Cutting a Fuzzy Cat from a Photo

There are lots of tutorials on how to use PhotoShop to cut an animal out of a photograph so that it can be smoothly placed into another, with no “halo” or “bluescreen” left over.  Most of the automated processes tend to leave me a bit unsatisfied, so this is how I do it.  It’s not the best or the fastest way, but I find I get pretty satisfactory results.  I’m using PhotoShop CS6 on 64-bit Windows 7 Pro.  The main drawing tool used in these examples is a Wacom Bamboo CTE-650 which I’ve had for several years.

So!  Let’s begin.

Step 01 – Select a photograph and load it into PhotoShop.  I choose this one of my cat, Leela, who is a semi-longhair.  This was taken a number of years ago; at age 15, she has retired from modeling.

Step 02 – Never, ever, ever work on your original photo!  Always duplicate the layer.  And then, put a new, blank layer between the two copies.

Step 03 – with your new, blank layer highlighted, use the color picker to choose a color that will not be found in the original image, and will be bright enough to stand out.  I generally find that neon pink works really well, and it doesn’t hide the cursor when you are moving over it.  Bright blues and greens sometimes make the cursor difficult to find.

Unfortunately, when I took this screen shot, I hadn’t yet highlighted the color I wanted, so the number values still show black.  Oh well…

Step 04 – with the blank layer carefully selected – unlike the example below – use the Paint Fill Tool and click anywhere on the image to fill the layer with the “highlight” color you’ve chosen.

Step 05 – At this point I make the duplicate photo my active layer, and then I usually use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to cut out big slabs of what I don’t want.

Step 06 – At this point, we’re going to start erasing.

Now, the only thing I want from the original photo is her face.  I don’t care about anything else, so we’ll be going in rather roughly at first and she’s going to lose her whiskers, but not to worry.

The eraser that I’m going to be using is Number 59, this one:

To my knowledge, this one came with PhotoShop, I’ve rarely added any brushes so I imagine you’ll have this one too.  If you don’t, I’m afraid I don’t know what it’s called and thus how to find it.

I cut a huge swatch around her face.

We’ll be going in even closer, so it’s time to zoom in a bit for detail work.

Step 07 – Here’s where we want to be careful, but as you can see, you can be a bit careless.   Generally, using the eraser brush I tend to go around her face and “whisk” outwards, as if sweeping dust away from a round carpet.  (I hope my cat can’t read this.)   Below is an illustration of what I mean–one places the Eraser against the edge of fur, and then moves outward, leaving behind the jagged fur edge.

(The brush strokes above are all simulated using the Paintbrush rather than the Eraser, but is shows the general flow of the strokes.)  The three green boxes above show what the Eraser brush-end looks like, with the one on the bottom the same size as the brush strokes simulated in the above image.

The size that the Eraser is set at is 200; this is done for the major slicing of the outside, and can be adjusted as you work inward.  As you can see below –

– I got way too close to her ears, and snipped out a good portion of what I want to keep.

Well, not to worry.  Simply grab the History brush, adjust the size accordingly, and you can recover area when you think you might have trimmed too closely.

Much, much better.

Step 08 – Now, just go around the image, whisking outward, until you have kitty’s face isolated the way you want.   It may take several alternate sweepings of the Eraser –

– followed by recovery with the History Brush –

– until you finally find yourself satisfied.  Note that the size of the Eraser is now 90.

Step 09 – Now, let’s give her her whiskers back.  For this, we use the smudge tool.  With the settings as shown below (size is 6, strength is 91%), just grab an end and pull outward.

Strength of 91 tends to work well; anything less and they tend to fade too soon, anything more and they look cartoonish.  The shape of the brush is the standard hard-edged circle.  Apply the same to both sides, and we’re almost done.

Step 10 – Highlight the neon pink layer, change the active color to black, and then click the anywhere in the layer.  (If you want to keep the pink layer, for example if you’re still trimming, you can create another layer on top of the pink one and fill it.  Make the black one invisible to get back to the pink.)

The purpose of the black layer is to see if any straggly bits are still in need of erasing–sometimes things that get hidden in pink will really stand out in black.  In the image above, it looks pretty clean.  In images past, the black will show that little bits of cat are still orbiting around and need to be removed.

And that’s it.  You now have a cat head that you can paste onto another image.

Hopefully, you won’t do as I did and pick the first one.  The bird is too sharply focused, and Leela is a bit soft…even some blending stuff doesn’t seem to fix it.

Ah well, now it’s time for me to go read some tutorials.  Thanks for stopping by!