Photoshop Compositing: Masking and Cutting Out Subjects


Creating precision masks and cutouts is one of the keys to mastering Photoshop. If you’re a product photographer, a web designer, or an artist making conceptual composites, you’ll need to be able to make accurate selections of objects and people to place on a variety of backgrounds.

In this tutorial, we cover several tools and techniques that, when combined, will allow you to create perfect masks of anything from the precision curves of designer products to the messy detail of a head of hair.


  • 18 Sample Images
  • 4 Photoshop Brushes


Table of Contents

Photoshop Compositing: Masking (I)
  • 01 - Tutorial Introduction
  • 02 - Techniques Overview
  • 03 - Magic Wand and Refine Edge
  • 04 - Lasso Tool
  • 05 - Color Range
  • 06 - Focus Area
  • 07 - Channels
  • 08 - Custom Brushes
  • 09 - Pen Tool
Photoshop Compositing: Masking (II)
  • 01 - Examples Overview
  • 02 - Logos & Graphics
  • 03 - Solid Edges (Part I)
  • 04 - Solid Edges (Part II)
  • 05 - People (Part I)
  • 06 - People (Part II)
  • 07 - Pets & Animals (Part I)
  • 08 - Pets & Animals (Part II)
  • 09 - Pets & Animals (Part III)
  • 10 - Pets & Animals (Part IV)
  • 11 - Hair (Part I)
  • 12 - Hair (Part II)
  • 13 - Hair (Part III)
  • 14 - Hair (Part IV)
  • 15 - Hair (Part V)

Quick & Clean Cutouts in Photoshop

Tools & Techniques

There are dozens of tools and techniques that can help you cut an object or a person out of their background. We’ll provide you with a versatile set of options to handle any situation you encounter. From using the Pen Tool to create perfect curves or Channels to capture all of the details of soft edges, you’ll have access to every trick in the book.

The Perfect Combination

Once you have a handle on all of the best methods of masking and cutting out, the next step is understanding that you might need to use a combination of tools to get the job done right. We’ll cover how to mix and match techniques for those circumstances where just one won’t cut it.

Skills For Any Application

Web designers need images to blend seamlessly into the design of their pages. Product photographers need to provide stunning images that can be applied to a variety of backgrounds. Composite artists want to create realistic images that look like they’re straight out of camera. No matter what your goals with Photoshop are, understanding the techniques in this tutorial will bring you one big step closer to mastery.

More Than Meets the Eye

Sometimes cutting something out of a background means more than creating a perfect selection. Depending on the environment that the original photo was taken in, you might find yourself needing to lighten or darken edges or change the color of reflected light. Once we show you how to cut out the subject, we’ll take it a step further and show you how make it look like the new background was there all along.

Edit Faster

Creating accurate cutouts doesn’t have to mean spending hours upon hours in front of the computer. Some circumstances will require a bit of time and patience but we’ll show you some incredible tips on how to start with a rough selection and then refine only the areas that need it, saving you valuable time.

Recreate Details

Sometimes it’s better to make a rough selection and then paint the details back in. In this tutorial, we’ll show you how to create and utilize custom brushes to paint in realistic-looking hair and details that would have otherwise been impossible to cut out.


Professional Cutouts

Making precise masks and selections has never been easier! Master all of the tools Photoshop has to offer for making professional cutouts.

Hair, Everywhere

Getting a realistic selection of hair is one of the most challenging and satisfying skills to master in Photoshop. We spend a ton of time covering several methods to make it happen. Whether the background is plain or complex, we’ll show you how to get impressive results, every time.




Course Instructor

Aaron Nace


Aaron Nace is a photographer, Photoshop artist and founder of PHLEARN. He is the #1 Photoshop instructor in the world with millions of YouTube subscribers.


  1. I bought a course at affinityrevolution “Perfect selections” and it seems like content is 90% similar to this!

  2. Great tutorial Will you be updating it when new features comming to photoshop….. like Select subject and remove background?

  3. A great lesson with a great range of techniques taught that can be used on many different subjects. This is no slight on the tutorial, or on Aaron, but I had a lot of trouble with the fringing around the hair on the second lady (the one in front of the bridge). I’ve restarted that section 3 times now but I must be doing something wrong. I’m going to go back in and see how realistic (or time-consuming) it might be to shape that mask with the pen tool. Wish me luck!

  4. Gotta say love watching Phlearn and how you make so enjoyable , and de mystifying PS 🙂

  5. Have been using photoshop since version 1 (yes, I’m an old lady) and yet always there is more to learn, different and better ways to do things. Thank you for this tutorial, learned several things which will help in my work. BY the way, I used your technique to make a “hair” and then turned it 180 and created a double-ended version, since you aren’t using the base of the brush anyway. Then the shape dynamics-angle-control “Direction” feature worked great!

  6. So far so good, have only got part way . However I have found the new Curve Pen tool much easier to use and control than the older tool, perhaps Pen tool videos need an update.

  7. Excellent excellent teacher really well done and thanks Aaron

  8. I like to thank aron for showing me masking and cutting out just love it

  9. The cutting out of the baby with the pen tool and the replacing of the hair was a great lesson for me. Now I can move on to the pets which I am grateful for. The pen tool was hard but like you said if you put time into working at it you will get it. I got it now and I use it like nothing. Your class is very important to me because I don’t get to go shooting the way a walking people do to being in a wheelchair; so I shoot my kids and fur kids then place in backgrounds I want to use. I’ve been with you for three years now and I love how you have made it available for all to learn from you. #PhlearnPhiday <3 Rose

  10. I love watching the tutorials.

  11. Super grateful to Aaron, the tutorials are great and I learned a lot. I’ve been using photoshop for many years and right now I’m doing it correctly, I love you sensei!


  13. Hello there, this tutorials are really great. So much to learn and very good explanation. However i have very big problems in cutting out things like wedding veils. How shall i do this with the tranparency in the veil. A tutorial about such objects would be great.

  14. Hello Phriends! Love the learning here! 😉 Advertising it to others big time! Guys, please let me know what is the intro song and where can I find it! 🙂 Thanks a lot!

    PHLEARN Staff
    Thank you! The song is Glory Days off of premiumbeat.com
    • Thank you for spreading the word about PHLEARN! The song is Glory Days off of premiumbeat.com

  15. It’s always too good to follow your tutorials! You have a perfect didactics and the fact that everything happens “live”, that is, there are no stops that can hide some trick, makes it even more useful and applicable to the routine of all professional photographers and amateurs.

    PHLEARN Staff
    What Aaron does may seem like magic, but we promise no tricks are used in our tutorials 😉
    • What Aaron does may seem like magic, but we promise no tricks are used in our tutorials 😉

  16. I absolutely LOVE your tutorials. So informative and super easy to follow. I ran into a problem, though, and couldn’t figure out how to fix it. Being a “newbie” to Photoshop, I had to Youtube it. While trying to make the fur brush for the dog, I could not get my pen path to produce a stroke that was bigger in the middle and ends in a point on both ends. I am using a mouse and realized that I had the “Control” in the “Shape Dynamics” section of my brush properties turned off from where I was making the cat fur brush. I set it to “Pen Pressure” and then tried the stroke again. It turned out great! Might want to mention that in case someone else runs into that problem.

  17. Aaron, will you marry me? 🙂 When the 1st time i use Photoshop to cut somethings out of background, it’s a so hard issue especially hair. Through many years, i can’t still seek methods that can make me happy until i find you, phlearn and now “Masking and Cutting Out Subjects”. You’re the Grand Master. I phlearned so much from this tutorial and thankful due it. Can’t thank you enough, Aaron. Keep it up.

    PHLEARN Staff
    You made Aaron blush 🙂 Thanks for taking the tutorial and we’re happy you loved it! Aaron has so many more tutorials on the way for you.
    • You made Aaron blush 🙂 Thanks for taking the tutorial and we’re happy you loved it! Aaron has so many more tutorials on the way for you.

  18. Phlearn tutorials are the absolute BEST! I’ve taken Photoshop in college and studied online tutorials from both Lynda.com and CreativeLive but only Aaron makes learning easy and fun while providing a comprehensive understanding. So many of the others are boring, confusing and/or shallow. Phlearn is my go-to source for Photoshop tutorials and a constant source of inspiration.

  19. This was awesome!! I learned so much, thank you!!

  20. Outstanding! I love this Workshop! So many “YES-Moments”. THANK YOU PHLEARN!

  21. Aaron is a fantastic teacher and these tutorials are just treasure. I started watching and learned completely new things from the very first minutes. After having watched all the videos in this tutorial, I feel it has definitely helped me a lot and I am looking forward to exploring more from PHLEARN! Also, Aaron seems to be perfectionist to the point that annoys me that sometimes I am not 😛 Like this, I am also having a live example of how a great professional should act when it comes to little details. Congratulations and thank you for this amazing series, now gonna watch some more cool stuff from here!

  22. The overlay trick – super! helpful. Thanks!! Love the videos.

  23. Aaron please… include captions, these will help a lot, to the ones who dont speak english as natives…as me…

    PHLEARN Staff
    Thanks for your comment, all our PRO Tutorials include closed captioning. There is a “CC” button in the player that will display the closed captions – all the best!
    • Thanks for your comment, all our PRO Tutorials include closed captioning, there is a CC button in the player that will display the closed captions – all the best! – Aaron

  24. Best so far, I have problem with selections on most part, getting better as time goes on, but I learned so many new techniques in this tutorial and I want to say you rock

  25. A really great tutorial!

  26. Excellent tutorial!

  27. Just amazing!!! One of the best of nothing but the best! Thanks so much for this tutorial and all the fabulous tutorials on this site. Super job!!

  28. FANTASTIC! Thank you for the help

  29. Phlearn tutorials have been absolutely invaluable to me. Without them, I’d be in a world of Photoshop pain. I love that Aaron’s instructions are clear and concise and are so easy to follow. I also like the way the videos come in short segments – this makes it easier to go back and find a topic you need without searching through a long video.

  30. This tutorial by Aaron is THE best on extraction, it builds up from super easy to super difficult.I have seen countless videos on hair extraction by PS experts but this blows them all away, the use of clipping masks is a technique that must be known to many but no one teaches,another top class tutorial from King Aaron

  31. Great stuff! Clearly organised and easy to follow. Loving it.

  32. Super legit and useful tutorial! Well paced and jamed packed!!!!! Two thumbs up!!!

  33. Yesterday I bought Photoshop Compositing: Masking & Cutting Out Subjects x1 .. the videos are obviously in English … I understand English written but not spoken .. Would there be a possibility of getting the written tutorial? .. if there was written tutorial would encourage me to buy more … thanks in advance.

    PHLEARN Staff
    Thanks Luisa, at this time we don’t offer written versions of our tutorials, however all the tutorials do have closed captioning, so you can read along. Press the “CC” button in the video player to turn on closed captioning.
    • Sorry, we don’t have written versions of our tutorials.

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