlueChannel

3. Duplicate the blue channel by Right-Clicking (PC) or Ctrl-clicking (Mac)  the channel in the Channels panel and select Duplicate Channel from the shortcut menu. We’re duplicating it so that any changes we make will not adversely affect the original image. Photoshop puts the duplicate channel at the bottom of your Channels panel and names it “Blue copy.”

2a-ChannelsDupicate
4. Choose Image > Adjustments > Levels  to adjust the duplicate blue channel’s Levels to make the kiwi black and the background completely white. To make the kiwi darker, in the
Input Levels section of the dialog box, drag the shadows slider (the little black triangle) to the right until the kiwi turns almost black. Don’t close the Levels dialog box yet.

3-DragLevelsSlider

5. Using the white eyedropper on the right side of the dialog box, click on the blue gray background to make it white. This technique is known as “resetting the white point. Click once to select the eyedropper mouse over to your document, and then click a gray part of the background. Keep clicking on different gray areas until the background is white. When you’re finished,
click OK to close the Levels dialog box.

4-WhiteEyedropper

6. If you want to you can easily, touch up the kiwi with black paint and the background with white paint, but you should have a fairly good black and white image now.

7. In the Channels panel, load the duplicate blue channel as a selection by Ctrl-clicking (PC) or -clicking (Mac) the channel’s thumbnail or clicking the “Load channel
as selection” button (the dotted circle) at the bottom of the panel.

5-KiwiSelection

This makes a selection around the background of the image, so choose Select > Inverse to make the selection go around your Kiwi instead of the whole document. That completes our selection setup using the Channels. This is a good way to make some fairly intricate selections, note the little hairy bits on the kiwi’s behind which would be quite difficult to select with a selection tool.

6-KiwiInverseSelection

9. In the Channels panel, turn on the composite channel (RGB) so you can see the full color version of your image and hide the duplicate blue channel.

10. Add a new layer at the top of your layers stack by clicking the “Create a new layer” button at the bottom of the panel. Then drag the new layer to the top of the layers stack and turn
off the visibility of the original photo layer.

7-newLayer

11. Fill your selection with black by choosing Edit > Fill and pick black from the Use popup menu, and then click OK to close the Fill dialog box. Your silhouette is finished. Now you can add any color background you like.

12. At the bottom of your Layers panel and click the Adjustment layer icon. Choose Solid Color from the menu that appears to make Photoshop
open the Color Picker; pick a bright color and then click OK.

8-Solidcolor

13. Drag the new Fill layer below the silhouette layer in the layers stack.

9-KiwiRed

If you want to go back and change the background color simply double-click the Solid Color Fill layer and pick a new color from the resulting Color Picker.

To finish up, I added some text on top of  black rectangle.

1--finalImage

As a final step you could sharpen the silhouette by using the Unsharp mask. Choose Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask. Et voila!

FinalSharpenedImage

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  • geektea

    Hello, Jennifer! Thanks so much for all of the great posts you make. I have a (hopefully!) quick question. A while back, one of the sitepoint blogs was talking about how a lot of web designers use Fireworks over Photoshop. Do the steps that you show for Photoshop generally work for Fireworks, too, or are they two different animals with no real overlap?
    Thanks in advance!

    • http://www.laughingliondesign.net Jennifer Farley

      Hi and thanks Geektea
      I’m not as familiar with Fireworks as Photoshop but I know you can do a lot of the same things and there certainly is overlap but I couldn’t tell you exactly what the steps would be.

  • photoshop nerd

    thanks, this was a great tutorial!

  • Vicente

    That’s great, I guess I need to investigate PS more, because this technique, after reading it from here, looks very simple.

  • http://www.absolutelygeek.com/ Dren

    Great tutorial! I didn’t know you could do this…. But that’s one scary lookin’ Kiwi! lol

  • http://www.laughingliondesign.net Jennifer Farley

    Thanks all for the nice comments : )

  • http://www.matbaa-tr.com matbaa

    great tutorial thanks..