playing with bits one byte at a time

Extracting Elements from Images

Previously published on …

I’m always promising to write a tutorial on how I go about extracting things from photographs … and naturally haven’t done so. The main reason I haven’t done this is I have SO many different ways of doing this and really didn’t know where to start. Luckily, I’ve run across some great resources on the subject of “extracting.” Rather than write the tutorials myself, I’ve decided to provide a listing of what I’ve found with a focus on the ones I believe best apply to extracting elements for use on Polyvore. I will also try to provide a comment or two regarding my thinking on the subject covered in the tutorial. Keep in mind, I am referring to “extracting” things, not creating “tubes” or “misted tubes” … that’s an entirely different subject and, hopefully, fodder for another post.

The first thing I always recommend to people are the two books by Steve Caplin called “How to Cheat in Photoshop” and “How to Cheat in Photoshop Elements.” He shows you SO many things that you can do with photo manipulation/montage and, after all, that’s what we’re actually doing on Polyvore.

I found a LOT of great tutorials on the Digital Scrapbooking Studio Site. They are primarily for Photoshop (both CS and Elements), but the theory can pretty much be used in other graphics software. The tutorial on extraction called “Extracting Elements with a Mask and Pen Tablet” by Ambowife Designs is great. This one is for Photoshop CS and while she focuses on using a pen tablet, you can use a mouse (which I do). One thing to note, she talks about using a very high resolution image for doing this. This is definitely something I recommend BUT, if it’s something you’re going to upload to Polyvore, you will need to reduce the file size to less than 2mb which is Polyvore’s maximum for “clipped” items. (For more information on Polyvore’s file limitations, see this earlier post – Resizing Images in Photoshop.) NOTE: While she does show you how to extract an element, she also gives you a way to find “stray” pixels that you might have missed. Great tip!!!

Another great site for tutorials is Photoshop Cafe. The tutorial “Cutting out Photos with Photoshop using Quick Select and Refine Edge” is geared for CS5, but the tools he talks about were also in CS3 and CS4, unfortunately they don’t work nearly as well as CS5. This is probably my #1 method of extracting things, but I also learned a couple of new tricks with regard to the Refine Edges tool. Another tutorial on the site is Masking out Difficult Images in Photoshop. I’ve tried something similar (using the Select Color tool) and wasn’t very successful, but you might want to give it a try.

A fantastic site for all things art is deviantART. I did a quick search within their tutorials on “extraction” and there’s a ton of them. Here’s my link to the results — A lot of them are about using the “Pen” tool but that is SUCH a slow way to do things and there are tools now that make it a lot easier. The two that I learned the most from are “Exposing Objects in Photoshop” and “How to Tube.” There is also a group on the site called Clear-Cut with lots of graphics resources and information regarding Copyright Issues.

If you use Photoshop Elements, they have a tool called the Magic Extractor. I don’t use Photoshop Elements, but I did download a demo version to try this tool out. It reminds of of the old Extract tool that Photoshop had, which I wasn’t all that impressed with. Same goes for this tool. I’m sure with a little time I could get better with it, but I already have other methods that I prefer to use. has some documentation on the tool — Use the Magic Extractor. If I run across any tutorials that do a better job of explaining how to use this tool, I’ll include the links in a future post.

As a final note, if it isn’t obvious yet, the key to extracting elements is in the selecting of the element. There are SO many ways of doing this, but I’m hoping what I’ve provided will at least get you thinking and, just maybe, you can find a new trick that you can teach this old dog.


One Comment

  1. Thank You SO much for all of your help and insight! You are really great! I use both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. I started with elements but I’m finding that I’m “outgrowing” it! Lol For me, Photoshop is not as user friendly as elements is, but I think that I’m just not doing things “right”
    I’m currently looking for a mentor to help me along the way! If you know of anyone, can you please let me know?
    Thanks again for all your helpfulness!
    xo Paula

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