How to separate elements from your art using Adobe Photoshop®

As an addendum to my last blog post, I thought it would be helpful to also explain how I separate multiple images that are all painted or drawn on the same page.

I often will paint many elements at once together, but sometimes they will individually need to be recolored, resized, rotated, or moved on the page in the final design composition.

I painted many of these different floral trees together on one page as an example for this post. I painted them with a slight space between each shape, but the layout and the sizing of the different trees I knew would need to be changed once I imported everything into Photoshop and started to create my final pattern. 

Just as we did in our example with just one tree, I am going to import this image into Photoshop using the "File" --> "Place Embedded" option and I will have the image centered in the center of my canvas. 

You'll notice because I photographed the paper with my camera from my phone, you'll see the edges of the paper, along with the desk underneath. I like to clean up the edges first so I can remove as much unnecessary background as possible.


I prefer to use the lasso tool to make a quick selection that includes all of my elements, but gets rid of the extra background that needs to be erased.

After drawing your shape around your elements, you'll go to "Select" ---> "Inverse", then hit the delete key. That will remove all of that excess background you dont need:

And you'll be left with your art elements with a bit more background between them that still needs to be cleaned, something similar to this:

The next step is to separate the different elements into their own layers, so you can individually move/rotate, resize, and/or recolor them as needed. 

I at this stage I like to use the lasso, marquee selection tools, magic wand tool, and/or eraser tools to erase as much of the background from the images as possible. If you need a review on those tools, see the previous blog post from 11/14/2022 titled 'How to clean up your art in Photoshop."

I've also added a background layer filled with solid black underneath my art layer, so I can more easily see what areas still need to be erased. 

Tip: I generally use the lasso tool to select most of the areas that need to be erased, and then I'll switch to a very small point eraser tool towards the end to clean up any smaller areas I missed, or any jagged edges. 

Next we will separate the different elements into their own layers.

Tip: Make sure that you have your "art" layer selected in the layer palette, not your "background color" layer!

Again, I prefer to use the lasso tool for this step. I think it gives you the most precise selection, especially when your art elements are very near to one another. You can draw a loose shape around your first shape. For my example I will first isolate the light minty blue tree:

 We will move this selection to its own layer - "Layer" --> "New" --> Layer Via Cut.

 You'll notice that you now have an added layer in your layers palette called "Layer 1". You'll want to double-click on the name Layer 1 to rename it. I will call it "Mint Tree". If you click the eye icon next to this layer, you'll see that now the minty tree is on its own layer, separated from the other trees:

If you're a beginner, it may be easier for you to hide the new layers after you isolate them, to keep things a bit more simple! When the other layers are hidden, you cannot accidentally select any of the elements on them.

You will now go through on your own artwork and individually isolate each element on your own artwork.

Tip: You'll want to be careful that each time you finish isolating another element, that you remember to return to your original art layer before starting another!

I have now repeated this step and have each of my trees on their own layers, and I've made sure to rename each layer so I can easily tell which is which. (Pink tree, Navy tree, Yellow Tree etc...) Once I've finished isolating each layer, I delete the original art layer, and am left with the seperate trees, and the background color layers. 

You can now move, resize, and rotate your elements freely using the "Move" tool: 

Feel free to practice resizing and rearranging the elements around the your page to get a better layout:

You can also change the color of your "background" layer, if desired:

Change your color by first clicking on the "Foreground Color" box on the bottom of your toolbar (it usually looks like one square of black, and one square of white. The Foreground color is the square on TOP), then select your desired color from the color picker that pops up.

Select the "Paint Bucket" tool, double check to make sure you still have the 'Background Color" layer selected, and click anywhere on your background layer to try filling it with a new layer:

Tip: Remember if at any time you have an "oops!" moment and move the wrong thing, or fill the wrong layer- you can always use Command Z on a Mac or CTRL Z on a PC to go back a step! Also, make sure that you save your work periodically by going to "File" ---> Save. This will save your file as a Photoshop, or .PSD file, so you can open it up later, and still have all of your separated layers still intact in case you need to make future changes. 

You can also add in additional elements, if you had more art that you previously cleaned up and saved as .pngs on your hard drive. Use "File" --> "Place Embedded" to add in more elements, if needed.

Sometimes this will drop the new art in a weird spot, or in a huge size. You can easily resize the art by using the handles on the corners or sides to size it down. If the layer is above (or below) another layer and you want to adjust the arrangement, just drag your layers up or down in the layers palette to rearrange their order. You can move the layer around by using the "Move" tool. Just make sure that none of the element's edges extend over the border of your canvas, and you can save your finished file!

Last tip! If you want to save these individual elements for future use, you can save them easily as a .png to a location on your hard drive, similar to how we saved our art from our last lesson. When you have a bunch of elements on one canvas like today's example, use this method:

Select the layer of the element you'd like to save. Go to "Layer" --> "Quick Export as a .PNG", then select the location on your hard drive you want to save it to. Done! You can now reuse that element later on in your different patterns. You'll find you will quickly start to amass quite a big collection of art to use in your future works.

CONGRATS!! You have successfully gotten your artwork arranged into your first pattern! Use "File" --> "Save As" to save your finished pattern as a .jpg or .png format file to use later if you want to upload to a POD website like or If you aren't quite ready to upload the image anywhere, it's ok to just use "Save" and save your finished file as a .PSD that you can edit again later if needed. 

We still have a LOT of great information to go over in future blogs though! We will talk about basic vs. half drop patterns, adding in textures, using mockups, uploading your patterns to POD websites, licensing your art, and much more with future posts!

I'd love to hear if you have any other topics you are looking forward to learning more about.

Next blog, we are going to dive deep into using Aquario Design's Textile Designer plug-in for Photoshop. This tool is fun and easy to use, but also extremely powerful to help you easily arrange your elements into stunning patterns! I use this software every day to create my patterns, and it is by far the easiest method I've found for making sure your arrangements seamless and make sure they export perfectly for manufacturers.  

We will talk about creating both a "basic" layout pattern, as well as a "half drop" pattern using Textile Designer, as well how to recolor your images quickly and easily. Make sure you have the plugin installed and that your version of Photoshop is updated if you'd like to follow along! 

Download the Textile Designer plugin here  - They offer affordable options for monthly subscriptions if you'd like to try it out first. Aquario has generously offered my blog readers an awesome 25% discount off on their annual subscriptions!

So make sure to use code: "BLACKFRIDAY25OFF"  to snag your discount if you choose to subscribe for the year!

Also, make sure you are signed up for my email list if you are not already so you can get a heads-up when new blogs are posted!


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