In Photoshop CC we have a powerful feature called “Refine Edge” which will help you create complex selections with ease. I will cover some of the things I love about this tool in this tutorial, but I’m also going to talk about some of where it has flaws. Overall it’s a great tool, but if you know when to use it and when another method would be better, it becomes an even more powerful feature!
1. Begin with a Base Selection
Before using Refine Edge, you must have an edge to refine. This means using a selection tool like the Quick Select tool to grab a rough selection of the thing in your image that you’re looking to cut out. I created a rough selection around this girl.
2. Smart Radius Edge Detection
Go Select>Refine Edge. I am using the Overlay viewing mode and I’m going to tick on “Smart Radius” to tell Photoshop to use it’s Refine Edge magic to detect the edge. The Smart Radius slider is how far on either side of your selection Photoshop will look for stuff that should be or should not be a part of the final, finished selection. For this image, I’m going to take my smart radius out to about 100px.
3. The Refine Radius Brush
Select the little brush icon to the left of the Edge Detection part of this dialog box to activate the Refine Radius Brush tool which will allow us to paint over exactly where we see the edge of what should be selected and also have Photoshop look to either side of where we paint depending on how big/small the brush is; a bigger brush means Photoshop will look further to each side. TIP: You can increase/decrease the size of this brush by hitting the square-bracket keys ( [ & ] ) PRO TIP: There is a temptation to make this brush large when you’re painting with it because Photoshop can look at lots of stuff on either side of the edge area, but this tends to create really bad halo effects around the edge of your selection. A smaller brush is best!
4. Paint Around Edges with Refine Radius Brush
I’m going to paint over where I know the edge should be and even try to paint over some of the wispy areas of hair and see how well this tool can pick that stuff up. This is where Refine Edge can be very hit or miss, sometimes it works amazingly well and sometimes it is really quite bad
5. Adjusting the Edge More
I switched my viewing mode over to seeing my selection over a black background so I can really see how much of the background is still mixing with the edges of her hair. Below the Smart Radius area there is an entire area of this dialog box dedicated to adjusting the edge of the selection. I tend to avoid using Smooth or Feather, but Contrast and Shift Edge can be useful. The Contrast slider will control how sharp the edge of your selection is, I pushed this up a couple of percent. Probably not so great for our hair selection because we want to catch the soft, semi-transparent nature of the ends of strands of hair. Shifting the edge moves the edge inward or out. I’m going to shift this slider to the left to pull the selection inward a little and all of our smart radius and edge detection will re-render at this newly shifted edge.
6. Decontaminate Colors
This slider is very much touch and feel. In theory, it will help to neutralize any background color bleeding through the edges of the area you have selected. Sometimes it works great, sometimes not so much. Try sliding back and forth and see what it does for your selection. I always output to a new layer with a layer mask.
7. Adjusting the Mask Over New Background
We can drag our new layer with the layer mask to a new image which will become our new background. Once we do this, we’ll see which areas of the edge need to be tweaked and adjusted. Grab the Brush tool (B) and set the tool to the blend mode of Soft Light (blending options are up in the control bar that runs across the top of the window.) Select the mask for our girl that we’ve cut out and set your foreground color to black and gently paint around the edges of her hair wherever too much of the old background might be showing through. Painting with the blend mode Soft Light will make the brush tool only paint over areas that are sort of gray and not paint black on the areas of our mask that are solid white. For more info on masking and painting for complex hair masks, check out this basics tutorial I have and also this more advanced tutorial that I have here.
Make sure you check out the full video tutorial above and see how I worked with the hair and some of what I didn’t like about the selection and refine edge process, but also how we cut out a fox and moved him over this new background and got a pretty great selection with Refine Edge. Thanks for checking out this tutorial!