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The awful ghost mannequins and why retouchers hate them

I've been seeing lots of ads and blog posts promoting the ghost mannequin technology lately. Who benefits from that? Mannequin manufacturers and sellers. It's their bread and butter. But there are things they "forget" to mention about these “invisible” mannequins because if their potential clients knew, they would think twice before buying or even using these plastic monstrosities.

As a person who has been working in digital image editing for years, I am very well familiar with the ghost mannequin problem. Retouchers usually hate dealing with mannequin images, and for a reason. Now let me tell you exactly what you are going to face if the company you work for decides to use mannequins to represent their goods on-site.

Mannequins do not dress themselves. You need an assistant or better two to dress them, and it's not an easy task. Clothes should be put on a mannequin very carefully, in a neat and tidy way. Otherwise, the result will look messy even with all the retouching.

With no person in the frame, clothes tend to look more creased and messy than they really are. When you shoot clothes on models, they look decent even when they are not very neat and symmetrical. But what looks good on a model suddenly becomes more wrinkled when hanging in mid-air, contrasted against a white background. Same with the symmetry – it also becomes a problem on both the shooting and the retouching stages. That's why ghost mannequin images are so tricky to retouch.

The neck joint is a pain. Neck joint or backside insertion (when you combine two images or more images into one for a ghost mannequin effect) is not an easy retouching task. First of all, you have to do it manually, and it's not a very fast process.

Modular mannequins are not as helpful as they might look at first glance. Companies that sell them don't mention this, but when you shoot semi-transparent or transparent clothes or clothes made of very light materials, they look horrible because you can see all the seams through.

Necklines tend to fall in the mannequin neck opening and it doesn't look nice at all. Transparent mannequins don't work well either because they are not invisible. All the scratches on the plastic surface will be visible under transparent clothes.

Reshooting rate is always high. In e-commerce stores where photography and retouching are different stations, reshooting rate with ghost mannequins is always going to be higher than with any other kinds of imagery. Because photographers can hardly imagine how a particular image will be processed, when an additional shot of a backside, a hem would be required. Or when the garment is way too crooked to be published on the website even with all the retouching.

You can get a perfect image or you can get a wrinkled mess of a garment, it all depends on how you dress the mannequin. When I was the head of a retouching department in a huge (200k SKUs per season) online store, the mannequin shooting guide I made for the photographers and retouchers was about 50 pages long, as there are tons of nuances to know before you can shoot and retouch properly.

Retouching speed is always low. You can automate pretty much everything in e-commerce product image editing (white background, resizing, alignment etc), but mannequins are always slow and full of surprises. And there are no free tutorials that show how to do it correctly and fast. All I've seen on Youtube is how to waste 20 minutes on a mannequin that can be retouched in 2 minutes if you know exactly how. So most retouchers I've ever hired had to be educated before they could work with mannequin images. And still: model image processing time was two-three times faster than mannequins. 200 mannequin images per working day vs 500-600 model images. That makes a huge difference.

Mannequins need maintenance. Especially the modular ones. The magnets that hold them together are pretty strong, and they tend to pinch clothes when you try to attach hands, which is also not good. They look nice when they are new, but with time they get dirty, the seams become darker and looser, and after 2-3 years of constant use they need either a new coat of paint or total replacement depending on how good the manufacturer was.

Kids mannequins are a nightmare! Clothes never fit well, because there are just a few mannequin sizes and much more clothes sizes. The company I worked for switched to flat lays very soon after wasting a tidy sum on a full set of plastic kids. When you need to shoot kids clothes, you have flat lay imagery for that. Don't need to make them look awful on mannequins.

Hope it helps to see the full picture. And if you ever want to learn how to retouch mannequin images properly, there's a whole section of the course dedicated to this problem. If you have a choice whether to deal with them or not, the right answer would be "No way!". But when in retouching for the online stores, we don't always have a choice, and we can't really be picky. When shot properly, ghost mannequin images can be bearable and even profitable.

Retouch mindfully.

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Anastasia ErokhinaPhotoshop Shadow Effect Recent comment authors
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Hello
Great Tips as always. A quick browse of my past blog posts. and i can see numerous example where i should have implemented this steps you describe .i am getting better ,But still room for improvement .
I’m going to share to this ghost mannequin topic right now……………

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