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16 January 2010 @ 12:16 pm
Tutorial: Quick Mask  
For airbefore:

airbefore asked for some help on extracting a subject from a background, so I made this quick tutorial. I know most people use the magnetic lasso tool to remove a subject from the background, but I always, always have problems with it, so more often than not I use the quick mask feature. It absolutely can be way more time consuming, but I get the results I want and I don't rip my hair out using a tool that apparently hates me. I will master the lasso tool one day, but today isn't that day.

I've never done a tutorial before and probably added a bunch of stuff that's not necessary, but I wanted this to be a tutorial that someone who had virtually no experience with photoshop can follow. Made using Photoshop CS2. No idea how translatable it is. Questions? Let me know.

Finally, I know that this is the most time-consuming way to add a background to an icon and now the way I would usually use, but I think it's a good skill to have, so... here we are.

Anyway... to quick mask a subject (quick is a relative term).

*note: all images can be clicked to make them bigger. I didn't want to scale them down, since that may not be super helpful if you can't see the detail.

To start, I chose this stock image, which, is actually a harder one to work with than I anticipated, so... sorry.

1. The Set-Up

This is what my basic photoshop set-up looks like. I've highlighted the main tools we'll be working with (quick mask and brushes).

2. Start

Open your image. On this one, we're going to isolate the apple up front.

3. Unlocking the Background

Alt+double click on the background layer. That will remove the little lock symbol and rename the layer from "Background" to "Layer 0". We do this so that we can ultimately delete part of the background image easily. It's also a good practice to get into. That way you can drop an image or texture or any other layer underneath the background. You can't do that if it remains locked.

4. Setting up the Quick Mask

Click on the quick mask button on the side toolbar (see image). This should give you the "black and white" boxes as the colours. Then, pick a brush. You'll want a hard-edged brush (nothing fuzzy here). The size will depend on what you're working on, but I find 50px to be a good start.

5. Masking

Now you start masking off the stuff you don't want (you can mask off the stuff you do want, but I find this easier). Just paint a rough boundary around the subject. This will make it easier when we have to zoom in and get up close to the edge.

6. Getting up to the edge

In order to get up to the edge, we need to zoom in on the image. I find anything between 300% and 500% to be best for this. You want it to be pixely so that you can isolate pixels and mask them off.

7. Snafu #1

Sometimes, you'll be following an edge and see that it's not the right edge. Don't panic, just readjust to the new edge. The beauty of quick mask is that we can fix errors (unlike just erasing)

8. Zoom out to check progress

Every so often, zoom back out to 100% (or less, depending on how big your picture is -- I find the "fit to screen" option helpful for this. Shortcut is ctrl+0 - that's "zero" not the letter "O"). Zooming out helps to see where you're at and if you're off target. It's easy to get off target, especially when you're working with something so monochromatic.

9. Move stuff around

You'll occasionally have to move your palette around so that you can get access to the whole image. Just drag stuff like tools and whatnot out of the way.

10. Snafu #2 - the mistake

So, what happens when you accidentally mask off something that you want to keep? Well, like I said before, that's no problem, it can be fixed easily.

Go to the "Black/White" colour boxes and click on the little arrow. This will make the white box move up top. The deal is: black = mask, white = erase mask. When the white box is up top, you can simply go back over your mistake and erase the mask (the rest stuff).

11. Ta-da!

Go all around the image until the whole thing is isolated. Make sure everything else is covered in that lovely red mask.

12. Un-mask

Once you've masked off everything, click the other mask square (see image). This will take you out of quick mask mode and back into regular mode (where we usually work). You'll get a lovely dotted line around the image that you have isolated. Well done!

13. Inverting

Now, to actually delete the background, you need to invert the selected area. Right now, if you hit "delete" you'll delete the apple that we spent so much time isolating. What we want to do is select the background. Luckily, this is easy. Simply use the shortcut: crtl+shift+I. Done. You'll see the dotted line change (it'll be surrounding the background now)

14. Delete Background

Now, to simply delete the background, all you need to do is either hit "delete" or crtl+X, and poof, it's gone!

15. Moving to another canvas

If you're making an icon, you'll likely want to move to a new canvas at this point. Open a new canvas (Ctrl+N). Set the pixels at 100x100 and you'll have a blank canvas to work on. Go back to your cut out image (the apple) by tabbing back to it (ctrl+TAB). Copy that image (ctrl+c) and then paste it onto your new 100x100 canvas (ctrl+v). Now you'll end up with a great big apple on a teeny-tiny canvas.

16. Scaling

To scale down an image to fit an icon, you need to "transform" it. The shortcut for this is: ctrl+t. This will open up a new set of variables at the top. You can change the height and width of these (see image). NOTE! Always change the height and width by the SAME AMOUNT! i.e. if you make the height 15% of the original, the width needs to be 15% too. If you make them different numbers you'll fuck with the aspect ratio and make everything look weird. No one like a mess up aspect ratio!

When you're done, click the "check mark" button to save your selections.

17. It's icon time!

Now you can add a background to the image. Pick a texture or gradient or something and open it in photoshop. I picked the one on the screen (a bad choice, as we'll later see).

18. Put background on Icon

I copied the background (ctrl+c) and then pasted it onto the icon (ctrl+v). This makes it land squarely on top of the image we want to see.

19. Moving Layers

To move a layer, simply drag it to where you want it. In this case, below the apple.

20. Adjustments

Now we can make adjustments to the icon. You'll notice before that I didn't colour the apple at all. Usually I do this before I mask it off and cut it out, but that would make for an even longer tutorial. I'm only bringing it up here so you can see where the adjustment shortcuts are and how to fix my error (bad texture choice).

Go to the little black/white button at the bottom of the layers palette. This will bring up all the options for adjustments.

Note! Unless you select just the layer transparency that you want to alter, any adjustments you make will affect all the layers below them. Meaning that if you put a "colour balance" adjustment layer on top and fiddle with colour balance it will affect not just your apple, but the background as well. Layer transparencies get us around this, but we don't get into layer transparencies here, because... *head explode*, but just play around and you'll see what I mean.

21. Gradient Map

Anyway, the background I've chosen for this apple is really ugly with it. Now, the simple thing would be to pick a new background, but here's a learning opportunity. You can change how things look (especially colours), by adding a gradient map to them. Go to the little black/white icon at the bottom of the layer palette and pick "gradient map".

22. Picking a Gradient

Use the little drop down arrow to pick a new gradient. The presets are a good place to start. I picked something in a pink, because I like pink and I like green together... or something. It's just to illustrate a point.

Note: On here, I made sure to put the gradient map below the apple. If I'd put it above, it would obviously affect the apple too, not just the background.

23. Clean-up

Before we're done, we need to clean up the edge of the apple. It's okay, but it's a little rough (it always is). First, zoom in again so we can really clean up the image nicely. Second, pick a hard-edged eraser brush and set opacity and flow to 100%. Then just move around the edges, cleaning it up until you have a nice round apple.

24. Done

Zoom back out and viola, you're done! You've cut out an apple and put a completely new background on to it.
Jenny: GGMM - Murph Awesomeairbefore on January 16th, 2010 07:30 pm (UTC)

I might still have questions that I'll hit you with in an email but this is going to be so damn helpful!

in his blood like cheap wine: BSG - A/R - Absolutely would have builtmurphy987 on January 16th, 2010 08:27 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! Let me know if you have any questions or if you want any other tutorials.
Jenny: GGMM - Murph Awesomeairbefore on January 16th, 2010 08:36 pm (UTC)
Ooooo, some blending tips might be helpful...
in his blood like cheap wine: Mary McDonnell - Times 4murphy987 on January 16th, 2010 08:37 pm (UTC)
You may want to give a good read through to the tutorials I linked in the email. They'll have some good tips and they're much better icon makers than I am. If you still want more, lemme know and I'll see what I can do.
tayryn: BSG - smiletayryn on January 16th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
very nice!

i am ALWAYS up for learning new techniques!!

in his blood like cheap wine: Harry Potter - Lightningmurphy987 on January 16th, 2010 08:28 pm (UTC)
Thanks! Hope this is somewhat helpful!
Starbuckstarbuck92 on January 17th, 2010 05:12 am (UTC)
I doubt I'll ever use it but still bookmarking it for future reference!
in his blood like cheap wine: Mary McDonnell - Altheamurphy987 on January 17th, 2010 05:32 am (UTC)

It took a while to do. Oy, tutorials is hard!
Zaleti: FAT Typewriterzaleti on January 17th, 2010 06:18 am (UTC)
This tutorial wins! I had never used quick mask before - I'm one of those 'Extract tool' people - so this was really interesting. Also, I'd always wondered what the layer transparency thing did and now I know, and it is AWESOME. I totally turned the green apple into a red one! (*ridiculously pleased with self*) Thank you so much for sharing this, I learned a whole bunch of stuff. :D

Shameless flattery & request: Is there any way you'd consider turning your clearly epic tutorial skillz to one on those animated icons with bits of movies in them? *points to ossum example at right* :D Or, is there a good tutorial you can recommend? I've tried these before, but I think I must be missing something... :(
in his blood like cheap wine: For All Time - Charles and Lauramurphy987 on January 17th, 2010 06:29 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm glad you were able to pick up some pointers here! That makes me happy.

I'd be happy to do an animated icon tutorial, but there is a good one out there that you may want to check out. I even have it saved myself :)

Try this one. If you have any questions I'll be happy to help out!

Also? ♥ the flattery. You know the way to my heart :)
Zaleti: MM Peace Signzaleti on January 17th, 2010 08:15 am (UTC)
Oooo, FANTASTIC. You rock! ♥ Thank you so much for the link! :D Just had a read-through, and I think I can see where I went wrong. I know what I'll be doing tomorrow, LOL. Can't wait to try it out. *squee* Thanks again! :D
in his blood like cheap wine: Sunshine  ☀ Like an old photographmurphy987 on January 18th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
Wonderful! I'm glad you got it sorted out!

Hope it all goes well and I can't wait to see what you come up with!

Gemma: bsg | bitchesgypsygem81 on January 17th, 2010 11:22 am (UTC)
Thanks for this! Looks really great. I'm going to stick it in my memories.
in his blood like cheap wine: Infinity  ∞ Knock knock knock Penny?murphy987 on January 18th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
Super! Hope it helps some!!