an All Creative World site
Tigerstorm's picture
1009 pencils

The Extract tool

One of the most common things beginners to Photoshop wants to be able todo is seperate one object or so from it's background. There are as many ways to extract an object from it's background as there are languages on our earth and every one is different from eachother. One way is using the filter in Photoshop called Extract.

I won't say it's the best method nor I'll say it's the worst method to seperate objects from it's background. I think it depends on the demands you've got and what kind of experience with the tool and photoshop experience.

One of the things that's easiest in Photoshop and probably everyone can do is paint with help of the brush tool and erase it with help of the erase tool. The Extract tool works kind of the same way, you paint the edges you want to retain and then fill it and volá you've free'd the object from it's background. One thing that I've discovered through out the years as working in Photoshop and extract objects from it background is that they always requires some sort of cleaning up afterwards, this tool is no exeption, it depends on how fine you have retained the edges in the tool but you'll probably need to smooth the edges later on when your'e done in the tool.. But that's an easy task todo.

Sounds difficult? Well I'll explain the process for you below.

1. Open Adobe Photoshop and in the menus go to Filter » Extract (alt-cmd-x)

2. The extract tool window is now open and you'll see a toolbox bar to the left, the image and several options to your right.

3. I'll first go through a number of tips concering the options to the right in the tool. The brush size is is important to change as it's the tool you will be working with retaining the edges of the object. The highlight color and the fill color are the color you paint and fill with around and in the object. You decide yourself, but think that certain colors looks various good on various images for an example dark pictures a green or blue highlight color is better then red, anyway it's a decision you'll need to make yourself.

You'll now see a smart highlightning checkbox and when you active this it's easier to draw around edges that are light and it follows easily. Perfect use when trying to retain edges at arms, hands, neck and various things. Without this you kind of paint freely and doesn't follow anything, this is good when it comes to hair and tricky objects to retain.

4. In order to get good result of using the tool and retain really good edges, you've need to be steady on your hand and be aware of this in your mind.. The brush should follow the edges, not go over them.. Let's say for an example you paint the hand with a thick brush and really go over the edges. The hand would have lost much of it because of the act going over it.. Just follow the edges, don't paint over them.. Then use the erase tool if so happens.

5. Now paint the edges and remember it must be a sealed as well.. Take a close look and see if you haven't overpainted on certain parts and then take the fill tool and fill inside the edges and then you can preview your extraction, if not , just go back and try again.

6. Go back to Photoshop and smooth the edges and fix the beauty problems with your extraction..

I'll say it again.. This is not the perfect tool but it's not the worst either, it's much up to you how you use it!

Here's a image I later created from the extraction, just some drop shadow, fixing beauty problems and adding a background..

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Fraijanes's picture
273 pencils

Neat its awsome and very usefull, I bet some people didnt even knew they had this tool in their Photoshop, so Thankyou Tiger, this is going to be a big help for me on my new photo class.



We´ll always have Paris! Humphrey Bogart

We´ll always have Paris! Humphrey Bogart

Matt Davey's picture
153 pencils

I just use the lasso tool....Joking!
Seems to be very effective teamed up with the paths tool to get the hair exact this could be a good little method. Thanks Tiger

Matt Davey - Graphic and Web Design

Tiberius's picture
9 pencils

Nothing I've used so far beats Vertus Fluid Mask. I don't care how complicated an extraction, this little thing will do it and the result will be astonishing. Not only will it do what you want it to do, but it'll do it in record time, too.

Visit the site below for examples, tuts and - of course - a free trial. You'll love it.

Ch-ch-ch-check it out:

Nocens Angelus's picture
35 pencils

A cleaner but more tedious way. Use the pen tool and make sure you have it path selected. then outline the object you want to extract. Now go to your alpha channel palette and create a new alpha mask. Option-i to invert the alpha mask from black to white. Then jump to your paths palette. Make sure to select paint brush tool (you can use the pencil tool, but i prefer the paint brush tool) change the width to something like 3px depending on the resolution of your picture, also make sure black is selected as your foreground color. then either, shift-enter, right click on the path layer, or click on the grey top-right arrow on the paths layer pallet and choose stroke path.

Now you should have a black stroke of the path you created on your alpha channels palette. go back and select all the rgb or cmyk channels in your alpha palette. go back to your layers palette. now go to your extract filter and as you notice under extraction you will see a channel drop down menu, allowing you to select the alpha channel we just made. What you should now do is thicken the stroke where hairs are floating out or other details you don't wnat to lose. fill the selection in and click extract.

The benifit for this is that you get a cleaner more precise line especially around the hair, as long as the background is pretty different in color for the object you want to extract from. It does a good job at retaining those details.

This was the method MattDavey was suggesting.

Jammo's picture
-4 pencils

I started to use this method quite a few months back. Before that, I used/still do use quick mask mode to give me the most control over what Im extracting.

For those who dont know about quick masks: Tap "Q", and paint/use pen/use anything to draw your mask, when you're done, tap Q again et voila, you've got a selection of your object. cmd+J and boom, you've got that item on a new layer.


tatcom's picture
3 pencils

I think it's worth a read:

cbrophy78's picture
177 pencils

tradgic wand...
i never like the results of the extract tool, i play with the channels a little to get the wisp of hair, and select color command, and always layer mask. a neat trick i learned when in any layermask, quick mask, or alpha channel that are black n white a big brush set to overlay will slowly take away gray areas, or add to em, depending on the color (blk/wht) chosen.
What does this button d.... CRAP!

Chris Brophy
Iklectek Designs

print_guy's picture
17 pencils

The best use for the extract tool is when you're trying to trace a very complicated subject. Clipping paths are great for fairly simple things, but try tracing animal fur with them or blades of grass. That's where the extract tool becomes very useful. It can save you hours... Best to stay away from the magic wand tool by the way, extract gives you much nicer edges with built in transparency for smoother transitions.

Nocens Angelus's picture
35 pencils

Yah magic wand umm works for quick QUICK or beginners but it very crude with results for very high res images. It creates crude jagged lines. you don't notice it much on 72 dpi web images but for print it is the devil.

jonathanmortimer's picture
45 pencils

This just looks like quick mask with a nice menu, I'm sure it has some useful options but I still think I prefer the manual method. Don't forget that while using quick mask you have all the usual painting and selection tools too, so you can pick out those fine lines etc, then when you're done just switch back to normal mode and voila!

I dunno, am I missing something here?

synnestro's picture
29 pencils


I don't have Photoshop, but I am looking at Decomposer [ ]..
..So this technique should be just useful for that !!


tatcom's picture
3 pencils

If you're willing to pay for it, than here's another alternative to Decomposer:

Anonymous's picture

much better if you have sow the step by step work

Creativebits is a blog about Creativity, Graphic Design, Adobe, Apple and other related subjects.

Do you need a great new logo?

Pick a pre-made design from a collection of 50,000+ logos that will be customized to your business name for free.