Cutting Things Out the Easy Way Using the Magic Wand
How do you cut things out? That’s one of the most-asked questions on our support forum.
Cutting out an image can be very easy or a bit challenging. A lot depends on the background of your photo and how complex the image is. Today, we’re going to show you the simple way; later this week, we’ll show you the advanced way.
The easy way: the magic wand
The magic wand is magically effective when your background is simple in nature. If the background is one color or monotone or without a lot of complex shading or tones, or if the area you want to cut out has a strong outline that sets it apart from the background (e.g., a logo), you can simply use the magic wand and click on the area you want to copy or the area you want to cut. Once you do that, you’ll see the respective area outlined with a flashing dotted line.
Step-by-step: how to use the magic wand
You’ve got nothing to lose and an undo button with you at all times. So, get going and make it happen:
Select the magic wand tool from the toolbar.
Click on an area you want to sample. The magic wand will outline the area selected with flashing dotted lines.
Hold down the shift key to add more areas to your selection (if needed).
Hit the delete key or choose Cut from the Edit menu to delete selected areas.
Two examples to get you started
The easiest images to alter are ones like this illustration of the Instructables robot, which is basically a collection of flat colors with very clear outlines. I started by opening a blank, transparent canvas and pasting the Instructables robot into it as a layer. One click with the magic wand, and I’ve selected the entire area outside of the robot. The area selected is outlined with flashing pixels.
If I choose to cut the area out with a simple “Cut” command, I have the robot all by itself. I could then copy and paste into another image if that’s my goal.
Using the magic wand with shaded backgrounds
Similarly, real-world images like this one that have a relatively simple composition with straightforward shading can be easily cut out. I start with one click of the magic wand:
I clicked the sky area outside the monument a few times more while holding down the shift key and was able to select all of the area *outside* of the monument. Initially, the magic wand only picked up some of that sky, but multiple clicks pretty easily got me to the point where I had selected all of it — and isolated the monument.
I chose to cut the area I had selected — the area outside the monument — out of the image. Viola. I’ve cut out the monument and isolated it.
A note about transparency
For this second example, I didn’t use a transparent background. If your goal is to cut out an area so that you have a transparent background behind it, remember that you will want to paste your image into a transparent canvas as a new layer *before* you start cutting anything out.
Adjusting the magic wand
What the magic wand is doing is looking at the overall photo and choosing pixels that are similar to the one you’re clicking on. Adjust the tolerance up to make the magic wand select pixels that are even more like the one you’re clicking on. Adjust tolerance down to make your magic wand pickier about choosing the area you want to cut out. Once you begin using the magic wand, you may decide you need to combine additional flashing outline areas to your overall selection. As I did, hold down the shift key as you click to add more areas (pixels) to your selection.
Next time… the advanced way to cut things out
If your image is more complex, the magic wand may not be the tool you want to use. For example, if you want to cut a person out of a photo in a very precise way, you will probably want to use the Lasso tool for more precision in your work. We’ll cover that next week right here on our blog.
How to Make an Illustrated Portrait With the History Brush
Since Pixlr Express added the History Brush to mobile apps, I’ve been experimenting with it in different ways. Pixlr Express for the web has had this capability for a long time, but having it added to the phone versions encouraged me to pick it up again on the web version and try some new things.
What I can’t stop making with the History Brush, and which you might enjoy trying out, are what I’m calling “illustrated” portraits. You start with a well-composed photograph of a friend or loved one and, by using various overlays in combination with the history brush, you end up with a portrait that places your subject in the foreground with an illustrative background — almost like a comic book in some ways. You’re basically creating a very rich, textured background while leaving your subject in real-world focus.
Give this a shot. You might find that what you end up creating is artwork worthy of being printed on canvas and hung on the wall. Come to think of it, it’s probably one of the best gifts you could give someone: an artistic portrait that’s handmade and extremely creative.
Step 1: Start with a great photo
You’ll want a photo that is well-composed, that really features your subject, preferably one that shows most of their body. A picture of four family members standing in front of the Eiffel Tower simply won’t do. This technique works best with solo subjects, but you can find creative ways to include more than one person or even make a portrait of an object.
Step 2: Pick your overlays and effects
Open your image in Pixlr Express and do any normal photo editing you would do like auto-adjust or color correction. Then, think about the overlays you want to use. You may want to try a bunch out (use that undo button!) until you find the two or three that really work with the photo you’re using. The point here: You’re going to work in a step-by-step fashion, so it’s probably best to know which filters you want to use ahead of time and then work in a very deliberate way.
Step 3: Add an effect and brush out your subject
Start by laying down an effect and then use the history brush to brush the effect out of the area of your subject. If you plan on printing this later in a large format or even printing it on canvas (which is my plan), you may want to be more meticulous with the brush. Then again, a little sloppiness with the history brush will increase the “comic book” illustrative look, so be sloppy if that is the effect you want to achieve.
Step 4: Repeat step 3 until you’re satisfied
Each time you add an effect, you’ll want to use the history brush to restore your subject itself to their real-life look. As you add more texture or color or overlays or whatever you’ll start to see that your subject really does start to stand out in a dramatic way the more effects you add. But you can definitely go overboard with this technique. If you want your subject to look like they are a real-life person walking through a Van Gogh painting, you can probably achieve that, but I’ve found that subtle effects are often better. Try choosing effects that complement the personality of the person you’re spotlighting.
Example: Crafty spots
Here’s an example of one I created for an Instructables community member who makes very pretty, very crafty things. I made everything in the background look like it’s covered in dots:
Some effects used: The “Sunflower” overlay located in the Paper set + plenty of saturation, vibrance, and color tweaks.
Example: Cyborg warrior
You can use the history brush with all kinds of adjustments — not just overlays. For example, you can oversaturate your photo dramatically and then paint your subject back without the saturated color.
Here is one that I made for an Instructables superstar who builds dramatic science-fiction worthy things out of discarded materials like working robot arms. He deserves a lot of effects:
Some effects used: The “Weave” overlay from the Canvas set + focal blur + various light leaks and chemical burns + a space overlay + tons of color saturation.
Example: Poster child
If your subject has other items they are interacting with that you can brush out, well that’s even better. See below how I have brushed out the Quickrete and other tools being used by this Instructables artist in residence. This is a great way to put an emphasis on someone doing something they love or interacting with items they love.
When you’re nearing completion, you might want to let one effect work through your subject and not brush it out with the history brush — like the “Beam” Retro Poster effect I added here. It can add another layer of interestingness to your portrait.
Some effects used: The “Stoned” overlay in the Grunge set + focal blur + a retro poster overlay that I didn’t brush out with the history brush.
Up for the challenge?
If you try out this technique, please let us know how it went! Share your image to our Flickr group or shout to us at @pixlr on Twitter. We’d love to see what kind of artwork you can make using the history brush.
This week, we’re rotating some new “Symbol” stickers into Pixlr Express. We regularly rotate seasonal stickers (e.g., the recent July 4th stickers in the U.S.) to keep things fresh, but we also like to keep the library of stickers fresh by rotating in new ones and rotating out some of the lesser-used ones.
These new symbol stickers include some playing card clubs, spades, diamonds and hearts, a dollar sign and music note, some radiation symbols and a “NO” circle that will surely come in handy. This new pack is probably perfect for skateboarding fans — or NO SKATING fans.
Seasonal Stickers and Effects for Canada Day & the 4th of July
Holiday ahoy! If you live in the United States, we’ve added some borders and effects to Pixlr Express (both the web version and mobile apps) that let you add star overlays and some red-white-and-blue ribbons to your photos. These seasonal Fourth of July effects are perfect for photos you take at an outdoor BBQ or fireworks celebration — or wherever and whenever the patriotic mood strikes you.
If you’re located in Canada, you can also say Happy Canadian Birthd-eh to friends and family with some of your own special effects.
If you’re not from either of these locales, don’t fret. We regularly rotate in new stickers, effects, and borders to mark the seasons. It’s only a matter of time before new things will pop up in Pixlr Express no matter where you are.
If you’re a regular user of the web version of Pixlr Express, you may have used the history brush before. If you’re not, give it a look and see if it’s a tool you might want to use. The history brush can sometimes be misunderstood, so I wanted to offer a few pointers for those folks who may have seen it show up but who don’t know how it works.
I think of the history brush as an undo brush. You always have an undo button to fully undo the last effect or border or overlay you’ve added, but what if you wanted to just remove part of an effect and not the whole thing? That’s where the history brush comes in. I’ll show you what I’m talking about from the web interface, and then I’ll show you what it looks like on an iPhone; they’re both essentially the same tool.
I have this very colorful photo of a boy looking through a kaleidoscope directly at the camera (look closely and you can see his eye through the kaleidoscope lens). I’m going to turn the entire photo into a sepia-toned image by applying one of the “too old” effects — the one called “Henry” — to the photo.
Then, I decided I wanted to undo part of the effect so the circle that represents the kaleidoscope will be in color — the look of the original photo.
I basically painted away part of the “Henry” effect using the history brush. I got a little sloppy while using it, so I used the eraser option of the history brush to bring back some of the color. I adjusted the size of the brush to get the finer points of erasing just right.
In this way, I was able to partially undo an effect I added. The end result looks great and achieves what I was going for — a photo with a flourish that hints that what the boy is seeing through the kaleidoscope is way different than what we see when we look at him. Let’s call him “The Boy with Kaleidoscope Eyes.”
There are lots of other uses for this like removing part of a border you’ve added, a detail from a sticker that you don’t like, or some of the stars from an outer space effect.
It works essentially the same way on your phone or tablet. I’ll show you.
Here I laid down a star pattern and then removed the stars from the area of the beer can itself with the history brush. Adding adding this mask of a sort makes the beer can stand out while giving a nice appropriate texture to the background.
Those are the essential things to know about the history brush. Try it out the next time you’re doing detailed editing on a photo with your phone or tablet. It can help you add just that little extra detail to your photos to make them a little more special.
Why, exactly, are selfies so ascendant right now? If selfies date back to duck faces on Myspace, what has taken it so long to become so popular? And where will it go from here? Have we reached the selfie saturation point yet?
Take a look at this Google Trends chart that shows how searched for the word “selfie” has been over the past 9 years. You’ll quickly see that we are either about to take this trend into the stratosphere — or it’s about to crash hard after a precipitous rise.
A few theories about selfie popularity
It’s all about the forward-facing camera: This is a great theory that I’ve heard, and there’s probably something to it. iPhones and many other smartphones introduced the front-facing camera, and that seems to coincide directly with the rise of the selfie. A great example of technology leading culture.
It’s a celebrity-driven phenomena: It does seem like a lot of celebrities are using the selfie as their own personal photo op. Showing yourself in a fashion forward pose every few weeks is a smart way to keep your hardcore fans interested — even better if gossip rags pick them up as free publicity. If celebrities weren’t helping to drive it, would it be this popular?
It’s an economic thing: Simply put, in the past few years the world’s unwashed billions have quickly purchased smartphones with quite good built-in cameras, which leads to a whole lot of social networking and selfie snapping. It’s basic economics, people. Duh.
It’s self portraiture reborn: There is a long history of self portraits. Maybe this is just another evolution of the form. If people are making something resembling art out of selfies, they must have some cultural value. If so, someone at some point will write a lengthy Ph.D. dissertation about it. (Can’t wait!)
It’s narcissism gone wild: If you subscribe to the idea that the rise of the selfie is just another sign that we’re all overly narcissistic, then you probably dismiss selfies as yet another indication of how we’re all going to Hell in a hand basket. Which means probably nothing can be done about it.
It’s a generational thing: If you have to ask, you’re too old. Harsh, but what if it’s true?
But what do you think?
We want to know what you think about selfies. No, really. We do. Share your hugs and hate for selfies. Are they yet another sign of the impending Apocalypse? Or is there something culturally significant about them? Do you take them? How often? Why? Is there a better word we should be using besides “selfie”? We’re interested in both high-brow and low-down opinions, so please take a minute out of your day to let us know why you think selfies are so ascendant — and what the future of the selfie holds.
That’s the entirety of our Barely Scientific™ Selfie Poll. We’ll share the best of the best in an upcoming post with all the results. We’ll also share the best excerpts from our most interesting customers, so wow us with your witty opinions and smart remarks. If you want to take credit for your thoughts, let us know who you are in your response.
Why You Shouldn't Watermark Your Photos — Plus a Template to Help You Do It
It’s a simple enough question, and one we hear a lot: How can I watermark a photo?
Although there’s no sure-fire way to stop people from stealing your photography on the Internet (or words for that matter), it’s your prerogative if you want to include watermarks. But before you do, be aware that some people have strong feelings about this practice (maybe you do, too). At the risk of angering any hard-core watermarking enthusiasts, here are some of the hotly contested arguments for and against watermarking.
Watermarks ruin the viewing experience
There’s really no denying this is true. A picture that’s worth a thousand words can look downright cheap with “Copyright Claire Quilty” plastered on top of the most beautiful part of the image. Blech.
Watermarks make my photos look more professional. Right?
They may actually do the opposite. While they make you feel more professional, poorly conceived or designed watermarks can make you look like a total amateur. (Make sure you choose a classy font and not Comic Sans.) One thing’s for sure: Watermarks insert an extra layer of the commercial into your work, and it can be hard to know how people will react to that. If you’re comfortable with that, then you probably have no qualms about plastering your photos with watermarks. But how many people have you met who actually make money this way? More often than not, successful photographers find clients by referral, not by random searches on the Internet. That said, there’s no denying watermarks offer a way for you to brand your work if that’s important. But keep in mind that the most renowned photographers don’t seem to need watermarks; their style often speaks for itself.
Watermarks protect my images from being stolen
Maybe. Adding a watermark may dissuade lazy bloggers who are looking for a quick image, but a talented graphic design thief can remove most watermarks without much trouble. Heck, they could even place their own bogus watermark on a photo in a truly evil jujitsu move. (Didn’t see that coming, did ya?) The real question you have to ask yourself is how horrible will it be if your photo is shared without your permission — and how does that square with the goal of having your work seen.
It may sound depressing to hear it, but that beautiful photo of the sunset at the beach you took last summer is crowded out by about 134 million similar photos in Google Search. Unless you’re running a commercial stock photo agency, your images are lucky to be found, much less stolen. That said, watermarks do seem to stop casual browsers from borrowing. They keep honest people honest.
Watermarks are free advertising
True! Very true. However, it stands to reason that watermarked photos may be shared less frequently across social networks simply because real-life people are often hesitant to share something with prominent advertising, either out of fear of offending or because the branding ruins the visual effect of the photo. If you want your photos to go viral, watermarks won’t help. But the sharing that does get done is undeniably free advertising.
If you must watermark…
This is not an issue that has an easy answer. It’s really something everyone has to decide for themselves. While I consider watermarks annoying, I can’t deny that in some specific circumstances watermarking makes sense. If you feel like it’s important, here are a few tips that seem to reach the best middle ground of this contentious issue:
Make it as subtle as you can. And then a little more subtle.
Put a watermark in the bottom right-hand corner with a low opacity. If you consider your photos works of art, mark them in the way Picasso and other artists have always signed their work — somewhat unobtrusively.
Class it up with a nice font and put it outside the frame
Fashion photographers are a good model to follow here. You could place a strip at the bottom that brands your name in a very nice font but that keeps your brand outside the frame of the photo itself.
Just list your site URL
Nothing wrong with telling people where they can see more if they want — particularly if you actually display and sell your photos on your site. You can make the case for having people purchase photos directly on your site — but not in the photo itself. Don’t list a URL, a copyright symbol, your name, and the phrase “do not reproduce under penalty of law!” Too much = arrogance gone wild. Just list your URL. Nothing else.
Hide your logo
If you’re really clever, you can incorporate a logo into the photo somewhere where only you can find it (in the bark of a tree, graffiti on a building, hiding in a pattern). Doing this well takes time, and you should probably only do this if the art you’re creating is very unique (e.g., an illustration you created from scratch). Everyday photos? Not really worth it.
The lazy solution: Use this Pixlr template!
I’ve created a simple template for Pixlr if you want it. It’s a .pxd file, which is the native file format for Pixlr Editor. Just customize this template in Pixlr with your name or logo and save it to your Pixlr Library. It has a layer for a logo and a layer for text, and you can easily customize the text or hide what you don’t need. Pull this file up whenever you want to create a watermarked photo. I’ve deliberately made the canvas large so you can paste photos into it and crop out the extra bits, but the file itself is still pretty small (~50K). You can download it here.
Bonus tip: thievery unveiled
Want to see if someone has “borrowed” a photo of yours? Try TinEye. It’s a free image recognition service that can show you where an image is being used on the Internet. It’s not completely comprehensive, but it’s effective and handy. They even have browser plug-ins you can use to right click on images you find online and see where else they’re being used. Or, try Google’s Image Search. You can enter the URL or upload your image to see where it’s been — or images that look similar to it.
Before we get to the details of that template, it’s worth noting that Google+ still hasn’t gained the kind of traction that everyone assumed a juggernaut like Google could and would achieve. It’s slowly catching on for some, but completely avoided by others. The jury is still out, and Google will undoubtedly keep tinkering with the layout. That means any customization you make could end up needing a bit more customization down the road. But the truth is these things aren’t that hard to update, so there’s really no excuse for not having a profile page that shows off who you really are. Or just showcases your beautiful photos. So let’s get to it.
The first thing you need to know about your Google+ profile image is that it can be HUGE. In fact, it’s probably easy to make it too huge. The maximum size is a whopping 2120 x 1192 pixels. I don’t recommend filling all of that space unless you have an image that absolutely deserves to take up that many pixels. Heck, you may not even have many images that will look wonderful at that size, so it may make sense to not take it to the max. I’ve provided you with a half-sized template, but you can always make a new Pixlr Editor image that is the maximum size. The most important thing to know isn’t really the pixel size. Just make sure your image has a 16:9 size ratio. Not sure how to calculate ratios? Try this handy Aspect Ratio Calculator.
Here are a few acceptable sizes based on the 16:9 ratio:
Maximum: 2120 x 1192
Half size: 1060 x 596
Minimum: 480 x 270
Visitors won’t always see it in all its glory
The second thing you need to know (if you didn’t already) is that only a portion of your image will regularly be seen when people load your profile page. Although viewers of your page can easily pull down the image to see more, they typically won’t see it all. This gives you an obvious opportunity to put something compelling in that small visible strip to encourage people to view the whole thing, but then again Google has added a gradation to the bottom strip where your avatar appears. I personally don’t like this gradation and think it looks kind of gaudy, but there’s no way to remove it (that I’m aware of). You’ll see in my template that I’ve indicated where the avatar strip starts and ends.
It shrinks to fit
Another important detail to consider is that the design is responsive. That is, it will shrink to fit the size of the device it’s viewed on. So will your image. You can see this at work by simply resizing your browser window. Unlike your Facebook timeline photo, the other elements on the page will move around (e.g., “add to circles” button), so don’t bother trying to work around — or work in — those details. Google doesn’t really give you the opportunity like Facebook does to make a clever image with your avatar working in conjunction with other elements of the page. But of course there’s nothing wrong with just displaying a pretty picture. If you’ve got an image that fits this massive space well, grab the Pixlr template and make it so.
My solution: Make an image with effects I love
All of this could affect the type of image you choose. Since you won’t be able to achieve an absolute location, you may be better off with a pretty design, a beautiful landscape, a nice macro shot, or just something that you’ve worked up with effects and overlays and borders that you like. That’s what I did. Since I live in San Francisco, it’s an excuse to take that beautiful Golden Gate Bridge and work it up in Pixlr Express with some of my favorite effects.
Want to create a maximum-sized image but don’t have any images that size? Remember those wallpaper sites where you could download creative designs and photos for your desktop? They’re still around and could be great places to find images to use for your Google+ profile.