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Epson Computer Tip: Creating a Silhouette Image from a Photo
By Barbara Kotsos

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Do you remember the old paper cut-out silhouettes hanging on your grandparent’s wall? You can do the same thing with any of your photos. This technique works best with a profile photo, but there are some other uses for silhouettes that we will discuss later.


You can use just about any graphic editing program, but we will be using Photoshop Elements 4.0 (PSE) for demonstration in this article.

Open the photo you want to use as a silhouette in PSE. If you don’t happen to have the ‘perfect’ photo, take a quick snapshot. For the easiest results, take the photo with a solid, contrasting-colored wall as a background. You will see why this is important in a minute.

You can use any of the selection tools that you prefer for this technique, but the goal is to select your subject and remove the background. If there is enough contrast between your subject and the background, try using the Magic Wand tool to select the background. For this photo, it did a fairly good job, but as you can see, it selected portions of Jake’s face as well as the wall. We have a few options at this point. We can use the Selection Brush Tool to clean up the selection, deselect (Ctrl D) and start over using the Lasso Tool or use the new Magic Extractor Tool. You can open the Magic Extractor by selecting it at the bottom of the Image menu. (Image | Magic Extractor)

The Magic Extractor opens a dialog box that allows you to scribble red over your subject and blue over the background to determine what should be kept and what should be removed. Click on the preview button to see what your selection will look like. If the selection does not come out perfectly, you can add and remove areas using the red and blue brushes and then preview your selection again. If the selection looks jagged and there are holes in your subject, select the option Fill Holes. This will generate a new preview. Once you are happy with your selection, make sure that you use the Defringe option set to about 5 pixels. Defringing removes the outside 5 (or whatever number you select) pixels to prevent any unwanted shading or random color from being included in the selection. Click OK to accept the selection changes and your image will now look something like this:

Don’t worry about the gray & white checkerboard pattern. This is PSE’s way of showing transparency. Now that you have your subject profile ‘cut out’, we need to fill it with black or whatever color you choose. To fill only the profile and not the entire layer, hold the Ctrl key down while clicking on the Layer Thumbnail in the Layers Palette. This command selects everything in the layer and puts a Marquee (or marching ants) around the subject. Now check your Foreground/Background Color Chip (at the bottom of the Tool Palette) and make sure that the foreground color is set to black. If it isn’t, select D on your keyboard to set the colors back to the default. From the Edit menu, select Fill Selection. Make sure that your option in the drop down menu is set to Foreground Color and click OK. Voila!

Now that your subject silhouette is complete, we need to create the traditional white oval matte and black double matte behind it. Open a new document (Ctrl N) and select the size 8x10 at 300 ppi. Fill the entire new canvas with black by selecting the Paint Bucket Tool (K) and clicking on it. We will come back to this document in a moment. To create the oval matte, we need to again create a new 5x7 document. This time, switch the foreground and background colors and fill the document with white.




Switch to the Cookie Cutter Tool (Q) and select an oval shape from the Shape menu in the Options Bar. If only a few shapes are available click on the fly out menu and select All Elements Shapes. Click and drag out the oval shape, starting in the top left corner of the document. When you have your shape ‘cut out’, switch to the Move Tool (V) and click and drag the oval onto the black matte in the Photo Bin underneath the workspace. This will move a copy of the oval onto the matte and create a new layer for it. Handy little trick. Now, do the same process to move your silhouette onto the double matte. It should look something like this:

The finishing touch to this technique is to add the subject’s name at the bottom of the oval matte. Switch to the Text Tool (T) and choose an old-fashioned font. We chose a free font called Champignon.

Now that you have this technique added to your repertoire, you can expand it. You can do a silhouette of any image, not just a profile bust. You can essentially make a laser die cut to add to any layout. In this example, we have made a silhouette out of a t-ball player. The action shot came out a bit blurry due to low light and a long lens, but we’re able to salvage it by using this technique. Now we can add this action silhouette to the layout about his first t-ball team.

Half of the fun of playing with your photos in graphic editing programs is that you can get really creative and crazy. We hope that this technique inspires you to find more unique uses for your photos.

Article, photo and layout by Angela Moffatt 5.25.2006

Sponsor: Epson America, Inc.

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