Photoshop is a fantastic tool for many purposes, such as editing wedding photos or creating graphics for logos and other marketing materials. Another everyday use of Photoshop is editing people onto different backgrounds, but hair makes this extremely difficult. It’s wispy and has hundreds of intricate pixels that need to be fit inside a single selection.
Before you dive into the tutorial on how to select hair in Photoshop, you should be aware that hair selection in Photoshop has its limitations.
For the best results, you should use a picture with high contrast against its background. You should also already have a new background ready unless you’re planning on making it transparent. Open your prospective image in Photoshop CC and proceed to the first step to get started.
If you prefer, you can also load in your background and position it behind your subject, so you do not have to do this later on.
Step 1: Create an Approximate Selection Outline Around Your Subject
The first step to selecting hair in Photoshop is to draw a rough selection outline around your subject.
You can do this with any of the selection tools, preferably one that you feel the most comfortable with. You can use the Quick Selection Tool, Lasso, Marquee, or the Object Selection Tool if you’re using Photoshop CC 2020. There is also the “select subject” option, which means Photoshop will attempt to automatically detect the object you’d like to separate from the background.
Using the Lasso Tool:
The lasso tool is best for anyone who has a steady mouse hand or is drawing on a tablet because it requires you to manually trace the hair.
- Active the Lasso Tool by clicking it in the left-hand toolbar or by pressing L.
- Click anywhere near the hair and drag to create a selection. If possible, you should try to outline the hair in one command and connect the beginning to the end.
As you follow along, remember that your selection does not need to be perfect because we’re going to go in and refine it in the next step. This is merely drawing a rough selection outline.
Using the magnetic lasso tool:
The magnetic lasso is an excellent choice if the hair you’d like to select is highly contrasted against its original background. It tries to do some of the work for you by guessing what you’d like to select based on the color of the pixels.
- Right-click the lasso symbol in the toolbar and select ‘Magnetic Lasso Tool’ from the list. The symbol looks like a polygonal lasso tool with a horseshoe magnet.
- Click once to set a starting point.
- As you move your cursor along the edge of the subject, the magnetic lasso tool will set additional anchor points. If the tool creates an incorrect anchor point, hit delete or backspace and continue to set more anchor points.
- To close the selection, put your cursor over the starting point and click.
There is also the Polygonal Lasso Tool, but it is extremely unlikely you will use this to select hair as it works with straight-edged objects. It may be the best choice for a mohawk, but not much else.
You can also switch between all three lasso tools while outlining without losing your original starting place.
Using the object selection tool in Photoshop CC 2020:
If you’ve upgraded to the newest version of Photoshop lately, then you may not have had a chance to use the new object selection tool as of yet.
- Select the Object Selection Tool from the toolbar or hit W to enable it. By default, it is located beneath the lasso toolkit.
- In the options bar, set the mode to Rectangle.
- If the subject you’re selecting is composed of multiple layers, then enable the ‘Sample All Layers’ option. If it’s just one image, leave this unchecked.
- Enable ‘Object Subtract.’
- Draw an initial selection around the subject with the default rectangle tool. Try to keep this close to the subject.
- Release your mouse and watch as Photoshop automatically analyzes the highlighted section. You should see the marching ants pop up as your outline.
Step 2: Using the Refine Edge Command
Now that we’ve drawn a rough selection outline around the subject or their hair, we’re going to go in and refine the edges.
First, make sure that you have the correct layer selected that the subject is on. Then, open the Refine Edge command by either going to the Select menu in the top left of the screen and selecting Refine Edge from the menu choices, or click the Refine Edge button in the Options Bar if you still have one of the selection tools chosen.
The View Options
Your selection will show up in many different ways depending on what you have selected under View Mode.
This can include viewing your selection in front of a white background, a black background, or still the original with a marching ants outline. This changes depending on what you have selected at the top right of the Refine Edge dialog box under View Mode. There is a small thumbnail next to the word ‘View.’
You can choose whichever view mode is most comfortable for you to work on, but for this tutorial, we will be working on ‘On White.’ If you’d like to work directly on top of the new background that is already inserted, then select ‘On Layers.’ If there are no other layers inserted, then it will show up as a transparent checker box background.
Step 3: Broadening the Radius
Below View Mode in the Refine Edge dialog box is the Edge Selection option. To add more of the hair to your selection, such as the wispy edges or layers, click the Radius slider and drag it towards the right.
By increasing the radius value, we have been able to fit more of the hair into our selection, but this means that there are problems in other areas as well. The radius may be too wide around your subject’s chest or shoulder.
The Smart Radius option is located directly above the slider. With this enabled, Photoshop will attempt to analyze the radius size wherever possible. The size of the radius in unnecessary areas like the shoulder should decrease while the radius for the hair will remain wide.
Be aware that depending on the photo you’re working on, Smart Radius may or may not help. If it makes things look worse, then you’re better off leaving it disabled.
Step 4: Adjust the Radius Manually with Brushes
“Paint Brushes Close-Up” by Tech109 is licensed under CC BY 2.0
To the left of the slider is a brush icon. When you click and hold this, you’ll see two options, the Refine Radius Tool and the Erase Refinements Tool. You can switch between these by holding Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac). You can start with either tool, depending on your preference.
Using the Erase Refinements Tool, click and drag over the unwanted radius areas to remove them. After these are removed, you can switch to the Refine Radius Tool and paint over the areas where the hair should be. Obviously, this is going to be difficult if you can’t actually see the original hair. To fix this, use the Reveal Layer view mode. Now you can switch back and forth between these layers to see where you need to paint.
The Adjust Edge Options
In the Refine Edge dialog box, you’ll also find a list of options underneath Adjust Edge. Each of these options: Smooth, Feather, Contrast, and Shift Edge are set to 0. The option we’re going to be focusing on for this tutorial is Shift Edge, as the others are not beneficial for selecting hair in Photoshop.
Dragging the Shift Edge slider to the right and increasing the value will expand your selection edges and add more hair to the selection, and vice versa for removing hair from the selection. Play around with this and determine if it’s helping your selection or not. If not, then return the slider to the middle value and continue to the next step.
Step 5: Decontaminate the Colors to Remove Any Fringing
“Color wheel” by Viktor Hertz is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Depending on the hair that you’re working with, chances are there’s still an adequate amount of fringing around the hair (remaining color from the original background). We can remove this by using the Decontaminate Colors option located in the Output section at the bottom of the dialog box. Select the checkbox to turn this on.
The default value of the slider is 50%. As we move the slider further to the right, Photoshop will automatically remove the fringing by changing the color of the surrounding pixels to match the hair.
Step 6: Output Your Selection
Now that we’re done with our selection, we need to output it. Luckily we’re still working in the Decontaminate Colors option. Directly below the slider is an Output To: menu. Set this to New Layer with Layer Mask if it is not already selected.
Click OK in the bottom right corner of the dialog box. In the Layers panel, you should see a copy of the original image with your selection converted into a layer mask.
Step 7: If Needed, Clear Up the Layer Mask
Since we zeroed in on the hair in this tutorial, there may be other areas of the selection that need our attention before finishing up. To check if there are any problem areas, press and hold Alt (Windows) / Option (Mac) and click the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers panel.
If there are any areas that need to be adjusted, use the Brush Tool and paint over the areas using white or black. Then, switch back to the standard image view by clicking on the layer’s preview thumbnail.
Congratulations, there is your final result!
Frequently Asked Questions
“Question Mark” by ryanmilani is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Here is a list of the most commonly asked questions about how to select hair in Photoshop.
How Do I Select Hair in Photoshop 2020?
To select hair in Photoshop 2020, follow the steps listed above. You will need to use one of the selection tools listed in Step 1 and then continue onto the following steps to refine your selection.
How Do You Copy Hair in Photoshop?
After completing Step 6: Output Your Selection, the selected hair will show up as an additional layer. Ctrl + A will select the entire layer. Press Ctrl + C or select ‘Copy’ from the ‘Edit’ dropdown menu.
Using Ctrl + V or ‘Paste’ from the dropdown menu will copy the layer on the same file you’re working on or any other image you have open in Photoshop.
How Do I Select Hair in Photoshop cs3?
The steps listed above may not be helpful if you’re working in Photoshop cs3. Here is a helpful tutorial on selecting hair in Photoshop cs3.
How Do You Select Wispy Hair in Photoshop?
Follow the same steps listed above to select wispy hair in Photoshop. The key to refining a selection on wispy hair is to decontaminate the colors, a process that is covered in Step 5.