My images look like a cookie cut-out

Dark Prodigy

Mar 10, 2006
Sort of a newb with photoshop. I'm using the old Photoshop CS4, and I'm simply trying to take a photo-- cut it out nicely- and place it on top of another image (web building project). No matter what I do or how clean the edges are, I can't keep the damn thing from "LOOKING" like I simply placed an image on top of another one.

Here's an example of how I want it too look.

You see how she looks like she's IN the website...not simply placed on top of it.

How do I get this ultra clean effect??

What my image looks like so far....

I'm not really sure what the problem is here - your image doesn't look that bad at all. You might want to explain it in more detail, but here's some general tips to get started...

If you're wanting a cleaner, more detailed transparency level around fine-detail parts like the hair on the right, there are a few ways to do this. For starters it helps a ton to shoot the original photo with a background color that is similar to what will be in the final product; for instance it looks like the photo in the example site you linked was probably shot on a blue-green background to make it blend better with the site background. The fact that your photo has a white background (or a bunch of blown-out white area) and it's going on a darker pattern background in the site makes it more difficult to blend. You might have to start by PS'ing your white background to something that blends better and re-draw some of the hair before you can start masking. Don't be afraid to use tons of layers for each area of the image to get each area blended perfectly without screwing anything else up. You might just try putting the hair on a separate layer and use Multiply layer setting to remove white.

Once you get down to isolating the subject's fine-detail areas in PhotoShop, you'll just have to zoom way in to the area you're working on, take a fine brush with low opacity, and spend some time making sure you get your masking pixel-perfect. Also, it will help a lot if you use a mask layer (the gray block with white circle on it in Layers panel) to paint in the transparency instead of trying to use the erase tool; that way it's much easier to change transparency-levels on each pixel on the fly, since you're not permanently deleting any pixels in effect.

Something else to be aware of, in case you weren't already, is that the site you linked is using Flash objects for most of the elements, and I'm thinking some of the cut-out work was probably done in Flash, not just PS. To get super-clean edges on the larger areas like the person's body, face and clothing, so that the edges don't all look like they were hand-painted and un-even, take your photo into Flash (or another vector drawing program), break up the image, and use vector-drawing tool to give all the edges smooth clean curves - don't be afraid to cut into the image a little to make sure all the background is gone - you can also adjust your model's contour a little to give her better shape. You can do some vector-drawing and selecting in PhotoShop, but it's not going to look as clean in the final product as if you use an actual vector program (might still look better than doing the entire thing by hand though).

Hopefully that gets you started. Good luck!
The only thing I don't like about your sample is the difference in dynamic range between the photo and the background.
but here's some general tips to get started...


Hopefully that gets you started. Good luck!

Great advice and tips. I appreciate them immensely.

I used used the masking technique to get the outline around the model...blew it up to 200% to get as close and as clean as possible. I never thought to use a vector technique to do this..I shall try it.

I will also try to use another picture that more closely relates to the hue of the background... but I liked the light coming in from the left so much I wanted to use it.

Time to put her through another few hours of shooting...
Hello Dark Prodigy,

There are two major issues which you must consider when cutting out a human (or any other subject) to be pasted elsewhere:

1) The selection. A good selection always has an alpha component because this is necessary to get smooth edges. You should never use Magnetic lasso, quick selection, or magic wand unless you are in such a hurry that you don't really care how it looks. A good method is to zoom in and use Polygonal lasso. If you use enough points, the Polygonal lasso will look smooth, and it does a good job of blending the alpha for diagonal lines so that the cutout will look good. In some cases a better (although much more difficult and time consuming) method is to use quick mask mode and then paint the selection in using various brushes. If you use Mask Mode, it is much easier to paint the inverse; in other words, paint the area you want selected in Red, then when you leave mask mode, invert the selection.

The most difficult selections to make are those involving lots of tiny, often sub-pixel elements such as strands of hair on the edge of someone's head, or leaves and twigs in a tree. In this case you may sometimes find it helpful to use Select->Color Range to delete colors you don't want (very rarely can you effectively use it to include colors that you do want, because foreground objects usually have such a wide range of color). If you do use this tool, you will probably have to spend a bit of time manually cleaning up the results in Mask Mode.

When dealing with hair or other very fine particles, there is simply nothing in Photoshop that will allow you to get a perfect selection. Even the "good" example you linked shows some pretty nasty selection artifacts around the hair area. The reason is because the individual foreground pixels are blended with the background pixels, and you need to select a percentage of a pixel that is alpha mapped. If you absolutely need to do this, I've found that the most realistic results are literally to re-paint the hair strands on a new layer that mimics the part you want to cut out. This is painstaking and requires the ability to do photo-real painting so it is not an option for most people.

2) The composition and lighting. Even if you manage a perfect selection, the foreground will be under different lighting conditions than the background. This can make it look out of place. If you are pasting onto an abstract background that does not have any real lighting conditions, you still have to worry about a halo effect because the background is a different color. This is particularly significant when you are dealing with sub-pixel foreground objects (like strands of hair) because you will get pixels that partially contain the background color of the source which create a halo when pasted onto the destination image. In some cases you can do color adjustments on the halo to make it nearly invisible on the destination, which will provide better results than attempting to make a perfect selection. It is tempting to use Select->Feather/Contract to try to remove the halo. This is really not a very good solution. Sometimes Feathering by a tiny amount like 1 pixel can look good, but if want any more than that, it's an indication that your initial selection just wasn't good enough.

Now let's talk about your particular image. First of all, the subject is undergoing extreme lighting which is not matched by the background environment. As noted already, her body stops halfway through the image. You really should have the edge of the photo end with the edge of the image. In addition, the subject is on the RHS, looking off to the RHS, which draws additional unwanted attention to the over-saturated lighting conditions on the LHS of the subject (because it is closer to the center of the image). In other words, this is simply not a good composition and choice of image -- it's going to look out of place no matter what.

From a technical standpoint, you have feathered the selection border which is very noticeable and gives it a cheesy effect. Better to rely upon the crisper, yet still alpha-enabled border selection using Polygonal lasso. Finally, you have neglected hair details -- on the left side, by removing hair, and on the right side, by including white space.

Hope this helps
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Hello Dark Prodigy,


Hope this helps

Very very sound and constructive advice. Thank you. I will be experimenting on the selection process with a more professional technique... with a different image as well.
Well you have no background, so it obviously looks like she is floating. The example you provided is drastically different. Also the picture you picked is horrible... do you really need that much sun? It definitely ruins the effect.
Ok, taking the much needed advice of this thread I've been trying again... hopefully this is much better.

constructive advice always welcome.


Will probably be changing the background color to a light gradient pastel yellow...opacity around 40%.
As a general Photoshop tip, I would exercise caution when using the layer effects. They have their place and can be used well, but images can look less professional when you're stacking drop shadows, bevel and emboss, satin, etc.

I think adding some subtle textures to your document would give you more of the look you're hoping for. In that example link you shared, see how there aren't any flat colors involved at all? Even Nivea Soares' logo has a blend mode applied so that the background texture melds with it more seamlessly. No layer styles needed to make it "pop." There are lots of free texture packs around the web... just keep it subtle and don't mix too many different textures.

Good luck!