✂️ 3 free and easy image cutout tools

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✂️ 3 free and easy image cutout tools
By Dan Mason • Issue #5 • View online
Greetings All,
I hope your summer is going well. Somehow it feels to me like the calm before the storm. In good ways, I hope it is!
🔍 Read on for: Snappy photo cutouts ✂️, fascinating stuff about the role of AI in covering Covid 🧠 and how charities have made an impact with campaigns like #PregnantThenScrewed 😳
👋 New here? Welcome to Useful Stuff for Storytellers, and our friendly creatives who like practical tips and fast, free tools.

Cut above: Separate thumbnails help your YouTube videos stand out
Cut above: Separate thumbnails help your YouTube videos stand out
Make your portraits pop
Creating a separate thumbnail for YouTube videos is near enough obligatory these days, and a combination of keyword-driven title and cutout portrait does the job nicely.
Likewise, many podcast cover images feature a cutout of the podcast host or interview subject. Cutouts make people pictures pop.
Everyone a winner: How a cutout could be used for a podcast cover
Everyone a winner: How a cutout could be used for a podcast cover
So, for those who are not Photoshop gurus, here are three ways to create fast and free cutouts. Well, all free. One takes a little more time. Designs like those above can then be created in Canva (where an AI cutout tool is included in the Canva Pro tier).
For this exercise, I downloaded the images of a wheelchair athlete from Unsplash and woman with scissors from Pexels. See below for other free stock image sites.
Original images from Unsplash and Pexels
Original images from Unsplash and Pexels
1. One-click cutouts
Adobe Spark’s online AI cutout tool is free (for now) and couldn’t be simpler. Upload. Click. Download … as long as you have a free account. UPDATE: You now have to sign in to Adobe account to download images.
Scissor Lady was cut out in no time and the edges look quite good, but Spark went a little too far with the athlete and there’s no way to edit the cutout unless you sign up for an Adobe subscription.
So, if you have an image with plenty of contrast between the subject and background, Spark is a good place to start.
Adobe Spark: Effective if there is background contrast
Adobe Spark: Effective if there is background contrast
2. Click and tweak
Unlike other online cutout tools that limit free usage, FocoClipping is completely free, with both one-click and manual cutout options.
Like Spark, Foco handled Scissor Lady with ease and even impressed with our athlete. Zoomed in and using the restore and erase brushes, it’s easy to make minor adjustments.
Good start: FocoClipping's AI cutout can be tweaked
Good start: FocoClipping's AI cutout can be tweaked
It would be logical to let Foco’s AI weave its magic then use the manual tools to refine the cutout, but oddly the two are separate. My main gripes are that Foco can be slow, the undo button is glitchy and the manual cutout tools are tricky. But, compared with many others I’ve tried, I really like Foco’s look, ease of use and results.
FocoClipping has one more useful trick up its sleeve … adding a background, shadow or stroke to a cutout before download. In the example designs, I added a white ‘glow’ in Canva.
Stand out from the crowd with a stroke or shadow in FocoClipping
Stand out from the crowd with a stroke or shadow in FocoClipping
3. Old school
Pixlr is one of the world’s favourite free online (and mobile) image editors, for good reason. In fact, there are three Pixlr tools we could use for cutouts:
  • Remove Background. Pixlr’s standalone click-and-tweak tool.
  • Pixlr E. Flagship editor with more than a hint of Photoshop.
  • Pixlr X. Think Pixlr E Lite. In fact, I prefer Pixlr X for basic image editing since the main enhancement tools sit together in a neat panel, rather than in drop-down menus, as in Pixlr E.
Pixlr E and X offer AI Cutout in Pixlr Premium, costing around $5 a month. We’ll use the manual cutout tools, which are basically the same in both versions, just in slightly different places.
Open Pixlr X and import an image. The scissors icon reveals the cutout tools in a slide-out panel. There are four tools: shape, magic cutout, brush and lasso. Tap ‘light’ softness to add feathering to the cutout.
The first cut: Easy access to Pixlr X's cutout tools
The first cut: Easy access to Pixlr X's cutout tools
If your image has large areas of background that contrast with the subject, you could start by using the magic cutout tool to click and delete. Use the ‘tolerance’ slider to expand or reduce the area affected, and the undo arrow under the image (or cmd/ctrl Z) to go back and reapply the action if required.
Even if the magic cutout is successful, you will almost certainly need to refine the edges using the lasso selection tool. Or use the lasso to cut out the image from scratch.
Select the lasso and make sure the ‘remove’ button and ‘light’ feather are selected. Zoom in then start to trace the outline with your mouse pointer or laptop trackpad.
Use smooth strokes, ending in a curve to create a series of joined transparent blocks around your image. Finish by selecting and deleting other unwanted areas of the image.
Steady as you go: Smooth strokes are the key to success
Steady as you go: Smooth strokes are the key to success
Crop if required and save your image with a transparent background (.png) ready for import into Canva. You might even start with a one-click technique and use Pixlr to tidy up the outline.
Cutouts on mobile
Adobe recently axed their excellent (and free) Adobe Mix app, which included cutouts, but both FocoClipping and Pixlr work as one-click cutout tools on mobile.
Free images, icons and more
There are dozens of sites offering ‘free’ stock images. Favourites include Pixabay, Pexels and Unsplash. Some require attribution, some don’t. My advice is always provide attribution if you can and respect copyright instructions.
Also try a Creative Commons ‘modification allowed’ search on Flickr (look for the ‘Any Licence’ dropdown above your search).
For icons, head for the incomparable Noun Project (here’s a simple tool for colouring the icons or use Pixlr), Iconfinder or Flaticon. For people graphics, Blush is amazing (smaller sizes with a free account) and if you need corporate logos, Brandfetch delivers.
The Noun Project: Home to over three million icons
The Noun Project: Home to over three million icons
✊ Extra stuff ...
With news organisations facing a deluge of conflicting data during Covid, several turned to AI to help keep readers informed. The result, as reported by the TOW Center for Digital Journalism, is a triumph of innovation and determination.
Charities were among the organisations hardest hit by the pandemic, but that didn’t stop them launching some powerful projects to support those who needed it most. Read about the charity campaigns that changed politics in 2021.
Thanks for reading 👏
🌍 I’ve been fortunate to work with amazing creatives and causes around the world as a trainer and educator. I welcome ‘how do I …’ questions, so I started this newsletter to share the answers for all.
If you enjoy it, please share it! And if you have a question, suggestion or useful stuff you’d like to share, get in touch: dan@danmason.co.uk 🔗 bio.link/masondan
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Dan Mason

Practical tips and fast, free tools for journalists, content creators and communicators in a hurry

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