In Photoshop

Do you want to change the background of the image but cannot accurately outline the object’s outline? This is why you need to use the Photoshop Refine Edge tool. This method will help you choose accurately, even on the most complex edges.

What is the Photoshop Refine Edge tool?

No matter how simple the background is, the automatic selection tool in Photoshop rarely achieves all functions perfectly. This is especially true for fine details such as hair, blemishes, fur, branches, feathers, or anything with similar edge complexity.

The “Refine Edge” tool is a brush that can fix this problem. It can select areas that are difficult to select and can effectively cover the background. All you have to do is paint with it, allowing you to make complex choices and complete the whitening of teeth in a few seconds.

When you manually blend exposures (especially those with hard edges), the “Refine edges” effect in Photoshop is also perfect. It can differentiate subtle, professional images from obvious “Photoshopped” images.

In Photoshop CC, you can find the “Refine Edge” tool in the “Select and Mask” area. In PS 6, it can be found in the top toolbar of any selection tool.

How to Use Refine Edge Tool in Photoshop CC

If you want to learn how to Refine edges in Photoshop, it is best to choose a simple image. Images with a uniform background are great for practicing with the “Refine Edge” tool.

Stay away from the busy picture in the background until you master it.

I will use this photo to Photoshop the smooth edges of the girl and remove the background.

Step-1: Duplicate Layer

Open Photoshop and upload photos of your choice.

For today’s tutorial, I chose a photo of the hair contour in question. It is the most common situation where the instrument can come in handy. I will show you how to separate the girl from the background while preserving all the details on the hairstyle’s edges.

Use Refine Edge Tool

First, right-click on the background layer. In the pop-up menu that appears, navigate to “Duplicate Layer.” If you want to save time using Photoshop keyboard shortcuts, you can also use the Ctrl + J / Cmd + J key combination. This will ensure that all changes are non-destructive and can be undone.

Step-2: Make a Selection

Grab the quick selection tool (W). It should be the fourth option from top to bottom. You can also use other tools, but I found this to be the fastest and most effective tool in this case.

Next, you need to make a selection. Click and drag your theme. It doesn’t have to be perfect; make sure to include all the larger areas.

photoshop refine edge tool

Step-3: Open the Select and Mask

After that, look at the top of the screen and find the “Select and Mask” button. Click it, which will bring up the workspace.

Open the Select

Step-4: Choose a View Mode

The next step in this Refine Edge Tool Photoshop tutorial is to choose a convenient viewing mode based on the color of the photo you are using. For light-colored objects, please use a black background (on black) because it can better show all the object’s details. For dark objects, use a white background (on white).

I prefer to use the “Overlay” mode. Try different options to find out which photo suits you best.

photoshop refine edge tool

Step-5: Grab the Refine Edge Brush Tool

Finally, you will see the Refine Edge Brush Tool and some other tools on the left.

Grab the Refine Edge Brush

Step-6: Enter the Settings

Before using the tool, we need to modify the properties using the tabs on the left.

Radius: For sharp contours, use a smaller value; for soft shapes, use a more considerable value. If you want the program to automatically adapt the radius to the subject’s contour, activate “Smart Radius.”

The “Smooth” option is excellent for smoothing contours without rounding the corners. I will only use this adjustment slider.

Feathers soften the outline, which is why it is usually used for collage.

The contrast will enhance contours.

Shifting the edge moves the edge away from the object to capture more background, and vice versa, to completely remove the background. Moving inward slightly can help with translucent objects such as hair or leaves.

Experiment with the settings and find out the best setting for your image.

Enter the Settings

Step-7: Fine-Tune the Selection

Start traversing the outline with the brush to fine-tune it. To ensure that the operation is as precise as possible, use the brush menu to adjust its size. Personally, I always start with a large brush and then move to a smaller size as my selection becomes thinner.

You can quickly switch to the eraser by holding down the Alt / Opt key. It will help when you have erased the hair details you need. Since the girl in my photo is placed against a contrasting background, I will also check the “Decontamination color” checkbox and increase it to the maximum. This option helps to process the ribbon.

After the mask is completed, click “OK.”

Fine tune selection

Step-8: Output the selection

After completing the selection, you can now finish editing.

In the “Properties” tab, select “Output to”, and then select one of the output options in the drop-down menu. If you choose “New layer with layer mask“, you can continue to edit the selection and keep the original picture as the background layer.

Click “OK”. The “Properties” tab will close and Photoshop will take you back to the regular workspace. You will see that the selection is now isolated and surrounded by the chessboard background. This indicates that the surrounding area is transparent.

Output the Selection

Step-9: Add New Background

Finally, you have isolated the subject, and now you can add a new background-use, the “Optimize Edge Tool,” to focus! You can choose several methods according to your background. You can add new pictures, solid color backgrounds, gradients, or patterns.

Since the common choice is a solid color background, I will show you how to add one:

Select “Layer” from the top menu, and then select “New Fill Layer>>Pure Color.” Or, click the “Fill and Adjustment Layer” button at the bottom of the “Layers” panel.

Add new Background

Click “OK” in the dialog box that appears, and then select a color from the color picker. Select “OK” again.

Add new Background

Move the solid color background layer below the layer with the selection.

Add new Background

You should now see choices in the new Background.

Step-10: Done! Save the Results

The problem is solved! This is how to use the Photoshop Refine Edge tool to isolate even objects with complex hairstyles from an image.

Save the Results


That’s it! You have learned how to use the “Refine  Edge Tool or Select and Mask,” and now you should know how to separate a selection from an image. Like other Photoshop tools, you can use the “Refine  Edge Tool or Select and Mask.”

When using this tool, it may be wise to start with a solid background. This way, you will be able to fine-tune your selection more easily.

Also, keep in mind that although the “Refine Edge Tool or Select and Mask” (and other edge selection tools) is quite advanced, it cannot make absolutely perfect choices. This means that you may have to enlarge the picture to make other adjustments (i.e., add or remove selections).

Remember, to zoom, press “Z” on the keyboard to select the “Zoom Tool” and click on the area you want to work on. You may be aware of this, but you can see individual pixels close enough.

Don’t forget to try a variety of different themes, including trees and colorful or busy backgrounds.

Therefore, don’t sound like breaking records; just keep practicing! When editing images, you can quickly make selections and improve work efficiency. You will spend less time editing and more time doing what we all like: taking pictures.

Share with us your results in the comments!

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