Photoshop tutorial: Master Photoshop's Select & Mask Workspace

Justin Seeley explains how to use Photoshop CC's all-new method for refining your selections and cut-outs called Select & Mask.


Photoshop CC has an all-new method for refining your selections and cutouts called Select & Mask. It’s not just a tool, but an entire workspace that allows you to gain unprecedented control over the selections you’re making.

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In this Photoshop tutorial, Justin Seeley will walk you through the new workspace and give you some tips on how you can use it to improve your cutouts. He’ll cover things like making a rough selection with Quick Selection, examining our composite using the all-new onion skinning mode. You'll also learn how best to refine complicated selections like hair using the Refine Edge Brush tool.

Let’s get started.

STEP 1

The first thing you need to do is make a rough selection of your subject. You can do this using a variety of different tools, but I prefer the Quick Selection tool as it’s much easier to control and generally yields decent results.

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Select the Quick Selection tool from the Tools panel or by pressing W on your keyboard. Adjust the size of the brush using the Brush Options panel in the Options bar.


STEP 2

Once you’ve got your brush ready to go, start brushing a selection of your subject. You’re just looking for a rough selection here, so don’t worry about selecting fine details, like hair. We can refine those back into the selection using the Select and Mask workspace later on.

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If you accidentally select a portion of the image you didn’t mean to select, hold down the Alt key and brush that portion out of the selection. Again, focus on making a complete – but rough – selection of the object you wish to isolate. This should only take a few moments.

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STEP 3

Once you have your rough selection in place, click the button labelled Select and Mask in the Options bar. That will take you to the Select and Mask workspace.

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Once inside of the Select and Mask workspace, try to familiarise yourself with your surroundings. On the left you’ll see six tools: Quick Selection, Refine Edge Brush, Brush, Lasso, Hand, and Zoom. The Refine Edge brush is the only tool not found in Photoshop proper, and the rest function just as they would in the normal Photoshop environment.

On the Right you’ll find your panels. These include the Properties, Edge Detection, Global Refinements, and Output Settings panels. All of which help you dial in and export your selection back to your document properly.


STEP 4

In the Properties panel you’ll need to select a view that makes it easy for you to see what you’re selecting. I prefer the Onion Skin mode, which allows you to see your object isolated against whatever background elements you have in your file. You can also control the opacity of the original image to show more or less of the background through the image. For this example, I’ve chosen an opacity of 70% and set my mode to Onion Skin.

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STEP 5

Next you’ll want to begin refining the edge of the selection, because chances are it looks pretty bad right now. Open the Edge Detection Panel and check the box labeled Smart Radius. You can then adjust the Radius Slider to see if this helps improve the overall look of the selection. In some cases it will do an amazing job at cleaning up some jagged or stray areas. It may also make other areas look worse, so make sure you examine your entire image for flaws.

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STEP 6

Now it’s time to really make our selection shine. Select the Refine Edge Brush from the tools on the right. The Refine Edge Brush is essentially what we used to know as the Refine Edge Command – only now in brush form – which makes it simple to clean up a complex selection. For this example I will focus on the hair.

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Increase or decrease the size of the brush to your liking using the [ or ] keys on your keyboard. Then slowly begin tracing around the edges of your subject. Once you’ve gone over a complex area, like the hair in this example, release your mouse and watch the Refine Edge Brush do its magic. 

In some cases it may seem like the brush is taking too much away from your selection, or adding too much to it. If that’s the case, alternate using the Option/Alt key to add or remove elements from the selection. You can also experiment with turning the Smart Radius feature off. This will sometimes bring back some lost detail.


STEP 7

If you feel as though your selection is too jagged, try opening up the Global Refinements panel and adjusting the Smooth slider. Be careful not to go overboard with this, however, because it can introduce some less-than-desirable results if pushed too far.

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STEP 8

Next, beef up the Contrast a bit by using the Contrast slider in the Global Refinements panel. This will help differentiate the subject from the background a little more. In doing this, you may also have to go back and re-adjust the smoothing to get a natural-looking result.

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STEP 9

The next step in refining your selection is to use the Shift Edge slider. This will really begin to help your selection take shape. Notice how as I drag this slider to the left, the hair selection appears much more natural than before. The hair is our main concern in this photo, so the loss of clarity in other areas isn’t as much of a concern to me right now. I can always clean that up after the fact.

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STEP 10

Once you’re satisfied with the overall look of the selection, open up the Output Settings panel. This is where you will begin to export your selection back into your document for further use. You can also choose to check the box labelled Decontaminate Colors. This will attempt to remove any bleeding colours from the original photo’s background, and neutralise them. However, this can also cause the image to lose a bit of lustre and colour quality in my experience, so use it with caution.

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Select your method of output by opening the Output To: dropdown menu. My favourite output method is Layer Mask. I use this because it’s non-destructive to the original image, and it allows me to further refine my selection upon output if necessary.


STEP 11

Before I hit OK to send my selection back out into my document, I always do one last spot-check of the image to see if there are any areas I can clean up. In this image, there are plenty! So, how do we fix that?

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The easiest way to clean that up is to use the Brush Tool. Select the Brush tool from the far left, set the size of the brush as desired, and then gently brush back in any areas that might be missing detail. In this example, I’ll focus on the woman’s face.

This is also where the Onion Skin mode helps out a lot, because it allows you to see the original lines of the subject and easily brush back in detail all around. Take a look at the final, cleaned up version of the selection in the photo. I’ve brought back detail in everything from her face to her shoe laces, simply by using the brush tool. Now it looks like she truly belongs against that new background.

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STEP 12

The last thing to do here is hit OK in the bottom right-hand corner. This will exit you from the Select and Mask workspace and return you back to Photoshop with a newly selected, masked image that you can continue refining at your discretion.

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