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Cutout Backgrounds in Photoshop


Students will use two methods to make a cutout background of an image. This will also cover the integration of Photoshop and InDesign.



  • Students will use Photoshop Paths to save a path for importing in InDesign.
  • Students will create a cutout background in InDesign using an Alpha Channel in Photoshop.
  • Students will create a cutout background using manual selection in InDesign


Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6 Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.6 Analyze the author’s purpose in providing an explanation, describing a procedure, or discussing an experiment in a text, defining the question the author seeks to address.



2 days



Adobe Photoshop

Adobe InDesign

Photo file(s) to place in an InDesign document for cutout

A high contrast photo (portrait.jpg images are provided)

SkaterDude.psd provided with Path and Alpha Channel saved

Handout: threshold cutouts.pdf


Lesson step-by-step

Students need access to images that have saved paths which were created in the Making Selections in Photoshop lesson. The image file SkaterDude.psd is provided. This image has a saved Path and an Alpha Channel.

Start Photoshop and InDesign. Open the image with the saved path in Photoshop. Go to the Paths palette to confirm the name of the path, although InDesign will automatically detect the path.

In InDesign, create a new 8.5×11 document. Create a rectangular frame. With the frame selected (highlighted in the corners and midpoints of each side), go to File>Place (keyboard shortcut command D.) Navigate to and select the image with the saved path. Use Object>Fitting>Fit Content Proportionally to make sure the complete image appears in the frame.

The cutout does not automatically appear. Under Object>Clipping Path>Options, change the Type to Photoshop Path. If your image only has one Path saved, InDesign will default to the saved path. An image can have multiple paths saved. If it does, choose the appropriate path.

An Alpha Channel may be useful to cut out if the subject has wispy hair or other fine detail. The image portrait.jpg can be used for this. Duplicate the image layer so you do not destroy the original image. On this duplicated layer, go to Image>Adjustments>Threshold… Adjust this slider to maximize the fine details that need to be cut out. If there are areas within the body of the subject that do not completely turn to black, these areas can be painted over using the brush tool.

Here is a demonstration of a good level detail around the edges. Use the paintbrush to paint away the shadowed right edge of the image with white. Also paint over the highlight detail in face and collar with black.

pic 1 pic 2

Select the entire layer (command A) and copy it (command C). Switch from the Layers palette to the Channels palette. Add a new Channel (this will be called the Alpha 1 Channel) and paste (command V) the complete black and white version to that Alpha channel. Select all of this layer and invert the mask using command I. This will now look similar to the Quick Mask mode, with the transparent red portions of the image being areas that will not show up.

Save this image. Because of the extra Alpha Channel, this must be saved as a Photoshop (.psd) image.

This image can now be placed in an InDesign document and cut out using the same process as the Paths method, simply choose Alpha Channel instead of Photoshop Path.

The third method for creating a clipping path is to use the Detect Edges part of the Clipping Path dialog. Adjust the Threshold level for best results. If various artifacts remain, these can be removed with the Delete Anchor Point tool under the Pen tool.

pic 3 pic 4

When deleting anchor points, the Clipping Path becomes a User Defined Path. This method may take much more effort than the others.



Upper level students should be able to choose their own photo to perform these operations on. A high contrast image would be an excellent first choice, with greater complexity coming from images where the contrast between the subject and background become less pronounced.

Lower level students should practice and become proficient in one of the methods.