How To Create Quick Silhouettes In Photoshop

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A silhouette is a drawing of the outline of an object, filled in with some solid color. From silhouette portraits to the famous iPod silhouette ad, they are as common as graffiti on walls. Or even as traffic signposts or as symbols of his and hers on lavatory doors.

A silhouette may be cast in dark colors; it may be just an outline sans any other feature; but silhouettes still manage to communicate mood and mystery.

On a very basic day to day level, silhouettes find a lot of uses in presentations and displays. As silhouette cliparts go, we have quite a few in the MS Office Clipart gallery itself. Gathering silhouettes with a Google search is not a problem.

You can enter a search like “free silhouettes” or “free vector art” to garner more than a handful of results. Some of these websites find a place within the first few pages of Google results:

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But what if you needed a particular type of silhouette and a search turned up dry? You need to call up your neighborhood designer or fall back on your own design skills. Your Photoshop skills may be rusty, but thankfully creating a basic silhouette in photoshop doesn’t call for a Picasso. It’s just a few easy steps.

The 10 Steps To Creating A Silhouette in Photoshop

First, we head to a site like Flickr to pick the image we can use for our silhouette in Photoshop. The ideal image would be of your object framed against a uniform background. Sifting through the thousands, I picked this image:

silhouette in photoshop

  1. The tool that we will be using for creating a basic silhouette is the Pen Tool. The Pen Tool is the most precise tool in Photoshop’s arsenal and just the thing for the job of following the outline of an image. The Pen tool may seem difficult to maneuver at first, but with some practice you can click points around the image and draw around the shape. The great benefit is that, using the Pen Tool allows us to create vector shapes which we can scale up or down as required without loss of image quality.
  2. silhouette in photoshop

  3. Open the image in Photoshop and select the Pen Tool from Photoshop’s Tools palette (or press the P key). Three options (Shape, Path and Fill Pixels) are associated with the Pen tool as seen in the Options Bar at the top. To draw vector shapes, opt for the Shape icon.
  4. silhouette in photoshop

  5. The aim of the exercise is to create a black filled shape from the original. Set the foreground and background colors to their defaults of Black and White by pressing the D key or by manually selecting the color from the swatches on the Tools palette.
  6. photshop silhouette

  7. With the Pen tool start tracing the outline of figures. As we begin shaping with the Pen tool, Photoshop fills the shape with the foreground color (Black). As the Pen tool starts going around the curves, the foreground color blocks our view.
  8. photshop silhouette

  9. To offset this, we can change the Opacity of the Shapes layer in the Layers panel. The Shapes layer (where we are using the Pen tool) is selected. Move the slider to change the Opacity to anything between 50%-60%. Now we can see our way around the image.
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  11. After completely going around the image, we have the following result. Raise the opacity slider to 100% to get your black filled silhouette.
  12. creating a silhouette in photoshop

  13. The shape is still a part of the original image. To create a new silhouette document, create a blank Photoshop document with a white background (or any solid color) from File – New.
  14. To move the silhouette from its old location to the new document, keep both document windows side by side. Select the Shapes layer and drag it into the new document. The silhouette layer now occupies a new shapes layer above the white background.
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  16. Using the Free Transform command (Edit – Free Transform Path) we can resize the vector shape to any proportion without loss in image quality. Press Shift while using the Free Transform to keep the silhouette in proportion to its width and height.
  17. Save the image file for use in your presentation.

This is just a basic tutorial for drawing silhouette shapes. The web is chock full of interesting variations, like combining silhouettes or filling them up with psychedelic patterns.

As a teaser, check out – Creating a Rocking Silhouette in Photoshop . It’s a great silhouette tutorial on one of the Photoshop sites we had featured in 10 Websites To Make You A Photoshop Ninja. But even a ninja needs basic training.

That’s where our free eBook – An Idiot’s Guide To Photoshop could be a great stepping stone. Don’t forget to visit our previous posts on everything that’s Photoshop.

Do you have your own method of creating silhouettes? Let us know in the comments.

Image Credit: World Economic Forum

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