Photoshop Tutorial: Cutouts and Blending Modes

For this tutorial, all the elements you need are included in a .psd document. You will be creating cutouts and applying blending modes.

1. Open the file called cutout-blending.psd, and go to File > Save As to save a copy for the changes you’ll be making.

2. Take a look at the layers panel, where there are several layers with content. Hide them (click the eyeball icon) so that only the layer called “Murrow Hall” is visible. This photo is the instructor’s own, and may be used for this assignment. We’re going to delete the sky from this photo to make a cutout.

  • With the Murrow Hall layer selected in the layers panel, use the Magic Wand tool to click on the sky.
  • Most of the sky should be selected automatically. Hit the delete key on your keyboard, and that portion of the sky should disappear.
  • If any bits of sky remain, use the Magic Wand tool again.
  • Use the eraser tool to erase the bit of tree that sticks into the sky on the far right.
murrow-cutout
Use the magic wand selection tool to select the entire sky.

3. Hide the Murrow Hall layer by clicking on the eyeball icon. Make the layer called “Cougar” visible. This photo is shared on Flickr by Jeff Youngstrom with a Creative Commons license that allows modifications, though not commercial use.

4. The photo of a cougar in the “Cougar” layer is also going to become a cutout. In this case, the Magic Wand tool will not work well because the colors in the background are similar to the colors in the cougar’s face. Instead, there are two other cutout techniques to try. You can make a copy of the Cougar layer to try both of these, or choose one to try first.

Cutout option 1:

  • Choose the Magnetic Lasso tool (this is part of the Lasso family of tools).
  • Choose a starting point around the edge of the cougar and click. Now you can drag (just dragging, you don’t have to hold and drag) around the edge of the cougar shape. The outline will snap into place if the contrast is high enough. Don’t worry about the places where the outline gets off slightly.
  • Go all the way around the shape and click back where you started to complete the selection.
  • Zoom in on areas where the cutout does not quite match the cougar shape. Hold down Shift to draw with the tool in places where you need to add to the selection. Hold down Option to draw with the tool in places where you need to subtract from the selection.
  • When your selection is done, go to Select > Modify > Feather and set the radius to 1 pixel.
  • Go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy. Hide the original photo and rename the new layer “Cougar Cutout.”
cutout-option1
Make a rough outline (left), then zoom in to add or subtract from the selection to improve it (right).

Cutout option 2:

  • Choose the Pen tool.
  • Choose a starting point around the edge of the cougar and click to make your first point, then continue clicking points around the edge of the cougar shape.
  • If you hold down when you click, you can make smooth curves. Don’t worry if some of your points are not in exactly the right place.
  • Go all the way around the shape and click back where you started to complete the selection.
  • Zoom in on areas where the cutout does not quite match the cougar shape. Use the Direct Selection tool (white arrow) to click on the outline you created and move any points that need to be adjusted.
  • When your selection is done, go to the “Paths” tab in the layer panel. You’ll see a little thumbnail of the outline you just drew.
  • Click on the menu in the top right of the layers panel and choose “Save Path.”
  • In the same menu, choose “Make Selection” and set the feather radius to 1 pixel.
  • Go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy. Hide the original photo and rename the new layer “Cougar Cutout.”
cutout-option2
Use the pen tool to draw points around the shape (left), then use the Paths panel to make the selection.

5. Hide the Cougar Cutout layer and make the layer called “Map” visible. This image is a topographical map published by the U.S. Geological Survey and made available online by the University of Texas Libraries. It is from 1905 and in the public domain.

6. With the Map layer selected, create a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer.

  • Click the “Colorize” checkbox and drag the Hue slider all the way to the left or right.
  • Reduce the Saturation to about 15.
map-saturation
Colorize and desaturate the map layer so it becomes a more subtle background.

7. Make the layer called “Grunge Texture” visible. This is a free-to-use image from Pixabay.com.

gradient-mask
Put a black-to-white gradient in the layer mask to make the image partially transparent.

  • In the layers panel, change the opacity to about 60%.
  • In the Blending Mode menu at the top of the layers panel, set the mode to “Multiply.”
  • At the bottom of the layers panel, click the “Create Vector Mask” icon (rectangle with circle inside of it).
  • Click on the new mask rectangle that appeared in the Grunge Texture layer. Use the gradient tool (in the same family as the paint bucket) with black and white selected, and draw a gradient that goes from black in the lower left to white in the upper right. Because this is a mask, the fill does not show up; instead, it makes the Grunge Texture more visible in the top right and fade out toward the bottom.

8. Make a new layer at the top of the stack and name it “Border.”

  • Use the paint bucket to fill in the layer black.
  • Double-click the layer thumbnail in the layers panel to open the Layer Style box.
  • Click the checkbox for Stroke. Set the size to 25 pixels, the position to Inside, and the color to white.
  • Back in the layers panel, change the Fill to 0%. Now only the white border should appear.

9. Click on the Murrow Hall layer, and double-click the thumbnail to bring up the Layer Style box.

  • Click the checkbox for Drop Shadow.
  • Set the Blend Mode to Overlay, the angle to about -62 degrees, and the Size to 21 pixels. This will create subtle separation between the roof of the building and the cougar cutout.

You’re done! Save the .psd file to export in the file part of this tutorial series.