I’ve been working on a gift for some dear friends who moved away and are now returning to our home turf. I’m creating the design in Silhouette Studio and saving it as a JPEG so that I can get it printed professionally on a coffee mug. Today, I want to show how I did a photo crop in the software. Then later I’ll show you the entire design and finished product in another post.
Tips before we begin
- If you have a photo editing program you like and are familiar with, by all means use that. Silhouette Studio isn’t created as a photo editing program so is not as easy to work with as one that is. But if you don’t have one, here’s a way you can do a photo crop in SS. I’ll also let you know at the end why it might be better in 1 way.
- Nothing you do with these techniques will permanently alter your photo UNLESS you save it as a JPEG in the same location with the same name as the original. Just as with any other program, Silhouette Studio will alert you to the fact that there’s already a file of that type with that name in that location. That’s your warning that if you save at that point it will overwrite your original image and you can’t go back.
- I’m going to share multiple options here to do the photo crop. I recommend trying them all so you can decide which you like. Sometimes the approach you take depends on the photo you are using. Each option utilizes Point Editing, so if you don’t know what that means you should check out my series on that starting here. If you do know a bit about it, look throughout this post for links to the specific lessons within that series.
Now let’s get to it.
Step 1: Open the image
As long as it’s save on your computer somewhere, you can open a photo in Silhouette Studio. Just go to File>Open, navigate to the folder where you saved it, select it, and click OK.
The photo opens on its own page as a new file.
I find that’s the easiest way to work with it. After you’ve got the photo crop you like, you can move it to the page where your other elements are.
If the image is large, you can make it smaller so that it’s a good size to work with. Just be sure to resize proportionally.
What if it’s small? That means it’s lower quality, and making the photo larger will magnify that fact. You’ll see more of the corners of the pixels. Zoom in close instead.
You want to be able to see the entire area of the photo that you want to isolate. Once you are doing Step 2, it’s very difficult to impossible to get the view to scroll to a different area and still continue with the action. Adjust your zoom accordingly.
Step 2, Option 1: Use Magnet Trace for the photo crop
Magnet Trace is new to version 4 of the software and is only in Designer Edition and up. If you have Basic, you can jump to Option 2 or read through this to see how it works. It takes some getting used to, but once you figure it out it can be quite useful for a photo crop.
Get ready to trace
- It can be difficult to get a good trace line in areas where the background color is close in tone (light vs. dark value) to the subject you’re trying to isolate. If you encounter that, try adjusting the contrast of the photo with the Effects feature before starting your trace.
- Open the Trace panel. The icon for this is the 5th one down on the right side. Technically, it’s a butterfly surrounded by a rounded rectangle. Personally, I’ve always thought it looks like a piece of toast.
- Go to 3rd tab – the one that looks like a magnet.
- Click “Magnet Trace.”
- Move your mouse over to your Design area and you’ll see a small red dot with a red circle around it.
- Notice that in the window is a slider bar labeled “Size.” That adjusts the size of the red circle. You can also adjust is using the scroll bar on your mouse. There’s not really any published information on what exactly resizing it does, but I’ve found that as I make it smaller the software finds the contours much more easily.
Draw, then Trace and Detach
- Position the red dot over the area where you want to begin your photo crop — the dividing line between what you want to keep and what you want to remove. Click and hold the button and drag your mouse SLOWLY to start drawing a green line around the subject, keeping that red dot right along where you want to trace. The magnet looks for a color difference and draws your shape following that contour.
You don’t want to lift your finger from the mouse button or click again as you draw. That effectively changes from tracing the contour based on color difference to just drawing a normal shape. In other words, the software stops looking for that difference and just adds points where you tell it to. That defeats the whole purpose of using the magnet for your photo crop.
Don’t worry if during your trace your green line wanders in toward or out from the subject. You can adjust that in Step 3 without losing anything (trust me).
- When you get back to your starting point, you DO want to lift your finger from the mouse to close the shape. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when the shape has a bounding box around it.
- For what we’re doing today, click Trace and Detach. That will separate the photo into 2 pieces – what was inside the line and what was outside the line. It basically cuts like a cookie cutter right where you drew your green line. In other words, it give you a photo crop.
- Now you can delete the background and you’re left with the subject. You’ve just cropped the photo.
Here’s a video showing a magnet trace.
Step 2, Option 2: Use Modify options for the photo crop
Use this option if you don’t have Designer Edition, or just prefer it. As with many programs, there are multiple paths to getting the same end result. What we’re going to do here is create a shape that mimics the area of the photo you want to keep, then tell the software to do just that. It’s like the Magnet Trace from Option 1, but you’re doing more of the work yourself to get your photo crop.
Draw a shape
In order to see it easier, I like to change my line color and thickness first. I make it a color that will show up well against the photo and put the thickness on 2.
Click on one of the drawing tools. You can draw a closed curved shape, a freehand shape, or a smooth freehand shape. I don’t find the draw a polygon (with all flat line segments) to be very useful for this, particularly with photos of people. Most people don’t have flat sides.
A closed curved shape
- This is quick to draw and has just a few points, but will require more work in the next phase.
- Click the mouse where you want to start drawing and then each time you want to add another point. That’s normally when you need to go in a different direction or at a different angle. Even if you draw in a straight line, the software will make the line segment a curved one.
- With this one, the software understands you want a closed shape. That means it’s going to continue drawing until you get back to your starting point and click close to that first point.
A freehand shape
- On this type, you draw a continuous freeform shape and the software adds the points for you based on where you drag the mouse. You don’t see the points as you draw.
- The points are all Smooths.
- The line segments between the points are all flat.
- This one takes a bit more time, but you have more control.
- The software does NOT assume you’re drawing a closed shape, so you work it a bit differently. Click at your starting point, then hold the mouse button down and draw around the subject without clicking again or lifting your finger from the mouse until you get back to the starting point. If you lift your finger from the mouse or click again away from the starting point, that stops the drawing even if the shape is not closed.
- The slower you draw, the more points there are. That can be a blessing or a curse. It’s good because you can tweak in small bits. But it can also be a pain because objects with more points take a longer time to process and sometimes you end up having to delete a bunch of them.
A smooth freehand shape
- This is very similar to the draw a regular freehand shape, so you’ll follow the same basic directions. But there are a couple of differences.
- As with regular freehand, the points are all Smooth except for the point created where the starting and ending meet. That one’s a Corner.
- BUT — the segments are all curves. That’s what gives it a smoother appearance.
- Drawing slower creates more points usually only if you are zoomed in. So I actually like to keep my photo small and zoom in.
- You see the points as you draw a smooth freehand shape.
Try them all to see which one gets you where you want to go. Draw shape, making sure to close it at the end. You have to work with closed shapes when you’re using the Modify tools.
Here’s the shape I would draw.
Edit the shape and modify
- You’ll want to reset your line thickness to 0.0 to be ready for the next time you draw a regular cut shape or add text. Change the line color back to red if you like as well.
- Fill the shape you just drew with a light color. Be careful to select the shape and not your photo. If you get the wrong one, just remember the Undo button is awesome.
- Raise the transparency on the shape so you can see through it to the photo somewhat. I like around 35%.
- You may or may not want to edit some points to refine the shape before you continue. It’s 6 one way, half a dozen the other – edit points now or later. Trust me — it won’t alter anything — it’s just personal preference.
- Select both the shape and the photo.
- Open your Modify panel and choose Crop. This will retain only the areas that both have in common and retain the fill of the larger piece. That means it keeps only the area of the photo that’s covered by your shape, but because the photo was bigger it keeps that fill. You’ve now got your photo crop.
I covered this in detail, with a video, in this post.
Step 3: Refine your photo crop with point editing
What you have now is a vector shape – points connected by straight and curved lines – filled with a raster image (your photo). It’s very likely you’ll need to tweak that shape at least a little with Point Editing. That’s a really big topic, so I’ve created an entire tutorial series about it. You can find the first lesson here.
Here are the main ideas I want to get across for this project–
- With either option in Step 2, you haven’t lost any of your photo, even if you didn’t draw or trace well and your points cut into it. The photo crop is just like any fill image. As you alter contours of the shape by moving points, the fill fills in.
- You could skip Step 2 altogether and immediately start editing points. You’d start by pulling in the 4 points at the corners of the photo toward the subject. Then you can add and adjust points around the contours of the portion you want to keep in your photo crop.
- If your shape has lots of points, you can click Simplify in the Point Editing menu. This may change some smooth points to corners, but it’s a quick way to eliminate some points you don’t need so you can edit your photo crop more quickly.
Here’s a quick video to show you how some of this works.
And here’s my photo crop after I’ve cleaned it up with point editing.
When would you choose this instead of a photo editing program?
I said at the beginning of the post that there’s a particular reason using one of these methods may be preferable to a photo editing program to do your photo crop. Let’s talk about that now.
There are 2 critical points to remember:
- If you have a photo editing program where you can remove the background of a photo, when you save that edited photo it’s probably going to save as a JPEG.*
- Any JPEG image — so any digital photo — is a grid. It’s a set of rows and columns of tiny squares filled with various colors — a raster image. Any square not filled with a color is automatically filled with white. To learn more about raster images, see this post.
Think through the implication of that. Although you may erase the background of your photo to leave only the subject, those erased areas get filled with white when you save the file because that’s how JPEGs work. That means if you open that photo crop image in another program, that white background may cover a part of a different image placed close to it.
If you want to overlap several photos in Silhouette Studio and don’t want that white background causing said mischief, you can use one of the methods we’ve learned here to get rid of it in your photo crop. As we learn in point editing, it’s actually still there lurking in the background, but it won’t obscure a different image on the page.
New features in 4.1 and 4.2
Here’s another cool thing to know. With the Business Edition of the Silhouette Studio software, starting with version 4.1 you can save an original design as a JPEG or PDF image. And when 4.2 is released, you’ll also be able to save it as a PNG* with a transparent background. That means you can combine several different elements and save the set as a single raster image. That’s what I’m going to do for my mug, so I’ll show you how to do that in another post.
*You may have the option in your photo editing program to save as a PNG (portable networks graphic) instead. That’s always preferable if you have the choice. The saved image is still a rectangular grid, but squares not filled with color remain transparent. When you open that PNG image in another program, it doesn’t have the white background that could cover other elements of your design.