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Retouching dresses on mannequins

Let's retouch some dresses. The reason why I reserved a special section for this particular kind of garments is that they usually require a bit more effort when combining images than your regular t-shirts and sweaters.

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There are some long clothes like dresses, that require more work than your regular items. In some cases, when photographers and assistants do a nice job, it's not so hard. On this image, the assistant is holding a transparent mannequin so that the dress bottom is hanging in the air. It's easy to isolate when it's hanging like this. I'll just cut the hands and the neck off, crop the image, rotate the dress a bit to straighten it and select the background with the Magic Wand. I have cut out the backside already to save you some time. I'll run the action on the front image to insert it. I'll transform it to make it fit, erase the unnecessary parts and Liquify the top of the backside so that it doesn't look curved. It has to be straight. There's also a crease on the neck, which can be easily removed with the Clone Stamp. Apart from that, there's nothing to do here, and the image can be resized and aligned.

This dress requires backside insertion as well as the bottom part. You can't finish an image like this one in a couple of minutes. But leaving it with the mannequin legs seeing from under the skirt is not an option. The last time I did a time test on an image like this, it took me 7 minutes from start to finish. It's hardly possible to do it much faster than that. There are things I have to do here: Liquify the bottom part, cut out the backside, isolate the neckline of the front part, insert the backside and make it fit. Then insert the bottom part and make it fit. Then isolate the whole thing flattened, and finally remove the wrinkles with the Brush in Lighten mode. I will do it without much explanation because the methods I'm using are already known to you. I'm only doing it as another example of dress retouching.

The fact that sometimes you can't get a mannequin image done in under 5 minutes makes this kind of e-commerce imagery one of the most boring. I don't know a single retoucher who would prefer mannequin images to model images. Fortunately, not all the online stores use the invisible mannequin images, so with some luck, you won't really be overloaded with them. You can now finish watching me retouch the dress, or just switch to the next section of the course. Personally, I like to watch retouching videos with no comments, as cats like to watch washing machines washing or microwaves microwaving. It's a mesmerizing process. Especially if the retoucher doesn't waste time on rummaging around the menus and uses shortcuts proficiently.


That's why catalogue retouchers dislike summer season. Winter means dark bulky clothes, easy to isolate and retouch. Summer means long transparent dresses, thin materials and lots of tedious work for us. When a dress is long and transparent, you'll most probably be able to see mannequin legs through it. That's bad. To avoid the legs ending up in the final image, in most studios photographers make additional shots of the bottom part, just like in the video you've just watched. It's very important that they shoot not just a piece of the hem, as it would be nigh impossible to fit if the material is thin and flexible. It's more reasonable to shoot the whole thing, right from the waist. It would be much easier to combine the two images.

There are other ways how to avoid legs seeing through the thin materials, especially when the background is brightly lit. First of all, you can just reduce the power of the lamps that shine on the background to make it bright white. The difference between the legs and the background seeing through will be less noticeable.

This dress can be isolated without any need for additional shots

Then, if it's too bothersome to twiddle with the lamps controls each time, you just use a huge piece of white cardboard and put it behind the dress hem, just like on the image above.

It doesn't look as good as the previous example

However, if assistants are careless, they might only make things worse. The piece of paper rolled up and it doesn't cover the whole hem of the dress. In this case, I would ask for an additional shot of the hem or just reject the whole item.

However, if the dress is not made of a very light material, you can use just a piece of the hem. Let's now retouch another dress where it's not just the hem that needs alteration, but the sleeves as well.

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As you see, the dress was shot on a mannequin, and you can see the mannequin seeing through it. It's nearly impossible to isolate it even with the "Blend if" trick. But it's okay. The photographer was nice enough to offer this image as a helping hand. I'll have to insert this piece in the previous image and make it fit the bottom and the sleeve ends. That I'll do, not even bothering to isolate either image. We'll get to it later and isolate the resulting image, as I don't want to do the isolation twice.

The process is not very hard. One piece goes to the bottom. When it fits, I'll cut another piece from the same bottom and use it as the sleeve end. Repeat the transformation, make sure it looks more or less okay, and then use the same piece, just flipped, for the other sleeve end. The dress is so black it's hard to see if the pieces stand out or not. I'll merge the three layers into one, and then flatten the whole image to check how they match. I'll use the Levels and pull the rightmost slider to the left until I get to see the border between the layers. It is quite decent actually, especially the bottom. Now that I know everything, I'll go back in history to the step before flattening and use a soft eraser to work around the border for a better match. Then I'll also spot heal some weird areas where I can see the mannequin from under the dress, as I'm not sure if it's supposed to have bald spots like this. Finally, I can get to the isolation.

I'll crop the image to get rid of the background I don't want to deal with and erase a few of the long strands in the bottom, that seem out of place. Now let's do the blend-if isolation. I'll copy the background layer to another layer, and fill the background layer with black. Then I'll click on the top layer in the layer panel twice to bring the Blending Options window. There I'll grab the rightmost slider in the top row and drag it to the left until the background disappears, watching for a white halo around the dress. To make the transition smooth, I'll pull the white slider apart by holding Alt, clicking on it and dragging. When I'm satisfied with the result, I'll fill the background with white and flatten the image. If there's any damage done to the dress, it can be undone with the History brush. After that, all that's left is just resizing and aligning.


Long dresses are time-consuming, so every spring me and my team have been awaiting the arrival of prom dresses, awaiting in horror. Those are usually so long they have to be shot in pieces, and all the combination and fitting work are just insane. Only wedding dresses are worse than that: they are not just long, but white, and white is always troublesome. Fortunately, the stores I worked for had nothing to do with the wedding business.

You can download the images for practice purposes from the gallery above. Each thumbnail is linked to the respective hi-res image, just click on the thumbnails you need to open them in a separate window. You can right-click and "Save link as…" to download images without having to open them first.

Next: Transparency problem


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