Sometimes, graphics editing is useful. And sometimes, you use it to turn things invisible just because you can. Here’s how to make invisibility cloaks in Photoshop in a few minutes, with our GIMP friendly technique.


Collecting Your Source Images

While you don’t have to, your best bet is to take your own pictures. The best way to do this is with manual camera settings and a tripod. Your goal is to shoot a subject in front of some environment, ideally one with a lot of detail.

Automatic focus, and auto shooting mode can change your composition from shot to shot. In order to minimize this, you can pick a manual setting that gives you the proper exposure in the environment you’re working in, and continue shooting in that. The tripod also keeps your camera steady, allowing you to keep your composition from moving around.

Setting your lens to manual once you’ve used the auto focus will keep the focus from changing from shot to shot. In this example shot, we’ve shot one picture with the subject, and one without. Since the focus was on manual, the lens did not try and refocus, leaving the background blurred when this she leaves the shot.

(Author’s Note: Readers that don’t want to take their own photographs can still use this technique, by simply removing an object from a background, and placing it in a new background. Shooting your own photos will give you the best results, though!)

When you are done, you want to place your photos in a new document on top of each other, as separate layers. You may have to rotate the image slightly, or do some other small tweak to get them to align (more or less) perfectly, as shown here.

Start with your file looking like this, with these two distinct layers: one with a subject, and one missing the subject. From here on out, we’ll call these the “Subject” layer, and the other the “No-subject” layer.

Method One: A Simple “Green Screen” technique

If your “invisibility cloak” is a unique color, we can try a rough “Green Screen” technique, which is simpler, but gives a slightly less refined result. Begin by turning off your no-subject layer, and look at your subject layer.

Press to pick the eyedropper tool, then left click to pick an “average” color from your object. Once you’ve picked that color, navigate to Select > Color Range, and adjust the Color Range selection until the white areas (shown above) represent the areas you want to become invisible.

(Author’s Note: Just like when we created a black and white and red photograph, GIMP users will want to use the “Select by Color” tool, which can be found under Tools > Selection Tools > By Color Select. You can set your Threshold in your toolbarand get similar results in the “Selection Editor” panel, shown above. Open this panel by navigating to Select > Selection Editor.)

With your new color selection, briefly turn on and select (shown above right) the no-subject layer, and create a layer via copy.

The shortcut for this is Ctrl J. When you’ve done this, you can turn the no-subject layer off again, shown above.

You’ll be left with a final image that looks something like this, which is a fairly good invisibility cloak. Using this same image, let’s take a look at a more advanced method to accomplish this that gives a more consistent, refined result.


Method Two: Cutouts and Masks (More Advanced)

Starting over from your two layered image (where the animation was), we can begin work on a second, more thorough method for creating this transparency. We will cut out our object using any one of a ton of different ways and use layers to create our cloak. In this example, we’ll be using the pen tool, although you can use whatever method for isolating objects makes sense to you. If you’re a beginner (or hate the pen tool) you can start with this classic HTG method.

Draw your paths with your pen tool to isolate your object.

Turn on your no-subject layer, then select it in your layers panel.

Load a selection from the paths by navigating to the Paths panel, then right clicking to get “Make Selection.”

Create a new layer via copy by pressing Ctrl J, then turn off your no-subject layer, leaving a new third layer on top.

This has knocked this object back to a transparent look, but let’s keep going, and create a better looking image.

Reload your selection from the paths, or simply Ctrl + Click to load from the new layer you just created.

Return to your subject layer, and make a new layer via copy by pressing Ctrl J again. Move this layer to the top of the layers panel and set the blending mode (shown above right, highlighted in blue) to “Screen.”

We’re left with a translucent look, where the lightest areas are the most opaque.

Let’s add some final touches to our invisibility cloak by adjusting our new “Screen” layer with some levels. Navigate to Image > Adjustments > Levels. In this example, we intensified the layer by bringing the shadows and highlights closer together, as shown above.

We’re given the image above as our reward. The shadows disappear, leaving mostly the highlights behind.

To further improve our image, we can refine our object with layer masks. We have used layers in this how-to for the sake of simplicity, but layer masks can help us brush out the areas where our object wasn’t cut out perfectly.

If you’re unclear as to how layer masks work, you’ll find they’re pretty easy to understand. In this case, they’re great for cleaning up those ragged edges, if you decide you don’t like the look of them.

From there, you can pretty much call your invisibility cloak finished. Have fun making Photoshop (or GIMP) magic!

Mike Baird’s 1D Mark III by Mike Baird, available under Creative Commons. Special thanks to SwankIvy for agreeing to model for this very silly Photoshop project.