The invisible mannequin or ghost mannequin is not just a name, it’s actually the essence of the process. To make it invisible you have to cut it out from the image. You know how to isolate things already, and it’s really not hard in most of the mannequin cases. The most convenient tool for this job is the Pen Tool because the edges are most often smooth and curved. Just what we need to work with a pen.
There are, of course, clothes made of or decorated with fur, laces, feathers, and these cases require more advanced isolation techniques. But most of the clothes that people wear are easy to isolate. Did you know that product image retouchers love winter and hate summer? The reason is that autumn and winter clothes are mostly dark, thick, not transparent and easy to isolate, and summer clothes are a pain in comparison. That’s when people wear all the light transparent clothes, sandals with laces and other things that are much harder to isolate and retouch.
In some cases, isolation might be very tricky and difficult. To make it easier for retouchers, photographers should take pictures with skill and understanding. They can make additional shots, where the tricky garments will be just hanging in the air with edges easily detectable. If photographers don’t do it, well, you will have a lot of fun isolating white fur from white mannequins.
And don’t forget that the mannequin should be removed from under the garments as well. It happens a lot with thin and especially see-through materials. You can see the seams of the mannequin, and they have to be removed from the image as well as the mannequin itself. Healing brush will be helpful in most cases.
Let’s now have some practice and start with something easy. Like a skirt. Most of the time skirts don’t have to be combined from multiple images, all you have to do is just remove the mannequin. In the most simple cases like this one, you can use the Quick Selection tool to select the skirt or the background around it, and then just fill it with white.
But it doesn’t happen very often that you can really use the Quick Selection tool. If the garment is not dark or simple shaped, or it drops a shadow, you won’t be able to use it efficiently. Personally, I prefer not to use the Quick Selection tool unless I’m sure it will work. Trying to make it select something with a fuzzy edge or not very contrasted with the mannequin is not just a pain, it’s a waste of time. If you work with mannequins often, you probably know already that the Pen tool is the tool of choice.
I’ll cut the legs of the mannequin out, make the selection and add the rest of the background to it by clicking on it with the Magic Wand. But in this case it’s not enough. There’s also a part of the mannequin in the neckline. First I’ll select this white area with the Magic Wand. Then I’ll expand the selection by 2 pixels to prevent a seam from appearing in the place where I’m going to use the Clone Stamp tool. And then use the material from above on the white area, painting with the Clone Stamp all over it. If there are any signs of stamping like a pattern repeating itself, I’ll fix it with a bit of spot healing. That’s it.
One last time with the basic isolation. You use the pen tool to make a path between the garment and the mannequin. You can’t really cut too deep inside the garment, as it’s a bad retouching habit that makes clothes look miserable, so keep it close to the edge, just a couple of pixels inside. When you work with white clothes, you might encounter a dark rim at the edge after you’ve filled the background with white. You can either erase or better, use the Brush in Lighten mode and paint over the dark stripes with a color sample from a nearby area. In Lighten mode, it will not affect any of the areas that are already lighter than the sample. An eraser job would take longer than that. And of course, it would be better if you can avoid these dark streaks at all, which you can do by cutting a bit deeper into the garment with the Pen tool.
There’s nothing special with mannequin isolation after you’ve learned how to isolate fur and other things like that. With mannequins being the most time-consuming kind of images, isolation should not be a problem. Most studios shoot them on a white background, and it helps. There should be a set of rules for photographers on how to shoot and how to dress them properly. Only a correctly shot mannequin can be isolated and retouched easily. But what makes mannequins special from any other kinds of images, is that most of the time you have to not just isolate, but combine two images in one.