With a passion for Knowledge, Smashinghub has been created to explore things like Free Resources For Designers, Photographers, Web Developers and Inspiration. That was until the arrival of Photoshop CS5, which made the whole hair-masking process a doddle with the addition of the Refine Radius tool.
It works exceptionally well when there’s decent contrast between the hair strands and the background, often producing flawless results. Here we have a portrait shot against a white, cloudy sky, which has been overexposed almost to nothingness. Press W for the Quick Selection tool and click-and-drag inside the subject to try and select him. Our backdrop looks darker than the subject, so add a Curves Adjustment Layer above ‘Layer 1’ and push up with a single point.
The hair edges still look a little too light, so add a Curves Adjustment Layer and create a clipping mask by Alt-clicking between the two layers so the ‘Background layer’ is untouched.
Once the Gradient tool has been selected, ensure the first of five icons (Linear Gradient) is highlighted in the Options bar before clicking the drop-down menu to access the Gradient Editor. In Photoshop CS3, Adobe introduced the Refine Edge command, offering us a first glimpse of how much easier it could be to select hair, fur and other fine details in an image.
I’m going to begin by drawing a fairly rough selection outline around the woman in the photo.
Keeping the selection outline away from areas where the background is showing through the hair. With my initial selection in place, before I do anything else, I’ll make sure I have the correct layer selected in the Layers panel.
If you click either on the thumbnail or on the small arrow to the right of the thumbnail, you’ll open a list of the different view modes you can choose from. This mode shows the current selection as it actually appears in front of the other layer(s) in the document, which can be very useful when compositing images since it makes it easy to judge the result. The purpose of these different view modes is to make it easier for us to judge our selection as we’re refining it.
If you prefer to select your view modes from the list rather than with keyboard shortcuts, make sure you double-click on the name of the mode.
Directly below the View Mode option in the Refine Edge dialog box is a section called Edge Detection. As you drag the slider, you’ll see some of the hair that was outside of your initial selection beginning to appear. If we look in my document window, we can see the radius as that visible zone between the two areas of solid black. With Smart Radius enabled, Photoshop looks more closely along the edge of the initial selection and tries to tighten up the radius size wherever possible. With Smart Radius turned on, Photoshop can adjust the width of the radius in different areas.
Once we’ve done all we can with the Radius slider and the Smart Radius option, we can then manually refine our radius using a couple of brushes that come with the Refine Edge command. The names can be a bit confusing, so you may find it helpful to think of the Refine Radius Tool as the Add to Radius brush and the Erase Refinements Tool as the Subtract from Radius brush. To add more of the woman’s hair, I just need to paint with the Refine Radius Tool over the area where her hair should be.
When you release your mouse button, the original image disappears and we see the result, with more of the hair added to the selection. More of the woman’s hair now appears in front of the new background after painting with the Refine Radius Tool.
Below the Edge Detection options in the Refine Edge dialog box are the Adjust Edge options – Smooth, Feather, Contrast, and Shift Edge. Since we focused so much on selecting the hair in the image, there may be some other parts of the selection that need a bit of cleaning up.
In this photo retouching tutorial, we're going to look at how simple and easy it is to change hair color in Photoshop by tinting and colorizing someone's hair in a photo. We're going to be giving her hair a brighter, slightly more reddish color to it in this tutorial, but you have complete control over the color you use with your image, as well as the intensity of the color. At the end of the tutorial, we'll see how easy it is to go back and change the color to something completely different.
As soon as you select the Colorize option, you'll see your entire image become colorized with a shade of red.
Drag the Hue slider left or right to select the color you want to use for the person's hair.
Don't worry about getting the color and saturation perfect because you can always go back and change it quite easily later.
Use the Hue slider to select a new color for the hair and adjust the intensity of the color with the Saturation slider.
One of the great things about adjustment layers in Photoshop is that each one automatically comes with its own layer mask, and we're going to use it to fix the problem we currently have with our entire image being colorized when all we really want is for the hair to be colorized. To bring back the colorizing effect and have it applied only to the hair, all we need to do is paint with white on our layer mask over the hair.

Photoshop's Tools palette showing white as our Foreground color and black as our Background color. We also already have our layer mask selected, and we can tell that because the layer mask thumbnail in the Layers palette has a white highlight border around it, as shown in the image for Step 4 above, which tells us that the mask is selected. Then lower the size of your brush so it's no bigger than the area you're colorizing and paint over it a couple of times. Zoom into the areas of loose strands if needed and paint over them a couple of times with a lower opacity brush.
If you make a mistake as you're painting and accidentally paint over an area you didn't mean to (happens all the time), simply press X to swap your Foreground and Background colors, making black your Foreground color, and paint over the mistake to undo it. The "Color" blend mode gives us even more of a colorizing effect, since it changes only the color of an image (when we had the blend mode set to "Normal", it was affecting not only the color but also the lightness values of the hair). The "Soft Light" blend mode gives us a more dramatic colorizing effect because it not only changes the color of the hair but also boosts the contrast, which I think works even better than the "Color" blend mode in this case. The image with the blend mode of the adjustment layer set to "Soft Light", giving us a more dramatic effect.
Another way to fine-tune the colorizing effect is by lowering the opacity of the adjustment layer. Including all those fine strands was once a job best left to the patient professional; pro Photoshop users generally made use of a complex method using Channels or third-party knockout plug-ins like Extensis Mask Pro.
To get the most out of this tool it’s a good idea to plan your composite images, shooting subjects against backgrounds with good tonal separation from the hair; in this case the white backdrop works well with the reddy-brown hair.
We want to give the portrait a little more context, so we’re going to mask the background and drop in a new location.
It should work fine until you try to drag to include hair strands – then the background will likely be selected too.
Change the View Mode to On Black, so we can get a better sense of what is going on, and click the Smart Radius checkbox.
The sky goes too light, so hit G for the Gradient tool and drag from the top of the image to the shoreline. Drag down from the top point on the Curve to knock back highlights, invert the mask with Ctrl+I and paint into the hair with white at 100%.
But in Photoshop CS5, Adobe gave the Refine Edge command a major overhaul, with enough improvements and new features to make selecting hair in a photo easy enough for anyone to do! If we look in my Layers panel, we see that I have another photo sitting on a layer below the original photo. Your selection may be appearing in front of a white background as mine is, or it may be in front of a solid black background. I currently have the On White mode chosen, which is why my selection is appearing against a white background. White represents the area that’s currently selected, while black represents the area not currently selected. In my case, since I have a second photo on a layer below the main image, we can see the second photo behind my selection. The Marching Ants mode will show the standard selection outline, while the Overlay mode will display the non-selected area as a translucent red overlay similar to how the selection would appear in Quick Mask mode. With some images, the selection may be easier to see against white, others against black, and so on. I’m using the On Layers view mode to make it easier to see the hair as it will actually appear in front of my background image. The way the Refine Edge command works is that it looks around the edge of our initial selection to decide what else needs to be included in the selection, and the Radius value controls how far away from our initial selection edge that Photoshop will look.
The solid black represents areas that Photoshop is ignoring as it looks for additional pixels to add to our selection (with the On White view mode, the areas being ignored appear in white, not black). In other words, with my image, the edge along the woman’s arm and shoulder is smooth, so Photoshop will (hopefully, anyway) reduce the width of the radius in that area while still leaving a wider radius for the hair.
Depending on your image and the type of edge you’re working with, Smart Radius can help or it can make things worse. If you look to the left of the Radius and Smart Radius options, you’ll see a brush icon.
But how do I know where to paint when I can’t actually see the rest of her hair because it’s not currently part of the selection?
Just like any of Photoshop’s other brushes, we can change the size of both the Refine Radius Tool and the Erase Refinements Tool directly from the keyboard.
All four of these options are set to 0 by default and when using the Refine Edge command for selecting hair, it’s usually best to leave at least the first three options (Smooth, Feather and Contrast) set to 0.
Dragging the slider to the right of center will expand your selection edges outward, which may help to add more hair to the selection, while dragging the slider to the left of center will contract the selection edges inward, tightening up the selection.
We’re seeing a lot of fringing around the hair, which is remaining color from the original background.
If we look in my Layers panel, we see that Photoshop has made a copy of my original image and converted my selection into a layer mask on the new layer. That’s how to select hair in a photo using the powerful Refine Edge command in Photoshop CS5!

The technique we'll be learning here gives us complete control over what we're doing, with several different ways of fine-tuning the results, plus we can also go back any time we want and change the hair color without having to redo all the work! For the moment, you'll be colorizing the entire image, but we'll fix that in the next couple of steps.
To quickly change your brush size as you paint, use the left and right bracket keys on your keyboard. If you find the color is too intense, simply go up to the Opacity option in the top right corner of the Layers palette (across from the blend mode option) and lower it until you're happy with the results.
Everyone else had put up with something that looked like it’d been chopped out of Cosmo with a pair of garden shears!
You’re then guaranteed a spot-on cut out in seconds, ready for any exotic backdrop to slide perfectly into place.
Hold down Alt and click-and-drag around the white background to remove it from the areas outside of the stray hairs.
Adjust the Brush Size with [ and ] and brush out the white around the hair edges, working repeatedly as needed.
Press D to reset the colour palette to white and black, and begin drawing as described in Step 5.
If you look to the right of the View Mode preview thumbnail at the top of the dialog box, you’ll see an option called Show Radius which by default is turned off. A general guideline with Smart Radius is that it tends to help with selections that contain different types of edges, as in my case here. If you click and hold on the brush icon, a menu will appear where you can select the brush you need. It would be helpful if there was some way to temporarily view the entire original image so I can see exactly where I should be painting.
Pressing the left bracket key ( [ ) will make the brush smaller, while the right bracket key ( ] ) will make it larger.
The Smooth option is used for smoothing out jagged selection edges, but it usually causes problems when selecting hair. We can remove the fringing using the Decontaminate Colors option, found in the Output section at the bottom of the dialog box.
As you drag the slider further to the right, Photoshop removes the fringing by physically changing the color of the pixels around the hair so that they match the color of the hair itself rather than the original background color.
Check out our Photo Retouching section for more great image retouching and editing tutorials, or see below for tutorials you may be interested in!
You can use this technique on photos of other people (friends, family, clients), or you can even use it on a photo of yourself to see how different hair colors would look on you! Now we can fine-tune the effect, and the first way to do that is by changing the blend mode of the adjustment layer.
Since this is an adjustment layer, we're free to make as many changes as we want without worrying about damaging our image. Check the Decontaminate Colours box (50% setting is fine) and set Output To to New Layer With Layer Mask.
Everything before the start point will be revealed, everything after the release point concealed, and everything between fades from one to the other. It all depends on which View Mode is currently selected at the top of the Refine Edge dialog box.
The letter is the keyboard shortcut for quickly switching between view modes, and they’re handy to know. I still have a wide radius around the hair, but the radius along the arm and shoulder is much more narrow. In other words, you’ll never need to select either tool from the dialog box, so you can safely forget all about that brush icon. The Feather option will blur the selection edge which just makes things look soft, blurry and unprofessional. Once you've found a color you like, adjust the intensity of the color by dragging the Saturation slider left or right.
You'll want to use a soft-edged brush, so hold down your Shift key and press the left bracket key a few times to soften its edges (holding Shift and pressing the right bracket key a few times makes the brush edges harder).
By default, the blend mode is set to "Normal", and it works fairly well, but let's change it to something better.
For example, you can switch to the On White mode by pressing the letter W on your keyboard, the On Black mode by pressing the letter B, the On Layers mode by pressing the letter L, and so on.
And the Contrast option will attempt to sharpen up selection edges by boosting contrast, again not something that usually works well with hair.
Dragging it to the right gives you a more saturated color, while dragging it to the left reduces the saturation. If we set the Radius value to, say, 50 pixels, Photoshop will look 50 pixels in either direction of our initial selection edge to determine if there’s anything else within this area that should be included in our selection.

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