Apr 30, 2010

Refine Edge hair masking in Photoshop CS5


Photoshop CS5 now offers the ability to successfully make cut-out masks of complex subjects against busy backgrounds. This isn’t something new as there are a number of third-party plug-ins that have been able to do this type of masking, but this is the first time Photoshop has provided an effective, built-in solution. OK, there was the Extract command (which no longer ships with Photoshop), but this method, using the new improved Refine Edge command works much better. Click here to view the movie.

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The main reason why the Refine Edge works as well as it does is down to the new ‘Truer Edge™’ algorithm that is employed in the Edge Detection section. As you can see in the movie, by using a basic quick selection to isolate the subject and using the Radius slider and Smart Radius in the Refine Mask dialog, these steps alone can get you pretty close to achieving a successful cut-out mask. The remaining tools allow you to fine-tune these initial results.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers (Focal Press).
ISBN: 0780240522005
This extract was taken from Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers (where you can access other sample movies about Photoshop CS5). This latest update in the Adobe Photoshop for Photographers series contains 768 pages in full color, plus a DVD containing video tutorials. The book layout has been further improved to make navigation easier and contains updated advice on everything you need to know about using Photoshop, from digital capture to print output, as well as all that is new in Adobe Photoshop CS5.


The title will be stocked in most major bookstores throughout the world and also available to purchase from: as well as through the on-line bookstores: and

The Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Photographers book is expected to start shipping after mid-May 2010.

18 Responses to “Refine Edge hair masking in Photoshop CS5”

  1. robertdawes Says:

    Very helpful article. I will be playing with this later.

  2. Jann Lipka Says:

    Very nice tutorial ( as expected from Martin :-)

    One small comment :
    While using “decontaminate colors” command.

    Photoshop defaults for a new layer creation.

    From what I understand the reason for this is that decontaminating means PS is manipulating original pixel image (colors) in non reversible way.

    So maybe it is a bad Idea to get rid of the original version as a last step.
    Just in case you want to change the background later on.

    Thanks again for good step through video.

    Regards from Stockholm.

  3. siliconbeachtraining Says:

    Thanks for posting the tutorial – it’s good to see CS5 tutorials up already! We’re only just installing it today…

    I’ve included your blog in my list of the best 8 photoshop blogs:


  4. Rob Keijzer Says:

    Indeed a nice tutorial and a promising new way to isolate images.
    Only, when I follow the same steps, one step doesn’t work the way it is expected.

    In the movie, when Martin is painting over the fine strands of hair to refine the mask, we see a green indicator colour, and when the computer finished calculation, that dissapears and the refining is committed.

    When I try this, there is no green indicator, but during calculation (after releasing the pen) the correction is visible, but then seems to be undone, and leave me in the state before the correction.

    I have the Layer Mask selected. Im on Win XP.

    Cheers, Rob

  5. Martin Evening Says:

    Hi Rob,

    You need to have the Refine Mask in the ‘Reveal Layer’ Preview mode in order to see the green overlay when painting with the refine mask edge tool. If you are working with the ‘On Layers’ Preview mode you won’t see the overlay.


  6. Rob Keijzer Says:

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for replying. I tried all the view modes (starting with the one you suggested), but still it fails.

    Not only is the green overlay missing, it also refuses to add the corrections to the mask: it seems to do its work during painting, I then release the pen, the “busy” indicator rotates for a second, then the just painted-in correction vanishes.

    I’m also not able to work on the mask the traditional way; painting black to add to the mask, painting white to subtract from it.
    No black or white is added to the mask icon in the Layers Palette.

    I temporarily reverted to CS4 for masking, until I find the reason for this behaviour.

    Life is a work in progress anyway.

    Thanks for the suggestions


  7. Martin Evening Says:

    Hi Rob,

    When you edit the mask in the Reveal Layer preview mode it is the case that when you paint using the refine mask edge tool that the green overlay is only temporary and disappears after recalculating the edge. If you hold down the option/alt key you can switch the tool into eraser mode which will allow you to subtract from the mask edge. I suggest you give it a few more tries to get the hang of how the tools respond. I can’t say it will work wonders on every image, but the new refine mask does seem to me to be a significant improvement and very capable of achieving some great results.


  8. Jason1009 Says:

    I like it nice tutorial. Thank you for sharing it.

  9. waxart Says:

    Martin, this is the best video tutorial I have seen so far on Refine Edge in CS5. It is truthful, not just demonstrating an easy quick selection and a miraculous final result. I had become so discouraged with my own efforts, but your tutorial has given me new hope! I have to work at it.
    I’d buy your book, but when I tried to take it off the shelf in B & N, it was too thick and heavy for my arthritic hands. If e-readers displayed color, I’d love it that way. Many thanks!

  10. Martin Evening Says:

    The book should at some point be available as an ebook, in which case it would be possible to view the pages in colour, providing that is, you are able to view on a computer display or via say, an iPad. However, I don’t have any information yet from the publisher as to when the book is going to be published as an ebook version.

  11. ecosway Says:

    useful articles. I will try later.

  12. outlet hogan Says:

    Thanks for good step through video.This book is very userful.

  13. outlet hogan Says:

    this isn’t something new as there are a number of third-party plug-ins that have been able to do this type of masking

  14. pho213 Says:

    Thanks for good step through video.This book is very userful.

  15. 2dealsnet Says:

    Any tool to make selection and use the “Refine Edge” and finally “out”, is how to “tips”?
    Or you in the “output” and “output to” select “New Layer”

  16. Birmingham Photographer Says:

    I have 2 books from Martin and use lots of his techniques in my photography. This is a great addition now I’ve got my hands on CS5. Thanks for extending my photography toolkit, Martin!

  17. bijutoha Says:

    Really I am nice to be here . Actually I am the creative designer in a Photo Editing House . That’s why I need them so much . Once again nice to meet you .

  18. clippingmaskasia Says:

    Yes this is great tutorial ,i am very pleased to see this photoshop tutorial,good job

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