Sep 23, 2014

How to Cut Out Hair in Photoshop

How to Cut Out Hair

How in the world do you select all those tiny little hairs from a background? In today’s episode, we unlock the secret to cutting out hair in Photoshop!

When cutting out hair from a background, it is helpful to keep in mind that it’s much easier to use dark hair against a light background or light hair against a dark background.

Channels and selections

To start, find the color channel which shows the maximum amount of contrast in the hair.

Duplicate that channel and bring up the levels panel (CMD/CNTL + L). We can bring the black point up to create very intense contrast in the image. The darks should be extremely dark but be sure not to overdo it! A good way to check is if the edges of the hair look too coarse, you can decrease the darkness a little bit.

All of this is done in the channels tab, but it needs to be turned into an actual usable selection. Hold CMD/CNTL and click on your channel copy. This selection will remain, and you are able to go back into the layers and edit from there. Click on the layer mask icon, and everything that was dark will turn invisible.  All you have to do is invert the selection (CMD/CNTL + I). If parts of the image are transparent that shouldn’t be, you can paint over the layer mask where it needs to be filled in.

Control that fringe!

 To take care of fringing (light or white part around the edges of the hair), clipping masks will come in handy!

  1. Create a new layer
  2. Right click, and select “create clipping mask”
  3. Use the brush tool or clone stamp tool to fill in the white areas

Lastly, be sure to change the clipped layer from normal to darken. This will cause your brush or clone stamp to only effect the whitest parts of the hair.


user image You
(will not be published)

  • user image

    brilliant thanks so much for this tutorial, shame I’m at work and can’t try it out… 🙂

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    Barnia Scruggs

    Great tutorial, Aaron. What other uses are there for channels in Photoshop?
    Thanks, Barnia (Barney)

  • user image

    Very cool technique.

    Can you please do a tutorial on Displacement Maps?
    I really want to master this technique.

    • user image
      L.D. Matte

      Johnny if Phlearn doesn’t have any yet, you can try Sergie Ramelli ( I think that’s how you spell it) He’s on youtube!

  • user image

    A girl with dark hair on an almost even light background is not the most difficult thing to separate as you you are claiming.
    How about a blond girl in the wind on a light and diversified colored background !

    Just an example :

    • user image

      Is that a challenge to Aaron? I would love to know if this is even possible. If you know how to do it, pl share the technique.

    • user image

      I gave it a go with the image but its too small and no details. If you are challenging Aaron post up the Raw file. Would like to see if the Remask Plugin can mask out the hair….

      • user image

        It’s just an example, don’t take this image to try, it is to express the idea.
        I Photoshop since the late 90’s and have done many extractions but these ones are really bugging me if you want to keep as much hair in place that you can .
        The one Aaron is showing is not a real challenge, dark hair, light background, even color and luminosity.
        The ones that are, are blond hair in the wind against a light background (slightly darker) with some variety in color and luminosity.
        If the hair is somewhat out of focus due to a small Dept of Field than you really have a challenge 😉

        • user image

          Ahhh I get you but that’s why you make things easier for yourself if you know you want to replace the background and shoot on simple backgrounds. With the image you posted for an example using the same technique but with Calculations instead is doable IMO.

          • user image

            If you are shooting the Photo yourself you can anticipate on that but if you are editing someone else his of her photo that’s all you get 😉
            The problems with this picture are: lighting the background will also lightning the hair and with the shallow DoF there is hardly any contrast between hair and background.

    • user image

      That is a real challenge and one worth having latitude with. Not everything is easy. To get to the real grit if the subject I would like to see the best techniques for cutting out hair in this environment. I get frustrated when I am faced with this type of situation. Will Aaron do it?

    • user image

      Well this is going to be a hard one! light background is always difficult to separate………

    • user image

      Made a super fast attempt at it. The compression was not forgiving. The trick with this would be to do it multiple times, isolating different areas, and then combining them into one matte. Also, if I had to do this for real, I’d likely spend a long time hand painting some of the trickier areas of the matte. Maybe even repainting in the hair in parts.

  • user image

    I was retouching a picture of my friend and i got a white hair regrowth problem. Her dyeing was kind of brown red but the regroth was white and light fade brown. Maybe it is a good idea for a new episode 🙂 i’d like to know how you’d handle that!

  • user image

    One of your very best tuts! You clearly covered- and demonstrated- the important points and had a brief summary of these points at the end. In my estimation, you are the ‘King of Photoshop Tutorials’ on You Tube!! Thank you!

  • user image

    nothing like learning from you , getting better at photoshop while being entertained , what else can i possibly want . a great tut as always . thank you .

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    Priyaranjan Desai

    Brilliant method! This works better than other methods (refine edge, dematting etc) to extract hair from lighter background.Can you also use the same method if the background is darker than (say blond) hair ?

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    Danny Rodriguez

    It is relatively easy to cut out a person with hair when the background and the hair are in contrast to each other, but what about blond hair on a light background, or black hair on a dark background? I have seen techniques that use combinations of channel-based selections to handle this, but have never had great luck getting them to work. So I would like to see any offerings that Aaron could come up with.

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    Donald McLean

    Great tutorial! Just make sure that you have current and below ticked when cloning on the clipping mask layer-works much better that way 🙂

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    Tim Costello

    Thank you soooooo much for this tute!! In the middle of a big cutout job and the model’s hair is just as crazy as this – your technique is helping me so much.

    I’ve been using PShop for almost 20 years but since finding you guys I’ve implemented so many new workflows, making everything faster, easier and much more professional!! Just wanted to say thanks!!

  • user image

    Great tutorial and thanks for sharing.

    If this were going into a high end project (magazine ad for instance), would you actually paint in some additional hair to smooth out the strands? The process leaves “chunky bits” next to areas that are too light to be seen leaving for a blotchy texture. How would you tend to process this out?

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    Arifur Rahman

    But I cant complete this picture, Can you make a new video tutorial???

  • user image

    Thanks Aaron for the great video. I have a question concerning the coloring of hair on the clipping mask. If you realize that, by mistake, you also clone-stamped on her skin for example, how do you remove the error. Undo won’t work because the error happened to many steps ago. When making the 2 lower layers invisible, the clipping mask layer seems transparent. The only way I found was to unclip the mask, work on it seperately, and re-clip it. Suggestions?

    • user image


      To answer your question on accidentally clone-stamping her skin, if you haven’t already closed the file (if so, then this won’t work), go into the History Panel and select the next step up (going from bottom to top), until that area is no longer (in actuality, you go back to the step of having cloned onto her skin and can then work accordingly).

      Aaron also mentioned once before (in a previous tutorial) about being able to undo more than just the last step. I believe he used the normal shortcut command of “Ctrl” + “Z” plus another key (something like “Alt” if I remember correctly). The process only goes back one step at a time and also, only works if the file has been closed (as the history is erased upon closing the file).

      Hope this helps.

    • user image

      Try this:

      It is far harder to describe than to do. You’re going to precisely clone stamp the original pixels back on top of the area where you messed up.

      Locate an area of your work image that has not been altered. Zoom in as far as you can. Locate a single pixel that stands out from its neighbors. Memorize its position. Now, turn off that layer and go to your untouched original layer (you did copy the layer before starting, right?) Choose the clone stamp tool and be sure the box is checked for “Aligned,” On this layer, select that memorable pixel as the center of your clone stamp source (alt-click). Turn your working layer back on and select it. With clone stamp still active, press the alt key BUT DO NOT CLICK IT. This will temporarily hide the clone source image you have selected. Move cursor around until the clone select target cursor is directly over the memorable pixel. Release and re-press the alt key a couple of times. You should see no “movement” of the pixels. Once you’re sure you have the right pixel, RELEASE the alt key, and without moving the cursor, click once. Now zoom back out and clone stamp over the areas where you messed up. Better than erase to history, because this works even if you’ve shifted the position of your working layer, etc. Let me know if you need a quick demo video.

  • user image

    I couldn’t select the clone source while the new layer being selected I had to go to the previous layer and select the source and choose back this layer to clone. How come you did it just by the new layer selected?

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      M. Possamai

      Set the sample mode to “Current & Below” instead of “Current layer”.
      Watch the video at 10:00, and check the top center of the screen, that’s where you set that.

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    Michele Possamai

    I have a question about hair. What if you have to fill a part of the picture with hair? For example if you cut someone out of a picture but you couldn’t get all the hair because there was something in front of it. How would you fix that in a way that it wouldn’t look fake?

    I’ve been using the technique you used in “How To Retouch Hair In Photoshop: Stray Hairs” and it looks ‘okay’ until you zoom in a bit, then it’s really showing that it’s fake. I just haven’t found a more realistic way yet.

    Is there a better way to do this? I tried copy/pasting parts from different places but it always ends up messy and fake.

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    robel Tsegai

    Thank you so much for help me and it’s amazing technics, am gonna ask you if the background is with different color how can i Cut Out Hair in Photoshop cs6?

    Kindly regards,

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    Ace Ace

    Good and useful tutorial thank-you, the slightly slower delivery made it much easier to follow. 🙂

    Please would your do a tutorial (s) on different methods of sharpening, showing the circumstances which suit one method over another. Hi-Pass v Unsharp Mask, Selective Sharpening, the Sharpen Tool etc.

    Thanks Phlearn.

  • user image

    Amazing tutorial, very useful ^^

    But what if you have a picture of a blonde woman in white background…
    Can you show how to create a layer mask for this situation?

  • user image

    SO bookmarking your website. Awesome tutorials Aaron. You are passionate and that makes us excited to learn. Do you have any suggestions in learning easy ways to do digital painting in photoshop? Begining from scratch? (I’m an art direction student and use internet pics, so when I can’t find any I’d like to be able to create realistic images) I’m especially nervous because I don’t paint well in real life 😉

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    Dom Lupo

    Everything worked except for the clone tool. I created a layer and created a clipping mask. I then selected the clone tool and tried to select the hair for the clone tool but it wouldn’t select in that layer. So I went to the picture layer and selected the hair then went back to the clipped layer but as I started to use the clone tool it didn’t just lay down hair I started putting in skin and the background from the picture layer but I didn’t select those things. How can I get it to behave how it worked in the video.

  • user image

    Hi Aaron,
    I am new to Photoshop and find your tutorials a great help in learning the tools and techniques.
    I have a problem cutting out the subject in the attached photo to make it look realistic on a new background due to the hair being a similar color to the original background and difficult to pick up the loose strands of hair.
    Any advice would be appreciated.

  • user image

    Every video that I watch of yours, without fail I just sit there and think this guy is a genius with Photoshop! I would have never thought of these types of techniques!

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    Chelle S

    I absolutely love your video tutorials Aaron! I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, THANK YOU!!! I spend my weekends watching your videos, then finding my own work to try out the lessons for myself. You’ve helped me so much with the pen tools, layer clipping, various ways to make selections. Keep up the great work and thank you again for sharing your knowledge!!

    • user image

      Amen to that, Iv’e learnt more about Photoshop from you than I did in my diploma of digital media.

  • user image

    I was wondering what would be the difference in this technique, if we had dark curly hair, on a mixed background (half white/half dark). I have been trying to isolate the girl from the attached photo, but the complex background makes it hard. I would appreciate any kind of suggestion. Thank you.

  • user image

    Inspired by this I went off and chose a couple of ‘easy’ portraits to practice on – black hair on white background – blonde on black – and then I attempted to extract the lovely lady from the image below (I wanted to place her on a more attractive background than my original photo). No way could I do this…
    Is this indicative of my level of (in) competence – or am I attempting the jolly nearly impossible ? (I’m using PS5)

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    mark Stewart

    Brilliant. Probably the most useful tutorial you have done. Pity I am bald so its no good for my selfies 🙂

  • user image

    i followed this perfectly until the cloning part and although i checked and checked the video, i could not get the clone stamp to work. any ideas why,

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    brendan reilly

    I really enjoy that and it sure help a lot great tutorial thanks for sharing

  • user image

    What if the hair and the background are both dark, how do you cut out the hair

  • user image

    On the part where you go to the layers to add a mask, you have a blank layer above the background. Where did this come from and how do I get it?

  • user image

    How to deal with hair cut outs when there’s little definition between light and dark areas?

  • user image

    THANK YOU!!! Finally, someone who says there is no perfect selection.

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    Saud Hamad

    Hi thank you for your tutorial . i am beginner still using mouse in Photoshop ,and i see you editing with wireless pen mouse , can you advice what is the brand name or link in Amazon that pen mouse thank you

  • user image

    During the clone stamping part of your tutorial you appear to be using the ALT key to sample parts of the hair to then paint in the white areas, all while on the “NEW” blank layer. How are you sampling from the layer below?

    I have to keep switching layers while sampling then back to the blank layer to paint with the clone stamp.

    Love your tutorial, thanks for sharing your knowledge.

  • user image

    Hi Aaron. Firstly I want to say this is a great video! I tried this technique and applied the processes step by step. however, On the sample image that I had found on the internet, I could not seem to remove the fringing around the hair. can you help further please?

  • user image

    Thanks for sharing… I have found hair to be very difficult at times… With this I have made a difficult time consuming task much easier. Anything that takes time away from tedious stuff like hair selection, giving me more time to do the more Phun creative stuff, is whole heartedly welcomed.

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    Abhishek verma

    what did u do after use red brush and create clip mask. How to remove red colour after create clip mask ???