Photoshop Lesson: Extracting Images Using the Extract Tool

When creating graphic designs, some of the most “perfect” stock photos or digital photos are discarded because of their background. This method shows how to remove that background quick and easy.

The Method

1. Open: Open the image you want to extract. You can find one that you want to play with, or use the one I’ve attached to this article (see “Illustration 01”) to learn with the tutorial.

2. Extract Tool: Now, we need to open the Extract Tool dialogue. To do that, press Ctrl+Alt+X on your keyboard – they need to be pressed at the same time. When the window opens, you’re ready to set your options. Until you’ve played with it once or twice and are comfortable with changing them, try using these options: Brush Size – 10, Highlight – Green, Fill – Blue, Smart Highlighting ticked, and under Preview select Show – Black Matte. See “Illustration 02” for help.

3. Paint the Extraction: Now that your options are set, you just start painting. What you want to paint is an outline of your image – just around the edges of what you want to keep. Don’t stress on making the selection perfect – it doesn’t need to be. Just get it close. See Illustration 03.

4. Paint Bucket: When you have painted as near to the edges of your picture as possible, look to the left-hand side of your Extract Dialogue window. One of the tools in the toolbar there is the paint bucket. Go ahead and grab that, and click once inside the image. You’ll end up with something like the image in Illustration 04.

5. Photoshop Magic: Now, click OK and let Photoshop work its magic. You’ll come back to your main Photoshop screen with the background almost perfectly removed.

Here’s the deal: What Photoshop has done is pick up on what the colors are within the selection you have made. It has then tried to decide where the “edge” is – what separates the shirt from the background, foe example – using only colors. So you’ll notice that some pieces of the background are repeated on the image you end up with.

This only happens on images that don’t have a clear color separation between the image and the background. In the image we’re using here, the woman’s hair is very close in color to the background behind her. So Photoshop can’t make an easy distinction and does its best. If the background had been red, for example, we would have had no repeats – but I wouldn’t have been able to show you how to fix them, either.

See Illustration 05.

6. Drop Shadow Eraser: Now, grab your eraser tool and Zoom in on your image. It should be easy to see where the background has been repeated once you zoom in to about 300% – use your eraser to remove those repeats. See Illustration 06.

7. Replace Background: Now, you can replace the background. I just used a fabric image that I found, duplicated the image layer (right-click the image layer and choose “Duplicate”), and slid the desktop image in behind the duplicated layer to end up with the image in Illustration 07.

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