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Rendering/Cropping images with hair


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Came across a neato method to render/crop (I've heard both terms used interchangeably) hair out of photos with a bit better results.

The ultimate quality of your image will come down to skill though, really. This isn't a "Follow these steps and you'll get perfect results" type of guide. I'll try to make it as helpful as possible, but honestly this type of thing just comes down to lots of practice. It will outline the general practice to cropping out subjects from backgrounds that any other method (magic wand, 'grim color reaper') can't do on it's own and provide a few steps to smooth out the end look.

I was asked to take this/these guy/guys (?? lol) out of this picture for a sig


My regular process would be to manually erase out these guys and hair best as possible.

Then I might use "AA's Assistant" to smooth out the edges.

That would leave me with this


It's not horrible, but certainly you can see how the hair is TOO smoothed out creating dips where hair should be.

This guide should give you something a bit more like this though


Notably more detailed, but maintaining smooth edging.

Right so enough jabber.

Required Effects:

AA's Assistant --- Effects > Object > AA's Assistant

Splinter --- Effects > Blur > Splinter (This may be included with PDN, I am not entirely sure though).

Step 1: Whip out your favorite music, and start erasing away at your image. I generally start out with a large brush to erase the large amount of background, then quickly decrease the brushes size to get a more general outline of what I'm getting at. I repeat this about 3x before I just hunker down and start very finely erasing at the edges I want.

It's better to slightly erase any dark outline you see than to leave it behind. Even if it is a part of the image you want. Those lines will show up later and cause headaches :P

Here's some pics.



Quick large brush to remove large amount of background


Decreased brush size, got general outline going


Decreased brush again, much narrower outline


The black line (and even some darker pink pigment below) needs to be erased.


Step 2: After a good hour or so of that (maybe more maybe less depending on who you are) It's time to move on to fine tuning our results which should really just look like a heavily aliased cropping of jim carey.

Duplicate layer :DuplicateLayer: and uncheck it's visibility. Rename this layer as "Original". This layer is purely meant for backup in case something bad happens or you don't like your results and need to start over. Never, ever, ever, ever do anything to this layer besides duplicate it. Even when saving, do not touch. You want this forever.

Believe me when I say this has saved me countless hours of work, and WILL save you the same amount if not more.

Step 3: Take your exposed, aliased, freshly cropped layer and duplicate it again! Name the top one "AA Assistant" and the middle layer "Splinter".


Your layers should look like this

Step 4: Let's do AA's Assistant layer first.

Select it by clicking, and hide all other layers (just so we can better see what happens). Apply 'AA's Assistant' to that layer. I honestly don't suggest fiddling with the settings. I've done this plenty of times, and 99 times out of 100 the default settings are the best.

The ultimate thing to look for is smooth edges, no random bumps or hills and proper colors.

If you see anything amiss, press Ctrl+Z to undo, then go back and erase (or color in) the defected spot. Reapply 'AA's Assistant' and repeat until things are looking smooth. Don't just focus on the hair too! Remember we have an entire body to crop out, so be sure to look at arms, legs, torso, etc etc.

I didn't have any issues to touch up to show you unfortunately. I'm just that good :lol:(that's a joke)

Step 5: Hide the 'AA's Assistant' Layer, select and expose the 'Splinter' layer.

Open up the Splinter effect, set 'Splinters' to 50, and 'Distance' to 1. Leave the rest alone.


Step 6: Expose the AA's Assistant layer, then select the Splinter layer again. Go around the edges of the splinter layer and erase the edge of it everywhere you don't like it.

In my case, I found it gave a noticeable black line around areas like the shirt and neck, so I erased it there.

However it was perfect or unnoticeable in other areas, like the hair so I left it alone.

This is not necessary to do, but may be favorable depending on the image.

All that's left is to observe and touch up what looks offbeat.

I'd like to say that you should try different background colors, and of course place that color in a new layer at the bottom of everything.

Sometimes it will look absolutely terrible on white, but very very nice on black. Ideally it should work on all colors, but in my case I do plan on using this for a signature with a dark/black background. So as long as this looks good on black, who cares how it looks against pink!

It comes down to how you're going to use it.

If you plan on leaving the background transparent, I HIGHLY suggest testing out many many background colors to scan for issues.


Final Image on white


Final Image on Black (looks like I need to touch up that slight white outline on the hair)

The best way to remove any outlines, like in the black picture above, would to either try erasing the white if possible/manageable without ruining the image.

If it's a gradient, you could try using "Curves+". I'd explain how, but that's another guide in itself as it's quite a few steps.

You could also use the lasso tool, then try playing with saturation/contrast/brightness levels or blurring it further.

Finally another "AA's Assistant" effect may remove that outline, but it may damage other areas of the picture as well, so use with caution.

You could also cheat (As I'm likely to do :lol: ) and quite simply added a white/bright graphic behind the afflicted area thus "covering it up", and use that graphic in conjunction with a black background.

Here's a break down of why/what happened

The AA's Assistant layer is on top. It smooths out the edges and gives us a nice fade-out look to apply over different backgrounds. It also maintains the clarity and crispness on the inside of the subject at the same time.

Splinter smooths out the entire image very slightly. This looses quality on the inside, which is why we want the AA's Assistant layer to cover it.

The subject is smoothed, but the very fine edges of hair are still maintained, at least much better than AA's Assistant does. So splinters gives us some more hair detail, but keeps them blurred/smoothed enough to be acceptable on the edges.

I'd like to say that this takes time, practice and killer patience. For some sick and twisted reason I enjoy sitting here for hours erasing away at images, but I won't pretend for 1 nanosecond that doing this didn't take me months to become acceptable at.

I can give you all the help and tips in the world, but ultimately it comes down to you trying, and trying, and trying and trying some more.

Hair is BY FAR the most difficult part to crop out and something I'm still incredibly uncomfortable doing. Give a few images a try to learn your limits, then work on something manageable to build skill. This is how I worked my way up.

And finally, I made this with almost 0 sleep put in the day, so point out any errors and I'll fix them. I rechecked this thing like 50 times though, so I'm hoping it's fine...

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Very nice tutorial. Thank you. :star:

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Booya! Gold star!

My life is complete...

I appreciate that though. I've always felt hair was the one thing PDN couldn't really do amazingly, but then I found this and decided the story must be told.

Goes to show that the individual plugin/program doesn't really make an image, but the steps used in conjunction that can make something special.

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