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Easily separate an object from its background with the Extract filter

Added on Tuesday 26th of April 2005 11:34 pm EST


Adobe Photoshop 7/CS

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


Photoshop, Selection, Extract, Background

Removing an image from its background can be a time-consuming and tedious endeavor. The Extract filter simplifies this task, enabling you to perform the job with little effort.


To help you simplify your complex selections, we’ll:

       Introduce the Extract filter as an alternative selection tool.

       Show you how to quickly remove an image from its background.

       Provide you with some tips to create the perfect extraction.



There are many useful tools in Photoshop for making selections. Sometimes, in a complex image like our pinecone image in Figure A, using these tools to select parts of an image would be too tedious and time-consuming. That’s where the Extract filter comes in.




Access the Extract filter

So what does the Extract filter actually do? In a nutshell, with your help, it separates your file into these three sections:

            The area you wish to keep.

            The area you wish to discard.

            The transition area between the other two sections.

The Extract filter uses the transition area, or the edge highlight, as a reference to determine—according to pixel contrast—which pixels to keep and which pixels to discard. After the sections are defined, the Extract filter eliminates the area you defined as the area you wish to discard.


Extracting 101

After opening an image, you’ll use the Edge Highlighter tool to mark the edge of an object in an image you want to extract. For our example, we’re going remove one pinecone from the bunch. To follow along, download from the URL given at the beginning of this article (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes), extract the file Pinecones.psd, and follow these steps to get started:

1.          Launch Photoshop.

2.          Press [command]O ([Ctrl]O in Windows), navigate to the file you wish to open, and then click Open.

3.          Choose Filter > Extract to open the Extract dialog box shown in Figure B.




The Extract dialog box contains everything you need to extract your image. It contains its own toolbox that’s located at the top-left corner of the dialog box. When you hover your cursor over an active tool, Photoshop displays the name of the tool, the keyboard shortcut, and a dynamically changing description of the tool. Your image displays in the middle of the dialog box, and there are a series of options to choose from on the right side. Most of them are self explanatory, but a few might need some clarification. We’ll explain them as we go along.


Define the transition line

The tools in the Extract dialog box toolbox work just like they do in the main Photoshop Toolbox. You can use the Hand tool to move your image around inside the preview window, and the Zoom tool to zoom in or out of your image. The tool we’ll use to define the transition line is the Edge Highlighter tool, which works similar to the Brush tool.


To highlight an object’s edge:

1.          Choose the Zoom tool zoom_extract from the Extract dialog box toolbox.

2.          Zoom way into the area you wish to define. This will give you greater accuracy with your selection.


Tip: With the Zoom tool selected, you can hold down the [option] key ([Alt] key in Windows) to zoom out.


3.          Select the Edge Highlighter tool Edge_highlighter from the Extract dialog box toolbox.

4.          Choose a Brush Size in the Tool Options section. We want a pretty tight selection, so we’ll use a small Brush Size of 10.

5.     &nb...