You probably already know about creating selections in Photoshop, but what if you need to cut out a section of your photo in a specific shape? For example, you might want to cut a hole in the shape of an arrow in the center of your image. Then you can place a new photo behind your original layer. Although your standard selection tools won’t be able to do this, the shape tools can.
With the help of any shape tool in Photoshop (including your custom shapes), you can quickly cut out any section of an image with a few clicks. Here’s how it works.
How To Cut A Shape Out Of A Layer In Photoshop
As long as you follow this guide step by step, you’ll be able to cut out your shape in no time.
Step 1: Select Your Shape
Assuming you already have the correct layer open, click and hold on to the Shape Tool (U). This will open up a sub-menu, allowing you to choose from different shapes.
By choosing the Custom Shape Tool, you can find even more unique shapes to choose from in the Options Bar.
Also, make sure that Shape is selected in the Options Bar.
Step 2: Draw Out Your Shape
Once your shape is selected, you can click and drag it on your layer to draw out your shape. Hold down Shift to ensure that your shape retains its proportions.
If you need to move your shape after drawing it, click on the Move Tool (V) in the Toolbar.
Step 3: Select The Shape In The Layers Panel
With your shape drawn and in place, it’s time to create a selection around the shape.
The main thing to remember here is to hold down Control (Win) or Command (Mac), then click the shape itself in the Layers Panel. You have to hold down Control or Command before you click the shape. Otherwise, you will only select the layer itself.
You will know that you have successfully selected your shape when you see marching ants around the shape to indicate a selection.
Step 4: Add A Layer Mask To The Image Layer
Now that your shape is an active selection, click on your image layer. Then, add a layer mask by clicking the Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers Panel. This applies the active selection of the shape onto a layer mask for your image. You will also see the mask pop up next to your image.
Back on your canvas, the only thing you should see is your shape itself.
Step 5: Invert The Layer Mask
Your next step is to reverse the effect you have so far. To do this, click the mask itself, then press Control + I (Win) or Command + I (Mac). This will invert the layer mask.
In the Layers Panel, you will see that the thumbnail for the mask is also inverted.
Back on your canvas, it will look like the shape is on top of your layer again.
Step 6: Delete The Shape Layer
Select the shape layer and click on the Trash button to create the cut-out look. You should now only have one layer in the Layers Panel.
Once you delete your shape layer, you will see a checkerboard pattern behind your cut-out shape, which indicates transparency.
(Optional) Step 7: Add A Background Layer
Now that your shape is cut out, you can add a background layer behind it to complete the effect. You can add another image, pattern, or anything you need for your background. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll just add a solid color. If you are adding an image, simply import a new photo and place it underneath your original image in the layers panel. It will then appear through the cut out of the shape you just created.
If you want to add a solid color as your background, go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color.
A new window will pop up. Don’t worry about any of the settings, and just click OK.
A Color Picker will pop up. Choose the color that you need, then click on OK.
In the Layers Panel, ensure your background layer is below the layer with the cut-out image.
If you want to adjust the color of the layer or change the color completely, you can do so by double-clicking the Color Picker icon on the color fill layer.
The same color picker will pop up, allowing you to adjust or completely change your color. Press OK when you’re ready.
(Optional) Step 8: Add Depth To The Effect With A Drop Shadow
Your cut-out shape looks good so far, but adding depth can make it look even better. The best way to do this is to double-click on the image layer and then click on Drop Shadow.
Use the Layer Style Options Menu to adjust the look of your drop shadow. Play around with each setting until you have the correct amount of depth for the effect you’re going for.
How To Cut Out A Shape From Another Shape In Photoshop
You can easily cut a shape out of another shape with Photoshop. This is a great technique to know when designing logos in Photoshop.
Step 1: Choose The Shape You Want To Use
First, you need to get a shape down on your Canvas. Click and hold down on the Shape Tool (U) to open up a sub-menu where you can choose from any shape tools available.
Step 2: Draw Out Your Shape
Once you’ve chosen your Shape Tool, drag it across your canvas to add your shape. Hold down Shift if you wish to retain the proportions of the shape.
Step 3: Add A Second Shape Inside The First Shape
Now that you have your first shape down, you must draw a second shape somewhere in the middle of the first.
First, click and hold the Shape Tool and choose the shape you want to use.
Click and drag your mouse to draw your second shape inside your first shape. You will now have two separate shape layers in your Layers Panel.
Step 4: Merge Both Shape Layers
Your next step is to merge your two shape layers into one.
To merge the layers, click the first layer, hold down Shift, then click on the second layer.
Press Control + E (Win) or Command + E (Mac) to merge both layers.
Step 5: Click The Exclude Overlapping Shapes Button
Once you’ve lined up your second shape on top of the first, direct your attention to the Properties Panel.
Click on the Exclude Overlapping Shapes button to complete the process.
The main thing to remember here is that whatever shape you have on top will be subtracted from the shape below.
Also, after you merge your shapes, you can still change the Color of this combined shape and the color of the Stroke in the Properties Panel.
How To Cut Out A Shape With A Feathered Edge
When you cut out a shape with the above methods, you will be left with a hard edge. In this section, I’ll go over how to cut out a shape and leave the edges soft by feathering the edge of the shape.
Step 1: Use The Shape Tool To Create A Path
Much like the methods above, start by choosing the Shape Tool (U).
There is one big difference, however. You need to make sure that Path is selected in the Options Bar.
Once you’re ready, drag your mouse across your canvas to create your path.
Step 2: Convert Your Path Into A Selection & Set The Feather
Now that you have a path drawn out on your canvas, you need to convert the path into a selection. To do this, right-click on the path, then select Make Selection.
A menu will pop up, asking you how much Feather you need for your selection. A feather between 10 and 20 should work well. Click OK when you’re ready.
Step 3: Add A Layer Mask
With your layer selected in the Layers Panel, click the Layer Mask icon to add a layer mask.
This will hide most of your image back on your Canvas.
Step 4: Invert Your Mask
To complete the look you’re going for, invert your mask by clicking on it, then press Control + I (Win) or Command + I (Mac).
You will see your mask inverted in the Layers Panel.
You will also see your cut-out image with a nice feathered edge on your canvas.
Step 5: Add Your Background Layer
Now that you have your cut-out shape with a feathered edge ready, it’s time to add your background layer to complete the effect. One of the ways you can do this is to add a gradient background.
Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Gradient.
Don’t worry about the settings, and click OK.
You can change the colors of your gradient with the Gradient Editor. Click OK when ready.
Ensure your Gradient layer is below your image layer.
Also, if you’re not satisfied with the colors of your current gradient, you can double-click on the Gradient icon in the Layers Panel and choose a new color scheme.
You can also change all of the other gradient settings at any time. Click OK when you’re finished.
With the different methods outlined here, you can start using shapes to cut out images, or even other shapes in Photoshop. This is a great technique to have in your back pocket when designing posters or social banners, and puts your shape tools to use in a totally new way!