Adventures in Extractions, Masks and Other Goodies in Photoshop

By Al Ward
of Action Fx Photoshop Resources

Dateline: November 3, 2003
Volume 1, Number 3
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Web surfers recognize certain Internet terms immediately that a few years ago had strictly offline, yet related, meanings. For instance, the Web itself: where once the word only implied a home for some creatures that drank a life from others immobilized in tight cocoons, Web has taken on an entirely new definition in cyberspace. And "spider" has implications applied to it in the age of the Internet. I'm sure you can think of many others.

The concept for this installment is to use visual elements from one world and apply them to the dangers of another. In my mind I see a monstrous form creeping through a tangle of webbing. Some type will be added to emphasize the dangers of cyberspace, where not all denizens have friendly intent.

To begin making a warning that is visually effective, a photo that inspires one to cringe is always helpful. The images used here are all from You can download the four images required for you to work along with me in this ZIP file.

First, open and select the spider image (spider-06.jpg), and duplicate the background. Name the new layer Spider. Next, make a copy of the web photo (web-07.jpg) and paste it into the spider image. It will have its own layer above the spider: rename the new layer Web. Change the layer Blending Mode for the Web layer to Soft Light. Click the Add a mask icon to create a Layer Mask for the Web layer, as shown at left.

Select the layer mask. Ensure that Black is the foreground color and grab the Paintbrush tool. Note where the web passes in front of the extended legs and head of the spider, and paint those portions of the mask with black. The idea here is to make the legs and head appear as though they are coming through the web, as shown at left.

There are a few spots where the overlaid layer changes the fur on the arachnid to a shade of blue. In order to correct this, simply paint between the strands of web in the layer mask to erase the offending blue areas. You need not be too precise and do this between all the strands, but simply between those that pass over the spider.

The spider now appears to be emerging through the Web, rather than simply lurking behind it. This is far more effective in conveying the message of danger, as the illusion of a boundary is being broken. This is something to consider in other work when trying to imply a sense of imminent danger or even to invoke a feeling of the artist reaching the viewer through their medium of choice, in this case through a set of digital images. To deepen the effect, simply duplicate the Web layer with a mask intact. You need not change the Blending Mode – Soft Light will do just fine.

The spider was creepy enough before breaking the boundary, but now a new edge is added as that which divides the viewer from the danger is breached. Okay, I'm not sure if you buy my explanation about the enhanced danger, etc. Not to worry, as we will add additional elements to this image that will clearly get the message across.

Open image spider-02.jpg. I'm now going to have you create a brush out of this spider to place on the web in different positions and sizes on the other image. Go ahead and extract the spider from the background. The thing to note here is to use the highlighter to get the fine hairs extending from the body and legs of the new spider.

When you're finished with the highlighter tool and have covered the fine hairs extending from the critter, use the paint bucket to fill the area to be extracted with blue, or whatever color you have selected as your fill color.

You can preview the extraction if you like, but you need not be too precise in this instance. If you're happy with your extraction click okay and separate the spider from the background as shown here.

One of the things I love about Photoshop is the ability to use photographs or photographic elements and apply them in the form of a brush or as brush strokes. Go to Edit> Define Brush and name the new spider brush in the dialog box that appears. Click OK.

The new brush will be resident in the loaded brushes, and can be accessed at the bottom of the brush selector window. Although the feather cannot be changed, the brush size can, as well as the angle of the brush. We will look at that in a couple steps.

Create a new layer at the top of the layer stack and name it Spider-paint. Change the foreground color to a medium gray and reduce the brush size to about 800.  Along the top left margin overlapping the web, spray some paint without moving the mouse so that a new well-defined spider appears on the web. 

Open the brushes palette and click on Brush Tip Shape at the top to change the attributes of the brush. In this example, simply increase the spacing and change the direction by rotating the direction wheel with the mouse.

Paint a few smaller versions of the spider on various areas of the web, changing the color of the paint as you like. I've also added some text on various layers using grunge style fonts, and also placed a black border along the left side beneath most of my layers. I'm not walking through the steps, as these are things that you can add on your own as you desire.

I'm going to have you apply one more image to this effect. Open web-08.jpg and copy the image, pasting it in its own layer in the Spider image beneath the text layers but above the black border. Name the new layer WWW add a layer mask to it. Paint away the majority of the image by applying a black brush to the mask, leaving just a band of the layer along the right side and in the lower-right corner. Lower the capacity of this layer 40-50%.

The illustration below shows the final image, with more text applied.

I hope this tutorial has helped you gain a working knowledge of piecing togethrt multiple images and layers into a final whole. This one is relatively quick, but we were able to get a workout on quite a few tools and techniques in a short amount of time. Speaking of time... until the next installment, see you at Action Fx!

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Want to add to your own COOL FACTOR? Al Ward, the author of this column and NAPP Actions Guru, offers thousands of Photoshop goodies for download on his website (! He also has several Photoshop Goodies available on CD. So who is this Al guy anyway? He has co-authored Photoshop Most Wanted: Effects and Design Tips , a manual of popular Photoshop Special Effects and Foundation Photoshop 6.0 from Friends of Ed Publishing. Al is the Author of Adobe Elements 2 Special Effects, a new solo title from Hungry Minds/Wiley Publishing. He has been a contributor to Photoshop User Magazine, a contributing writer for Photoshop Elements 2- 50 Ways to Create Cool Pictures , Photoshop 7 Effects Magic , Inside Photoshop 6 and Special Edition Inside Photoshop 6 from New Riders Publishing, and writes for several Photoshop related websites including the National Association of Photoshop Professional s Official Website,, Planet Photoshop and the Photoshop Café. Al was a panelist at the Photoshop World 2001 Los Angeles Conference, and contributes to the official NAPP website as the Actions area coordinator. Al lists Scott Kelby, Editor-In-Chief of Photoshop User Magazine as his Hero, Coffee as his favorite food group, and Sleep as the one pastime he d like to take up some day.