Using the Pen Tool to Cut an Object from Its Background in Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop CS5 ExtendedA lot of times, new or inexperienced designers using Photoshop might use the Lasso Tool, Eraser Tool or Magic Wand (as opposed to the Pen Tool) to cut an image out of its background. While these methods may work, they can have many drawbacks. The final image could still contain portions of the background, have jagged edges or not be of the highest quality. Not to mention these methods can be time consuming and don’t offer you the opportunity to make corrections if you make mistakes.

Lasso ToolThe Lasso Tool – Doesn’t allow you to make smooth, rounded edges around objects.

Eraser ToolThe Eraser Tool – Features some of the same disadvantages of the Lasso Tool, but also isn’t suited for cutting out objects with clear or contrasting borders.

Magic Wand ToolThe Magic Wand – Its effectiveness is very much tied to color. Because of this, it’s not very good at cutting an object out from a background that contains different colors or shades of colors (for example, a man in the middle of a city or forest landscape).

Now, the shortcomings that I’ve listed here do not make these tools useless. They can be extremely helpful in very specific situations. But in most instances, Photoshop’s Pen Tool is what you’re going to want to use to cut an image out from its background. It allows you to build a quick and efficient outline that you can adjust at any point along the way.

For example, let’s show Vincent van Gogh in Detroit.

Vincent van Gogh

The Pen Tool

Pen Tool
You can choose the Pen Tool by pressing P on your keyboard or going over to the top of your Tool Bar, which is located at the left of your screen, and heading down seven tools until you reach it.

First, find a spot on your piece of art to start drawing your outline. As you’re drawing, you might want to zoom in closer to your subject. This is accomplished using the Zoom Tool, which is located at the bottom of your Tool Bar, or on your keyboard by pressing the Z key or by pressing Control and the + or keys on the PC (Command + or on the Mac).

To draw straight lines with the Pen, simply click in the area that you want to place your points. To draw smooth curved lines, hold down the left mouse button and drag the mouse in the direction of the curve, and then release the button.

The use of the Pen takes some getting used to, especially if its your first time using it. The more time you spend using it though, the better that you’ll be at it. Even after spending just five minutes with it, you’ll notice how much your skills will improve.

As you start adding points to your outline, you may notice that your shape will start filling in with a color.

Unwanted Fill

You can easily fix this problem by changing the opacity of your shape to 0%


Another thing to pay attention to is the fact that if you select a different layer than the one that your outline is on, it may appear that your outline has disappeared. Don’t worry, it hasn’t. You’ll be able to see it again by clicking the Vector Mask thumbnail in the layer that your outline is on.

Vector Mask Thumbnail

As you continue to draw your outline, keep in mind that the more detailed you make your shape, the better your results will be.

Pen Path Details

In order for your outline to be completely finished, your last point must connect with the first point that you made, which should now completely encircle your image.

Closed Pen Path

The most important and difficult part has now been completed. All that’s left is to cut the image from the background. To do this, hold down the Control key (Command on the Mac) and click on the Vector Mask thumbnail in the layer that contains your outline.

Vector Mask Thumbnail

If everything is correct, you should end up with something very similar to what you would get if you used the Lasso Tool.

Selected Pen Path

Now let’s select the layer with the image of Vincent van Gogh.

Select Layer

Head up to your Menu Bar at the top of the screen, then go to Select and then down to Inverse; or press Control, Shift and the letter I at the same time (Command, Shift, I on the Mac). This will turn your selection inside out, selecting the background of your image.

Press Delete and your background will disappear. To deselect the highlighted are, you can go back up to the Menu Bar, go to Select and then down to Deselect. Also, you can press Control D or Command D on the Mac. There you have it, no background image.

Without Background

The good thing about removing your background this way is that you still have the layer with the outline. If you need to make adjustments (if, for example, not enough of the background was cut out) you can always go back and do so by clicking on the Vector Mask Thumbnail in the layer with your shape. It lets you correct the path if needed, and then all you have to do is repeat the process to delete the background.

Vector Mask Thumbnail

How do you like Detroit Vincent?

Vincent van Gogh in Detroit

As you can see, using the Pen Tool in Photoshop gives us a very clean-looking cut.

Posted in Design Tutorials, Photoshop Tips & Tutorials

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Printwand Staff
Author: Printwand Staff

Our marketing, design and printing experts are passionate about sharing their knowledge. We're eager to help make your vision a reality in print. Be sure to explore the rest of the Printwand blog for more reliable, easy-to-understand information.

8 Responses to “Using the Pen Tool to Cut an Object from Its Background in Photoshop”

  • 1
    sadia says:

    i want to create the background like the fifth advertise in given link. But i can not do after a long effort.plz help me i dont know how to use pen tool. plz guide how to create it.
    last advertise in black and red color. i am using photoshop first time..

    • 1.1
      jmaurer says:

      Not sure I understand; are you talking about the banner with the jumping man in the yellow plaid shirt? Do you want to create a background from scratch, or do you want to cut out an image and place it on an existing background?

  • 2
    sam says:

    i know how this all works but when i have made my path it seems to copy the white background rather the the image i used pen-tool with.

  • 3
    HENRY says:

    i know how this all works but when i have made my path it seems to copy the background rather than the image i used pen-tool with.

  • 4
    West says:

    Whenever I use my pen tool to cut a part out of a letter when am doing a logo I don’t know how to delete that section I cut out with my pen tool

    • 4.1
      vgendelman says:

      If you have already made the selection, you can select the layer containing the section you want to remove and press “delete.”

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