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The pros and cons of conventional clipping techniques

techniques de détourage

When time comes to separate objects or people from the background in Photoshop, graphic designers are spoiled for choice as to which clipping techniques to use. The magic wand, the quick selection tool, the pen tool and even the channel mask are all great options. In this article, we will review in detail the different techniques, their advantages and disadvantages. None of these methods are perfect, you have to know their limits in order to be able to manage your time efficiently. Often, the fast methods give rather approximate results whereas the methods that take more time allow us to increase the level of precision.


The magic wand

Magic wand tool


It’s a classic. It’s also probably the first tool you learned when discovering Photoshop’s functions for the first time. It allows you to select similar colored area without having to draw the contours of your subject. You can adjust the parameters to improve the result, such as adjusting the color range and tolerance.


This tool is very powerful and allows us to remove the background in no time. However, the result is rarely conclusive on the first attempt and will require additional modifications.


Advantages of the magic wand
  • Probably the fastest tool to remove a background
  • Perfect for simple objects with straight outlines


Disadvantages of the magic wand
  • Not very good with complex background
  • If you need clean edges, this method is not for you


The quick selection tool

quick selection tool


For many people, the quick selection tool has long surpassed the magic wand. When making your selection, the tool finds and follows the edges of the object by itself and applies the selection.


This tool is simple and intuitive. When taking your time, it is possible to obtain surprising results. On the other hand, it will have a hard time making a selection if the contours are not clean. Therefore, watch out for those shallow depth of field images. The quick selection tool will be unable to make a good selection if the outlines of your object are blurred.


Advantages of the quick selection tool
  • Works well for objects with well-defined outlines
  • Simple and intuitive


Disadvantage of the quick selection tool
  • It won’t work well if the subject and the background have similar color.
  • Works better with plain backgrounds.


The channel mask

Channel mask


Using a channel mask is one of the best clipping techniques that you can use in Photoshop. It allows you to select tiny objects, such as hair for portraits or branches and leaves in landscapes.


Using a channel mask is a very advanced technique that requires advanced knowledge of several other features of Photoshop. It must also be used in conjunction with several other tools, which makes it a rather difficult task.


Advantages of the channel mask
  • Excellent results
  • Works even with complex background
  • Perfect for small stuff, such as hair


Disadvantages of the channel mask
  • Not for beginners
  • Require advanced knowledge of Photoshop and its various tools
  • Generally requires the use of other methods


The pen tool

Pen Tool


The pen tool is one of the experienced designers favorite tools, and definitely the one that novices hate the most. The learning curve is rather steep : it takes time and practice to master this tool. But once this skill is acquired, the pen tool is simply fantastic. It’s one of the best clipping techniques you can find.


It allows you to select the outlines in a clear and precise way. Its biggest advantage is its ability to create perfect curved lines. In photography of products and objects, the pen tool allows you to create perfect outlines around your objects.


Advantages of the pen tool
  • Contours are clean
  • Perfect for complex backgrounds that blend with the subject
  • The lines are precise and can be edited
  • Creates perfect curves


Disadvantages of the pen tool
  • Hard to handle
  • Not the fastest method
  • Bad for hair and things with a lot of texture




In short, if there is one thing to remember from all this, it’s that each tool has its usefulness and that none of them is perfect. Easy-to-use tools are often the ones that give the roughest results, while tools that seem difficult to learn and laborious to use often give us the most accurate results.


In many cases, you will have to use several of these clipping techniques to achieve believable results. It may even be necessary to finish the work with a brush to adjust some small details of the mask.


But in the end, how great would it be if we had access to a whole library of background-free images?


That would be awesome, right?


See our collection of PNG images – ready to use


Have a good one!