Select hair and edge details in Photoshop CS5

Cat with new background

Have you ever needed to change or replace a backdrop behind a person’s face or a furry animal, only to be confounded by trying to make a detailed selection of the hair around the edges?

Three Maine Coon cats There are several techniques you can use to accomplish this, but Photoshop CS5 has come out with a dandy new way to select fine detail like you find in hair, without including unwanted background information.


  1. In Photoshop, use your favorite selection tool to select the subject.
  2. Open the Masks panel and click on the Add a pixel mask icon.
  3. Click the Mask Edge… button. The Refine Mask dialog box opens.
  4. In the Edge Detection area, click the View drop-down icon and choose the view that allows you to see the edge clearly.
  5. Click the Refine Radius tool. It looks like a paint brush.
  6. In Photoshop’s main window, the Refine Radius tool options now appear in the Options panel above the picture. Adjust the brush size there (or  use using the bracket keys next to the P on the keyboard) until the radius of your brush is large enough to include the length of the hairs, from the edge of the subject to the tips of the hairs.
  7. Using the center point of the brush as an edge guide, press and drag around the edge of your subject.
  8. Increase the radius slider if necessary to ensure that the longer hairs are within the selection area.
  9. To make sure that the background is not included with the selected hairs, click the Decontaminate Colors checkbox.
  10. Use the Decontaminate slider to refine the settings.
  11. Using the main image area in Photoshop to preview the image, continue to refine other settings until you have the best detail.
  12. Finally, clicking the Create New Layer checkbox will create a separate layer that you can place over a new background.

See how Russell Brown, Adobe expert and educator, combines this technique with Photoshop’s new Content Aware Fill, on Adobe TV:


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *