Photoshop Masking Tutorial: Extract a Photo
Photoshop Clipping Mask Tricks for Beginners
Photoshop masks let you show or hide parts of a picture.
Masks are like stencils, except that instead of hiding part of a photo, by default, they tell Photoshop which parts to show.
You can keep editing the mask until it's just right. So no more trying to erase around an image to cut away the background, only to find you've erased too much!
On this page, I'll teach you
-- How to give a photo an interestingly-shaped frame.
-- How to paint a picture on text!
-- How to draw your own clipping mask to make a stencil.
-- How to place all these on another background.
Masking 101: Clip Out a Piece of a Photo!
Top Layer is the Picture, Bottom Layer (Clipping Mask) Is the Stencil
Here's the basics -- how to make and use a clipping mask in five easy steps!
- Open the Layers Palette under the "Window" menu in Photoshop.
- On one layer, place an image or photo.
- Create another layer with a shape, text, or drawing. This is the clipping mask, and acts like a stencil.
- Move the clipping mask layer under the image's layer.
- In the Layers Palette, Alt-click on the border between the two layers (Opt-click on a Mac). You've got the right spot when you see the cursor change to two circles straddling the line between the two layers.
There are many fun and powerful ways to use clipping masks. Try the examples below, and you'll quickly get the hang of them!
Clipping Mask Trick: Paint a Picture on Text!
A Text Layer as a Stencil
This is EASY!
- Open the Photoshop Layers Palette (Under the Window menu)
- Pick the Text tool and type something using a big bold font.
3. Create a new layer (click the notepad icon on the Layers Palette) and paste an image/picture.
In the Layers Palette, ALT-click (Option-click on a Mac) the border between the two layers. The bottom layer will be used as the shape/cutout/stencil; the top layer of the pair will be the image.
Want to add a drop shadow, outline, or other special effects? Select the Text layer on the Layers Palette. Then double-click the "F" icon at the bottom of the layers palette, or choose "Layer Style" under the Layer menu up top, to add drop shadows, stroke, or other effects.
Clipping Mask Trick: Use a Shape!
Make a Cool Photo Frame
Want to cut out a photo with a cool frame of any shape (see example at right)? Here's how!
- Paste an image into a new Photoshop document and open the Layers Palette (Under the "Window" Menu)
Clipping Mask Trick: Oval Photo Frame
With Optional Soft Edge
You can pluck out a piece of a photo with the Lasso or Marquee Tools. However, by using a clipping mask, you won't lose any of the original picture, and you can adjust and experiment with the mask until you get the outline you like.
- Copy a photo into a new document (NEVER work on your original raw photo -- you don't want to hit save by accident and lose it).
Clipping Mask Trick: Freeform Doodle as Stencil
Draw Whatever Shape You Like! Or Paste a Shape You've Found!
Here's where things get really interesting. It took me all of two minutes to do this, tops:
- Open the Layers Palette under the Window menu (you got this).
- Paste a photo. (yep, you got this too.)
- In the Layers Palette, click the little notepad icon down at the bottom. Or else, under the Layer menu at the top of the screen, pick New Layer. You now have a blank layer.
- In the Layers palette, move the blank layer down so it's UNDER the photo. This blank is going to be your mask.
- Alt-click (option-click) the border between the two layers. Whoa! Your photo disappeared!
- Choose the paintbrush tool.
- Up top, you should see a "Brush" selector tool. If you don't, go to the Window menu and choose Brushes. Scroll way down and pick an irregular brush shape that looks like an ink splat!
- In the masking layer -- make sure you're in the masking layer, not the photo! -- start doodling. As you draw, the photo will appear wherever you're drawing. Don't like it? Switch to the erase and erase, or use Undo and try again.
- For fine-tuning, I then switched to the Smudge Tool, which looks like a finger, and went whoosh-whoosh-whoosh horizontally over the edges of my mask, in the same direction as the ripples of the water. I was smearing the edges of the mask horizontally to make it more wispy.
- Use the Blur Filter, smudge, draw dots, or try oddly-shaped brushes along the edges of the mask to get an interesting border.
As you can see, this can be a powerful technique for pulling out someone's head and shoulders from a background, making a soft-edged frame, or many other tricks. Now that you've got the basic idea, experiment!
Clipping Mask Trick: Put It on a Different Background
Now You're Getting It!
So, you've got this two-layer document with an image and its clipping mask. What do you do with it? Well, first, SAVE it. This will save a raw .psd or Photoshop file with all the layers you've created.
Then choose "Save for Web" and pick jpg format, and Photoshop automatically paints the background white. With png (memory-intensive, but sharp) and gif (quick-loading, but limited colors), you can opt to have the background transparent so that the webpage background shows through -- or turn off transparency and Photoshop makes the background white.
Or add your OWN background in Photoshop!
This is easy-peasy. Once you've got a clipping mask set up...
To add a background from an existing photo
1. Copy and paste another photo.
2. In your document with the image + clipping mask, select the top layer, the image.
3. PASTE the new layer, which will be the background.
4. Drag the background layer down, down, down until it's under the other two.
Voila (I grabbed the background from a photo with a cloudy gray-and-white sky):
Want to draw your own background? Click the notebook icon at the lower right on the Layers Palette to create a new blank layer. Draw on it, use the paint bucket with a gradient fill, or add whatever you like.
Just move it down in the layers palette so it's below the clipping mask layer when you're done. Be sure NOT to get it between the clipping mask layer and the image being masked, or your background will be masked too!
To get this, I...
- copied the grass from my egret photo and pasted it into a new document
- made a text layer that said "Think Green" as its clipping mask
- Pasted a random desktop wallpaper into a layer below the other two
- Changed the background layer's HUE in the "Image >...Adjustments" menu so it was a matching green
- added a few special effects to the text layer (Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Stroke to make the yellow outline -- picking up a color from the background)
I hope you found this tutorial useful! Please consider tweeting, sharing it with friends, or bookmarking it!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.