Photoshop tutorial: Hair masking – how to cut out hair in Photoshop

How to remove a background from a photo using Photoshop, when hair and soft edges makes it tricky.

Cutting out people in Photoshop ready for compositing can be quite a time-consuming task, especially if they have lots of curly or fine, flyaway hair.

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Luckily, the Refine Edge tool is there in Photoshop CS5, CS5.5, CS6, CC or CC2014 to save you time by doing a lot of the hard work for you by tapping Photoshop’s built-in Smart Radius and Edge Detection technology.

Here photographer Tigz Rice has created  a quick, 9-step tutorial using photography of cabaret performer Aurora Galore to help you get the most out of cutouts in Photoshop using Refine Edge.

Software needed

Adobe Photoshop CS 5 or later

Time to complete

5 minutes


Open your chosen image in Photoshop and make a rough selection of the person you want to extract from the original image.

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There are plenty of selection tools to choose from in the toolbar, but usually the most effect for this method is the Quick Selection tool.

Activate the Add To Selection icon in the top submenu and click and drag over the areas you want to include in your selection. If you need to remove any areas from your selection, hold down the Alt key to temporarily change the tool into Subtract mode.


Once you’ve got your rough selection, go back up to the top submenu of the Quick Selection tool and click on Refine Edge, which will allow you to create a much more detailed selection. This should open up the dialog box shown.

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The first thing we need to set is the View Mode, which can be set to any view mode you wish. Overlay will give you a good idea of what has been selected, while still being able to see whats missing. On White or On Black are great for viewing cut outs that will be composited on light or dark backgrounds.

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For this particular cut out, we will work with On White.

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Lets start refining your selection. Near the top of the Refine Edge dialog you will see a section called Edge Detection. Drag the Radius slider towards the right in small increments to see more of the finer details included, particularly if you have sections of fine, flyaway hair.

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You can also try ticking the Smart Radius box to let Photoshop have a go at doing the work for you.


Next, use the built in Refine Radius drawing brush to bring in even more details, which will again be especially useful on hair.

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Brush carefully around the edges of the hair line to select any missing areas.

Pressing Shift + E will also bring up the Erase Refinements Brush if you’ve been a little too enthusiast with your refining.

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Now you’ve got everything important included in your selection, let's look at the Adjust Edge sliders.

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Use the Feather slider in small increments to gradually soften the edge of the selection - in some composite environments this can help create a more realistic look. Shift Edge is handy for removing any glowing edges from selections against white- or light-coloured backgrounds.


For cut outs on coloured backgrounds, the Decontaminate Colours check box can also be good for replacing pixels along the selection line with nearby colours, further reducing the halo effect.

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You can control how much of the edge is affected by Decontaminate Colours by shifting the Amount slider that appears underneath.

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Now select your Output mode. Choosing Layer Mask as the output is a non-destructive method that will give you room to go back and bring in more of the image later on if you’ve missed any areas by accident.

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Alternatively, if you plan on using the selection several times, you could choose Selection and then save it in Channels for future use on the image.


Before you press OK and confirm the selection, think about checking the Remember Settings box at the bottom, which can save you a lot of time if you're cutting out people and objects if they have the same lighting, background and/or model.

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Press OK to confirm the selection.


Finally, click on the new layer mask and touch up any minor areas with a brush: soft black to remove elements or white to bring them back in.

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