Photoshop How-To: Separate a Subject from the Background with a Stroke

The makers of the Fanta soft drink are running a multi-part ad campaign that uses an interesting effect that’s very easy to achieve:

The white stroke both makes the photos of the women stand out from the background while also tying them into other elements of the design. In this Photoshop tutorial, which works in CS3 through CS5, I’ll show you how to create a similar white stroke around photo subjects. You’ll get there by using a few selection techniques, masking, and adding some layer stroke styles.

Step 1
Open an image in which the subject is delineated from the background. In the example below, the background is blurrier than the subject, but that’s not mandatory.

©ISTOCKPHOTO/IGOR BALASANOV

Step 2
Double-click the Background layer on the Layers panel (go to Windows > Layers if it’s not visible) to unlock it. Click the OK button.

Step 3
Now you need to mask out the background around the model. Make a selection around the subject using one of the many options: the Quick Selection Tool, the Pen tool, etc. The best selection method for you depends on your photo and your expertise. If you’d like selection guidance, watch these video tutorials:

* Throw Photoshop’s Magic Wand Out the Window!
* Master Masking with Photoshop’s Alpha Channels
* Get to Know Photoshop’s Pen Tool
* Make Smooth Selections in Photoshop

Once you’ve made your selection, you’ll see the “marching ants” around the selected model:

Step 4
You may want to refine the edge a bit so the selection edge is not too distinct. I added a slight feather (Select > Modify > Feather). Next, click the Add Layer Mask button on the bottom of the Layers panel.

Your image should look something like this, with the background masked out:

Step 5
Now you can add a new background. Click the Create New Layer button of the bottom of the Layers panel. Then click-and-drag this new layer below the original layer, so the model’s layer is above the new transparent layer.

Step 6
Select the Gradient Tool from the Tools panel and then choose a color gradient from the Options panel at the top of the screen. I chose the Orange, Yellow, Orange gradient.

Step 7
Click-and-drag across the canvas, making sure the bottom background layer is selected and not the layer the model is on. It should look something like this. Note: hold Shift if you want the gradient to be at a 90-degree angle.

Step 8
Now you need to add that white stroke to the original layer. In the Layers panel, click the layer the model is on and then go to Layer > Layer Style > Stroke. Set the color to white and experiment with the settings for various effects. Here are the settings I used:

Click OK.

Step 9
You’ll notice that there’s a white border around the edge as well. That’s because I added that feathered edge to the selection before adding the mask.

It’s easily fixed. In the Layers panel, click the mask — the box small white-and-black box to the right on the model’s layer. Then select the white area using your tool of choice, make sure that the foreground color on the bottom of the Tools panel is set to black, and press Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace). This masks out those areas. If any spots are left, use the Brush tool to paint black onto the mask where the pixels need to be masked out. Note: To see the actual mask, click on the layer mask while pressing Option (PC: Alt). Click again to return to pixels.

The result should look something like this:

Step 10
To make this look even more like the Fanta ad campaign, let’s add circles to the background. Click the Create New Layer on the Layers panel and click-and-drag the layer to the top of the layers. Then choose the Brush tool, and up in the Options panel, choose an appropriate brush. I chose a circle brush.

Select white as the color and click to the side of the model. Between clicks, try adjusting the Flow on the Options panel and pressing the left and right brackets to resize the brush.

 

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Posted on: June 21, 2010

Chad Neuman

I'm an internationally published freelance writer and journalist with a master's in journalism and media studies from the University of South Florida. Subscribe to my mailing list to receive very occasional updates and free vector art/graphics. I have experience in copy and layout editing, web design, and visual communication. I've worked as features editor, supervising layout editor, and copy editor for various newspapers as well as webmaster for the new media department of the News Chief. I've been the internet development director for an advertising design agency, designing web sites, newsletters, and even coming up with a slogan for a Publix/United Way event. I was most recently managing editor of two international graphic design magazines (helping launch one of them). I am currently an assistant professor of communication, teaching media ethics, journalism, layout and design, magazine design and production, public relations and media advertising writing, writing for digital media, and photography.

5 Comments on Photoshop How-To: Separate a Subject from the Background with a Stroke

  1. Had it in my head – now I know how to get it out to the computer & to print! Thanks, like to see more of these little how tos…

  2. Having truble with my brush selection i can get white I can get it to let me have no fill and make the stroke white. Waht am i doing worng in my selection prrocess. tehre is no none selction avaiable ont eh color pallet or ont he tools pallet.

    Help Dangiacoletto@aol.com

  3. Having truble with my brush selection i can get white I can get it to let me have no fill and make the stroke white. Waht am i doing worng in my selection prrocess. tehre is no none selction avaiable ont eh color pallet or ont he tools pallet.

    Help Dangiacoletto@aol.com

  4. Dangia;

    It depends on the brush you select, it is not quite the same as Illustrator. So for example there isn’t a fill and a stroke per se, but rather a foreground and background. The one I selected has the circle filled in with whatever the color is selected, since that is the very shape of the brush.

    Thanks, Chad

    http://www.chadneuman.com
    http://www.photoshoptutorialsandtips.com/

  5. Thanks, that was really fun to learn. Keep more of these tutorials coming. :)

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