This site was last updated 15/3/18
This method of masking images will work with PhotoPlus 10 onwards (it will also work with earlier versions that use layers and masks). I have toyed around with the Extraction tool in PhotoPlus (version 11 onwards) for a couple of hours and think it really deserves persevering with for a few days to get to grips with it as it can produce some impressive results. I could discuss the merits of various methods, all touched on in the PhotoPlus user manual (IMHO the ‘background eraser’ is best left well alone as it is a destructive process - DO NOT USE on your original image, only on a copy if you must use this tool at all!!!), Layer Masks are reasonably quick, non-destructive and capable of very fine, soft edges that help one image to blend almost seamlessly into another. It is very versatile (for example, you can create varied levels of transparency within the mask simply by adjusting opacity levels) and easy to pick up - my 13 year old daughter used this for some art collage homework recently!
This is one method of creatively working with images; most importantly, find ways that suit your method of working.
Okay, in at the deep end...
Using the top image (taken from the Serif Image Collection 2), we can create all of lower montage images through layer masks.
If this image is not available, not to worry, what’s important is to have an image to hand that can be worked on to mask out the background portion. Allowing us to superimpose our image over another to create a new montage image.
We will go through this process step by step.
Opening the image, for this example I will continue with the man and woman picture in the example above so you can see where we are heading. If using another image, it should be no problem to follow.
Right click on the ‘Background’ layer and select ‘Duplicate’ layer. Give the new layer a meaningful name. Duplicating the layer leaves the original intact with an easy way to refer back to it and, locked, prevents unrecoverable accidents (I know there is the history tab, but ‘safety first’). Hide the original Background layer by clicking on the ‘eye’ icon next to the layer.
Zoom out so that the whole image fits within our main window.
a) Click on the ‘Polygon lasso’ tool (not the magnetic one) and click around the image – this does not have to be precise at this point, leave a gap between what is to keep and what is to be hidden.
b) If the image intersects the edge, do not worry, running the lasso along the edge will make a straight line for us.
c) Now click on the ‘mask’ icon that runs along the bottom of the ‘Layers’ tab.
Zoom in to around 200% (300% is good too), it’s just so we can see the difference between the unwanted background and the part of our image we want to keep. With the layer mask selected (there is a black line around the small layer mask image in the layers tab, see step 3 screen-shot), choose a smooth edged, round paintbrush and paint out what’s left of the background. For this example, I used the standard 16 point; finer details may require smaller sizes depending on the image. A smoothed edge brush is feathered, allowing for smoother blends than a hard edged brush provides. Keep it at 100% opacity for now and...
This is one place this method excels. Simply click on the double-ended arrow to swap foreground swatch with background and paint back what went missing. Hey Presto!
This is very useful when you come to do fine edges like hair and trees. Take the mask just into the ‘keep’ part of the image, swap swatches, reduce either the size, opacity or both, and paint the image back in. If you are at all stuck simply click on the eye icon of your preserved ‘Background’ layer to compare progress.
...Whoops! Oh dear, I painted some out! Tee - Hee!
Also, the lower left screenshot in the above image, the mask alone is turned on by going to ‘Layers’ in the menu bar, then ‘Mask’ (towards the bottom of the list) and checking the ‘View Mask’ option - this helps you to see the coverage of the mask.
A variation of this is seen on the smaller image (left).
Select the Background layer by clicking on it. Look along the bottom of the Layers tab, and click on the ‘New Layer’ button, the one on the left and name it ‘mask test’. With this layer selected, choose a colour that will contrast with your image by clicking in the foreground swatch, we want something that will show up any major imperfections in the mask. Now click on the paintbucket tool to fill this layer with the selected colour. Select the mask in it’s layer and fix the mask as necessary swapping from foreground to background swatches when needed.
If the opacity of this new layer is reduced it can greatly assist in indicating what to keep and what to mask.
I’ve deliberately kept this small as my photophobia makes this too painful to look at. (Something to consider when designing websites with garish colour schemes!).
This reveals the non-destructive power of ‘Layer Masking’. Our original image is just hiding, not removed unlike using the ‘Extract tool’ or ‘Background eraser’. Both of those tools leave us with no way of returning to the image if we discover something wasn’t quite right in the image, with those methods we would have little option but to start again from scratch!
Clicking on the link icon between the image and the mask allows us to move both the mask and image underneath independently. Notice the red cross on the link icon? This denotes that the image and its mask are unlinked.
By reducing the canvas size so that it just fits the man, it is easy to export it as a smaller (dimensions) image file that supports transparency. The rest of the image is still there though as shown in the screen-shot. Simply unlinking the mask and image I dragged the image across to reveal the woman is still there.
Using this method allows us to create a small, shaped (e.g. oval) vignette around one person in an image, export this as a smaller dimension image, then simply move the image behind the mask to select another person and export their image. See the ‘Now you see me’ section in the Fundamental Image Masks.
Preparing a new image of a young woman, masked as above, it was copied (Ctrl+C) to the Windows clipboard. Selecting the Background layer in this ‘Man and Woman’ image, it was pasted as a new layer (Ctrl+L). This placed the new layer between the Background and Man layers.
The young woman almost covered over the other lady but not quite. Duplicating the background image, named as ‘clone background fix’ (to preserve the original image should we need to refer back to it again), the clone paintbrush tool was selected.
Using this tool the parts of the background that showed the original woman - around the shoulders and head - were over-painted, or ‘cloned’ using similar parts of the background. Of course, another background could have been brought in to this picture and placed between the ‘Background’ and ‘young woman’ layers instead of cloning, this would have placed the man and young woman in an entirely different location.
Our background should be transparent, if not, check:
a) The Colour Mode, this should read Greyscale, in the swatches, black should be on the top of the white (black foreground and white background). If not, click the small double headed arrow to the left of the letter L, this swaps the swatch positions round. Click on Ctrl+Z (both together) to undo the last step of applying the mask or, if preferred, press the undo button on the menu bar. Now click on the mask button as before.
b) The background layer is still visible, click on the eye icon.
If you have managed to stick with me, thank you... if you need further help or clarification, please contact me, either directly through my contact page or via flickr mail - I am happy to try to help.
As I started out saying, this is just one of many ways, what’s most important is to find a way that suits your method of working and become proficient and ... HAVE FUN!!!
Oh and by the way... I find a pen tablet works best with this method, you can use a mouse, but I found real freedom (particularly when painting around the mask) once I picked up a pen tablet.
Ken (Major Confusion)
With the mask in place and hiding the unwanted background we can now safely ‘Deselect’ the area we previously lassoed. This is simply done by pressing Ctrl+D or via the menu Select>Deselect.
Step Six (optional)
We’ve now completed our mask. Please stay with me while we look at some of the benefits of masking and how it can be used.
This is just another example of the layer masking technique.
... do not worry if you go over the edge…