Have you ever had nightmares of complicated selections in Photoshop? Strangely enough selecting cute and fluffy animals can be one of the most difficult tasks. Today we are going to have a look at a complex and advanced selection workflow. We will have to use a lot of selection tools and techniques to get this cute guinea pig masked out from its background:
This will be our final selection:
First of all, we have to make a rough selection around the animal with the Lasso Tool. We have to make sure we have all the details captured inside the selection. Now choose Select > Save Selection and call it guinea pig.
We can now choose Select > Color Range. First choose Black Matte for the Selection Preview and Selection below the preview in the dialog box. Click on the visible part of the background a couple of times holding down the Shift key to expand the range of colors selected. Once the whole background is visible (white in the dialog box preview) we can set the Fuzziness to reduce the selected details from the animal’s head:
We can accept the Color Range selection now and save it as a Layer Mask by clicking on the Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. To check our mask we can Alt/Option click on the mask thumbnail.
Now we can see if there are any unnecessary masked areas. Every black details should be removed from the animal’s head. The easiest way to do this is to use the brush and draw over these parts with a white color.
We can choose Selection > Load Selection and choose the one called guinea pig, which is the same selection we did in the first step around the guinea pig:
We need to invert this selection (Select > Invert) and fill it in with black on the layer mask to hide it. This is how the layer should look like:
We can now refine the edges of our mask further using the Mask Edge option from the Properties panel (in Photoshop CS6) or the Masks panel (earlier Photoshop versions):
We should definitely use Smart Radius with a higher Radius value and Decontaminate Colors option:
This step improved our selection a lot around the edges, but the bottom part is still very poor. We will have to do something with this part to the match the quality to the upper edges.
The most efficient way in these cases is to create a custom brush for masking the complicated edges. We will create a fur brush and use that to create a nice and fluffy edge on the bottom.
First of all we need a new document created with around 300x300 pixels and a white background. Let’s use the Brush tool and put down some random black spots. When ready, we can select the whole document (Command/Control-A) and choose Edit > Define Custom Brush option. We will get a dialog box where we can give this Custom Brush a name. Once ready with it just press Enter.
Even though we created the Custom Brush, it’s not ready to use for masking yet. We have to open the Brush panel and customize the settings. First of all, set the Spacing to 1% under the Brush Tip Shape settings. Next, turn on Shape Dynamics and choose Pen Pressure to control the Size (this only works with digital tablets, so you can skip this if you are working with a mouse). Now increase the Minimum Diameter to somewhere around 50%. Last but not least, you can also turn on Transfer and set the Control on the top of its Settings tab also to Pen Pressure (once again this only applies to tablet users).
Now that all the settings are in place we just need to set the foreground color to white and try out our brush on a separate layer. If it looks similar to mine, you can go to the top left of the Options bar and click on the New Tool Preset button (where the cursor is on the image above). You can call this Fur Brush and use it every time you need to make similar selections of furry or hairy edges.
You can create a Duplicate layer, if you want to compare before and after results, or you can just simply select the mask of the topmost layer and start using the Brush tool with the Fur Brush and black as the Foreground color. With this draw, several strokes along the bottom edge, always drawing inwards creating the foundation to the selection:
Once you went trough with this technique all along the bottom edge, you can repeat the same procedure but this time drawing strokes from inside out and using white color. You can use smaller brush size and even reduced opacity to make even softer fur detail.
The only missing details from the original image are the whiskers. For these we again have to be smart and come up with a special selection (or more like drawing) technique. First of all, set up a normal round brush to 3px size and pick a color from the original whiskers. Then use the Pen tool and draw a path along one of the original whiskers (to see them you can temporarily turn off the mask by Shift-clicking on it). Create a New layer and still with the Pen tool selected right-click on the image and choose Stroke Path.
From the following dialog box, choose Brush and Simulate Pressure. This will only work if you previously had the Shape Dynamics turned to Pen Pressure for the Brush tool (this works even without a tablet).
You should repeat the same technique for all the other whiskers and if you have done everything accordingly you should have something like this:
I hope you enjoyed this tutorial and well done for your hard work :)