How to Create a Silhouette from a Photo

posted in: At Home 14 comments

I love silhouette art and whenever we get the chance with an artist I take it.  It is an amazing art form and those who can cut a silhouette with their eyes and scissors alone are incredible to watch.  I can’t, but I did figure out how to make a silhouette using Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.  It is easy and I am NO expert!  There are bunches of tutorials out there but I sort of fiddles about until I found what I found to be the easiest way.

Once you have your silhouettes you can use them to make cool graphics or create awesome art for your house, holiday cards, thank you notes, mugs, mouse pads…anything!

I had a little fun with this and created Sibling Rivalry using profiles of my 5 year old Sophia and my 3 year old Miles.  The sky is the limit!

Sibling Rivalry

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You will need one of these two programs plus a photo that you want to turn into a silhouette.  I will be using profile shots against a high contrast background for ease.  You can get awesome action shot silhouettes though!  When you are working on a profile it is really helpful for hair to be off the neck so that you can get the line of the skull to the neck right.

Step 1:  Open your photo in Photoshop / Photoshop Elements.  You will see your main image as well as the Layers Palette to the right.  When you first open your image it is locked.

Open Photo

Step 2: Go to the Layers Palette and right click on your exiting layer.  Choose Layer from Background.  You can name it anything.  Hit okay and your photo layer should be unlocked so you can play with it.

Layer from Background

Step 3: Select the part of the image you want as a silhouette.  You are going to use the Lasso tool for this.  When you locate the lasso tool in the menu to the left of your image right click to see your options.  I have used both the magnetic and the polygonal.  Play around and see which one suits you and your image.  The magnetic lasso will automatically find points around your image and wrap around them.  It is faster but it sometimes misses the portion of your image you want to select.  The polygonal lasso requires that you click all the way around your image at each point you want the line to move.   It is more precise and does allow you to more easily go around hair or accessories.

Lasso Choices

Once you have your selection and the beginning and end points of the lasso meet (this can be a little frustrating) you will see dancing lines around your selection.  Notice I did not have a perfect picture and chose not to include all that random hair.  Also, I can fix any irregularities later with the paintbrush.  What I really want is a good outline of the face and neck.

Lasso Line

Step 4:  You want to remove the existing background.  Click on Select from the top menu and then Inverse.  This will create a dancing line around your entire photo.

Select Inverse

Hit Delete and your background will disappear and your selection will remain.

Hit Delete Key Isolate Subject

Step 5:  Now you have your outline and you need to create the silhouette.  There are a couple of ways to do this but the easiest one I have found is to create a new layer.  You can go to the Layer Menu on the top and select New.  With the new layer selected use your paint bucket tool and fill in that layer.  I chose black (#000000) for my silhouette.  Do not freak out when the entire image turns black!  Oh no!  All you need to do is tell Photoshop to apply that paint bucket only to your “clipped” area.  Simply select the Move Tool (the little arrow and compass in the top left of your left side menu) and then hit CTRL+G.  This is the shortcut to create a clipping mask in Photoshop.  Then hit CTRL+E to merge your layers, use the paintbrush to fix and problems (or in my case finish the ponytail) and you have your digital silhouette!

Clip and Fill

Step 6:  Save your file! Please remember that if you are going to use this silhouette on a background (like on a website or for digital scrap booking) you want to make sure to save the file as a .png to preserve the transparency.  When you are ready to print and have a background you can save as a .jpg for use online or for projects.

Sophia Silhouette

Not only could you use these digitally but your could print them out, cut them out of black paper and use as beautiful art in your home.  They are oh so vintage and yet modern with the black.  I will attempt to figure out how to cut these using my cricut too.

Happy Silhouetting!  Please shoot me any questions in the comments and good luck!

I am linking up to…

Tip Junkie handmade projects

I'm Brittany. I believe that simple is best and that smiling can make or break a day. I love being a woman, a wife and a mother. I like to make pretty things and making things with big tools. I am a huge fan of good design. I love to travel. Hugs make me happy. I share my life, experiences, tips and tutorials in the hope that this community can find a whole lot of awesome together.

14 comments… add one

  • November 7, 2011 Anne

    This is a very fun tip! Thanks for sharing!

    I was wondering if you’d be interested in sharing your articles with other like-minded parent bloggers? If yes, please email me at with Parents in the subject line.


  • November 7, 2011 Susan

    Very cute!

    • November 7, 2011 Brittany

      Thanks. It is so much fun I am thinking up all sorts of projects with them now.

  • November 7, 2011 Laura Putnam

    Thanks, I knew how to do all of it except for the last step – thanks for sharing! Laura

  • November 7, 2011 The Rebel Crafter

    This is awesome, thanks.

  • November 8, 2011 Mindie

    This is so cool. Love your modern silhouettte. I would love for you to share this at my weekly anything goes linky. Fri-Monday come strut your stuff.
    Mindie recently posted… Our Third Sneak Peak For the Breaking Dawn Give Away Event!My Profile

  • November 8, 2011 marla

    thanks for sharing!

  • November 8, 2011 Liz

    Yet another reason I need to get PhotoShop or Elements!
    Liz recently posted… Easy Country-Style Lima BeansMy Profile

  • November 14, 2011 Marie

    This looks fabulous! Thank you so much for sharing. I can’t wait to try it out.

    • November 15, 2011 Brittany

      Good luck! Let me know how it turns out!

  • November 27, 2011 Cristina

    Thanks! Today I made my children photo silhouette with your tutorial, I love them!!

  • June 30, 2012 laurie

    super helpful tutorial! one question…once I have my silhouette, how do I resize it to reduce it to a size where I could print it and wear it as a pendant? Thank you so very much.

    • July 2, 2012 Brittany

      I would use a photo editing site like PicMonkey (it is free) to make it tiny enough and then save it at the highest resolution possible.

  • January 30, 2013 Chelsea

    Thanks for the help on this! I’ve been doing it a different way each time until you walked me through it!


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