How to cut out hair in Photoshop

In a previous tutorial, I showed you how to clip an image in Photoshop in 5 simple steps. We had managed to cut out the body of a character. However, we purposedly left out a crucial step – because it deserved its own article – it’s clipping the hair of a character. You’ve guessed well – it’s time to roll up the sleeves again!

Note that there are several techniques for successful manual hair clipping on Photoshop, but the one I will share here is I believe, the simplest method. At the end of this tutorial (and in addition to the previous one), you will (finally) be able to extract a character from its environment in the pic – in order to embed it in another one. Let’s go !

Step 1: Go to the Layers palette

In my opinion, a successful hair clipping preserves all the locks of hair, even those scattered ones.

The first step, after opening your image in Photoshop, is to go to the Layer palette to your right where you will find the three layers that make up your image (Red, Green and Blue or RGB).

So test these three layers one by one (by clicking on each and enjoying the result that appears on your screen) to estimate which of the three offers the best contrast between the hair and the background.

For the case of our image, it is therefore on the blue layer that the image is detached the most from the background.

Step 2: Duplicate the layer

The next step to crop an image on Photoshop is to duplicate the blue layer to work on it. This will be our alpha channel. By definition, the alpha channel is a fourth layer that can contain images – additionally to the three classic RGB layers. It does not change the colours of the image, but is just used to record a selection and thus, give it a transparent background.

And so, to go back to the creation of our alpha channel: still on the Layer tab, go to the menu symbolized by four superimposed lines, then click on “Duplicate the layer”. We will rename it “alpha1”.

And here are our 3 RGB layers + our alpha1
And here are our 3 RGB layers

Step 3: Erase everything in the pic that’s not hair

We are now working on the “alpha 1” layer to crop a pic on Photoshop. Here, as we want to cut the hair, we will delimit the area that interests us by erasing the body of the character.

How to proceed ? We will use Photoshop’s freehand selection tool, commonly known as the lasso. This tool is used to draw a freehand area of ​​the image that has no precise shape – therefore not specifically round, square, or rectangle, etc.

With the lasso, select the areas besides the head and erase by pressing the “Delete” key on your keyboard. On your screen, you normally only have your head on a white background now.

Step 4: Adjust the black levels

For Photoshop to recognize each strand of hair, the contrast must now be accentuated. Note that the optimal contrast of an image is black and white. Our goal is to have a selection of black hair that contrasts entirely against a white background.

Start by taking the brush tool and apply it on the face with 100% opacity, to hide everything in black.

Apply black all over your face with this good old brush
Apply black all over your face with this good old brush

Then, to fully darken the head (and the hair with it), go to the “Image” menu, then to “Settings“, and finally “Levels“.

A dialog will appear on your screen. Once there, move the middle triangular slider to the right until you have a consistent black, without fading the remaining spaces between the hair.

Step 5: Adjust the white levels

Repeat the same operation for the white levels.

To make the background 100%, white, move the slider on the right (so the white one) to the left until the gray shades of the background disappear and turn white.

Dialog for level adjustment
Dialog for level adjustment

Then finish by clicking OK.

And here we are, we have finished adjusting the levels to crop an image on Photoshop. If you have done a flawless handling, you normally should have a black head on your screen (with strands of black hair too) – that stands out against a white background. Like this:

A black head that stands out against a white background
A black head that stands out against a white background

Step 6: Recover the selection

To continue trimming our image in Photoshop, we will recover the selection from the layer “alpha 1“.

For that, we go to the Menu, click on “Selection”, then “Recover the selection”. A dialog box will appear on the screen and on the “Layer” part, you select “alpha 1”. Finish with OK.

Step 7: Scrub around the hair

Now take the eraser (on the Photoshop tools palette), go to the image layer and erase everything around the hair. Emphasize the eraser until all residue from the old background disappears.

Step 8: Create a layer and recover the selection

We are going to create a layer that we are going to rename “layer 2” and we will put it below the layer of the photo. The goal will be to ensure that everything that we add on this layer applies only to the layer below, that is our cut-off subject.

After creating the layer, return to the “Selection” menu, then “Retrieve Selection”, and select “alpha 1”.

Get the "alpha 1" layer
Get the “alpha 1” layer

Step 9: Swap the selection

Go to the “Selection” menu, then to “Swap”. The invert selection option is useful if you want to modify a section of an image while leaving the remainder unchanged.

We will now work on the layer we’ve just created above (layer 2) to set the new hair on our layer “alpha 1”.

Step 10: Use the clone stamp tool

Here, we will use the clone stamp tool to duplicate the hair area. This tool is used to duplicate objects or to remove a defect from an image.

To do this, extract the layer texture of the source image (layer 1) by pressing Alt. Then reproduce it on the same areas in the layer we’ve just created (layer 2). Repeat until all the hair appears well.

Tip: When using the buffer tool, preferably take a round shape with a diffused edge to avoid the changes being too apparent and having too sharp boundaries. Apply it also little by little, for even more details.

Step 11: Merge the layers to finish cutting an image in Photoshop

To complete the work, merge the layer of the photo and that of the hair. To do this, select both by holding down the Ctrl button, then go to layer, and “Merge layers”.

And that’s it – we have finished cutting an image on Photoshop and more precisely the hair!

And here is the final result ! Detouring an image on Photoshop, it's not that complicated
And here is the final result ! Detouring an image on Photoshop, it’s not that complicated

I do hope this tutorial has helped you. Note that some images are still more difficult to cut than others, especially when the contrast between the background and the object is not high enough or when you are dealing with a too shaggy hair xD. But in general, these steps can achieve a very good result.

Alternatively, for simple clipping, you can also use Clipping Magic, an online tool that can do the job in a few clicks (yes, I know, it’s cheating, but when you’re in a rush – it can help).

Above all, do not hesitate to contact me in comments if you’re having any difficulty with this tutorial. So see you soon!


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