Learn How to Select Hair in Photoshop

September 5, 2022By 0

Selections are one of the most powerful tools in Photoshop. However, not all of them are easy to get. One of the biggest problems we encounter when making a selection is hair. Selecting and changing hair and making it natural is not an easy task , and with common selection tools we will not usually get it to look good.

But do not worry! Photoshop has an advanced interface to enhance the edges of the selection and help you cut out things as complicated as hair. This interface is currently called Select and apply mask , and in previous versions we will find it as Refine Edge .

Do you want to discover how it works? I’ll Guide you in Detail Below with step by step Pictures and Video. Or want to hire photo editor to do it for you?

What is a Selection?

We have already spoken on more than one occasion about selections. The selections allow us to delimit a single part of our photograph to act only on it, or to cut out that specific area and paste it elsewhere. Thanks to Photoshop selections and masks we can create impressive and totally realistic montages .

If you are not familiar with its basics, I recommend that you first read these articles, which will teach you step by step what selections and masks are, and how to use them correctly.

How to Select Hair in Photoshop?

As you may have already noticed if you have ever tried it, selecting hair perfectly in Photoshop is not an easy task. With the usual selections you will notice that the cut in the hair is too geometric, with edges, giving it a very artificial appearance . And if you try to soften that cut, that diffuse aura around you is even worse. Both one thing and the other is very unrealistic. How do we do it then?

You will see it step by step with this example. We have chosen a photo with complicated hair to make the selection more expensive . Our goal will be to cut out the model from that blank background to place it on a darker background and simulate that it is on a stage. You could also use this selection to apply effects or color adjustments only on it or only on the hair itself.

Curly or windy hair are more difficult to select correctly

1. Make a Short Selection:

First of all, you must make a normal selection, with the selection tool that best suits you in each case. Don’t worry if the selection in the hair isn’t rushed, just select the rest of your subject correctly and forget about how the hair is being selected.


2. Use Select and Apply Mask:

Now comes the moment of truth. Photoshop has a special interface to improve selections and it is our best option if we want to select hair accurately. We will find this interface in a button located in the upper menu of any selection, or from the Selection Menu/Select and apply mask . In versions prior to Photoshop CC 2015.5, instead of being called that you will find it as Refine Edge . Even so, I recommend that you use the latest version, since they have been improving this tool in each new instalment of the program.

When we enter the Select and Apply Mask interface we will see that our selection is marked in red. We can choose different display modes from the View dropdown , to configure the display of the selection/mask to our liking.

In the latest versions of Photoshop we can easily add and subtract selection from this interface without having to go out to Photoshop. However, in earlier versions you will need to exit to Photoshop if you want to make any substantive changes to your selection.

The star tool to be able to select the hair correctly is the Brush to refine edges . You will find it in the side menu, second. It is a very easy to use tool. You simply have to paint as if it were a brush, the edge where you had problems with the selection.

Select & Change Hair Color in PhotoShop(Video Tutorial)

Best Way to Select Hair Perfectly in Photoshop:

In this case, I have painted the entire edge of the hair and the lace parts that protrude below. Photoshop will recalculate that selection to fit it as well as possible. This option may not work well if the hair and background are very similar in color . However, if they are clearly differentiated, it will not usually give you any problems.

It is recommended that you use a small brush to recalculate just the border of the selection, as this tool tends to leave the border semi-transparent to improve its integration . If you use a brush that is too thick, it may leave a large area semi-transparent, such as part of the head, and it will not look good.

This is how our selection has turned out after recalculating it with the Brush tool to refine edges

If you notice that an area has not been selected correctly, or that, as I mentioned, some part has become semi-transparent, in the toolbar on the left you will find different selection tools that will help you to speed up the selection as much as possible . You will find the quick selection, the lasso and a brush/eraser to paint the selection by hand. In the menu on the right you will also find several sliders to modify the selection and adjust it to your liking. You can add feathering, feathering, expanding or contracting its border, etc.

Finally, a very interesting option that you should check before accepting your selection is Decontaminate colors , which you can find at the bottom right, in the output settings. This option will automatically paint the borders of your selection with the surrounding color , to alleviate auras and background color contaminations on your selection.

On the left, the hair cut without decontaminating the colors. On the right, with the option Decontaminate colors checked.

When you have your selection ready, export it simply by pressing OK. You can export it in multiple ways, which you can configure in the Output Settings menu (bottom right): as a selection, as a mask on the current layer, as a new layer with mask, and even as a new file. I personally like to export it as a new layer with a mask, to be able to modify it to my liking in the next step.


3. Improve the Mask in Photoshop:

With the previous step it is possible that your hair has been perfectly selected. If this is the case, congratulations! However, we have chosen a complicated photo, to show what to do when our hair is not perfectly selected. Curly hair or hair in the wind, as is the case, are much more difficult to select and that is why they need a little extra help, this time manually. As usual, the automatic processes work well when the photo is easy, but you have to give them a hand when things get complicated .

In this case there are some areas where the mask has been slightly blurred by the blurring that those areas of the hair have suffered due to movement. To correct it and make it more natural, you can use the Brush tool in black on the mask itself, to erase them. To make it look natural, you must use a very fine brush and directly paint small black hairs on the mask to erase the areas that have not been well selected, simulating the shape of the hair itself.

You can paint over the photo itself or you can enlarge the mask to see where it’s working the worst. To see the mask enlarged, Alt+Click on it in the Layers window . Then, when you’re done retouching, tap your photo’s layer again to see it normally again.

If we press Alt+Click on the mask we can open it large to improve it more precisely.


4. Rushing to the Max: Create New Hair

In the previous step we have erased certain parts of our mask simulating the shape of the hair with a very fine brush. If you want to rush as much as possible, you can now do the opposite: create new hairs. Many times in the selection some hairs are lost that give realism to the photograph. If your hair has been too uniform or if an area has not been particularly good, you can hide it by painting hairs on top .

Simply create a new empty layer and with a very fine brush take samples from different areas of the hair and draw little hairs following the shape of the other real hairs. Its edges may be too hard and stand out more than the real hair. If this happens, when you finish drawing all the hairs add a slight Gaussian Blur to that layer to give the new hairs the same hardness as the real hairs .

By painting some extra hairs we will be able to give it the touch of realism that it lacked

how to select hair in photoshop

Now to Practice!

Each photograph is a world, but with this example I am sure that you will know how to solve any problem that may arise in the most complicated selections. And like everything else, the key is to practice a lot to learn and get comfortable with the impressive tools that Photoshop offers us.

Do you want to share with us a selection of hair that you have made? Leave us a comment!