How to Use the Refine Edge Tool In Photoshop

Photoshop has many selection tools, and all of them have unique features that help make the process of selection fast and straightforward. However, when it comes to selecting complex subjects such as fringes, hair, fur, etc., and busy backgrounds, achieving finesse is hardly a one-step process. The Refine Edge tool in Photoshop makes that job quicker and slightly less complex than it would have been without it. In this blog, we take you through the steps of learning how to use the Refine Edge tool to make complex selections in Photoshop.

What is the Refine Edge Brush Tool?

Infographic stating learn to use the refine edge tool in Photoshop

Refine Edge Tool is a selection tool in Adobe Photoshop that allows you to make an accurate selection when working with subjects and backgrounds with complex edges. With this tool, you can easily select edges and shapes and get creative by adding new backgrounds for these subjects. To get started, try practicing on a solid color or a uniform background.

How to Use the Refine Edge Tool In Photoshop

  • Step 1: Add a Duplicate Layer
  • Step 2: Make Selection
  • Step 3: Open & Use Refine Edge Tool
  • Step 4: Select a View Mode
  • Step 5: Adjust Edges
  • Step 6: Output the Selection
  • Step 7: Add a New Background

Below are a set of detailed steps that will help you better understand how to use this tool in Photoshop to make a better selection of complicated subjects.

1. Add a Duplicate Layer

Before starting with the selection process, make sure to add a duplicate layer. This way, any changes you make are not done on the original file. Thus, giving you a backup to start over if anything goes wrong. To create a duplicate layer, right-click on the Background Layer. Click on the Duplicate Layer option in the menu that appears after you click on the Background Layer. After this action, a dialog box will show up. Just click on OK to add a duplicate layer.

Suggested Read: How To Merge Layers In Photoshop

2. Make Selection

In this step, we want to roughly select the subject using any of the selection tools. Here, we are going to use the Quick Selection Tool. This tool is located on the left-side panel and can also be accessed by pressing W (shortcut key). To make the selection, just click and drag over the area around your subject that you want to select. If you wish to add an area to your selection, simply drag over that portion. If you want to deselect a particular area, hold the ALT key and move the cursor over the area you want to deselect.

3. Open & Use Refine Edge Tool

Open select and mask in Photoshop
Image Courtesy of @vanburenphotography

Due to the recent updates in Photoshop, accessing Refine Edge in Photoshop takes a few more steps as it was replaced with the Select and Mask tool. To access this tool go to Menu and then go to Select, press Shift and hold and then click on the Select and Mask tool button. This will open up the Refine Edge dialog box.

In the older versions, you can simply go to the Refine Edge button at the top (just below the menu), or you can go to Select and then click on the Refine Edge option. Another way of accessing the tool is by pressing the keys – CTRL + ALT + R (it is the shortcut for Refine Edge). After you have selected the Refine Edge Tool, a layer mask will appear over the image, and the selected area will appear clear.

4. Select a View Mode

In the Refine Edge dialog box, after clicking on View under View Mode box, a drop-down menu will appear with different types of viewing options – Marching Ants (M), Overlay (V), On Black (A), On White (T), Black and White (K), On Layers (Y), and Reveal Layer (R). You can select whichever option works best for you.

5. Adjust Edges

Refining selection in Photoshop
Image Courtesy of @vanburenphotography

Adjusting edges is the next step in the process of using the Refine Edge Tool in Photoshop. Click on the Brush tool symbol and select Refine Radius Tool. Then, start by adjusting the Radius slider in the Edge Detection box. With Radius, you can adjust the size of the selection border where the refinement will take place. For sharp edges, keep the Radius small (slider towards the left), and for softer edges, you can expand the Radius by moving the slider towards the right side. Another easy way to get it right is to check on the Smart Radius box and then paint over the edges you want to refine.

Next, under the Adjust Edge section, you will find several adjustment sliders – Smooth, Feather, Contrast, and Shift Edge. The Smooth slider is used to smooth out the rough edges of your subject (if need be). Moving forward, use the Feather slider if you want to soften the transition between the selection and the background. This can help your edges look more photo-realistic. Up next is Contrast, with which you can add more definition to your edges. In the end, the Shift Edge can be used to contract or expand the selection boundary. Different images have different requirements, so adjust the sliders as needed. Note that all the sliders are set to 0 by default.

6. Output the Selection

In the Output Settings box, you will find a box for Decontaminate Colors. Check this box if you wish to remove the color spill from the boundary of the edges. This helps in making the edges appear even-toned when placed against a contrasting solid color background. Then, move on to the Output To option and click on the options – a drop-down menu will appear showing – Selection, Layer Mask, New Layer, New Layer With Mask, New Document, and New Document With Layer Mask. Choose one of the output options and hit OK. If you wish to continue editing the selection, you can choose New Layer With Layer Mask.

7. Add a New Background

Infographic stating add a new background to create interest in your image

After you press OK, you have separated the subject from the previous background. The selection will appear separated with a checkerboard background that indicates that the background is transparent at the moment. And now, you can add a new background. To do this, go to the top menu and select Layer, then select New Fill Layer and choose Solid Color (to get a solid color background, you can also select Gradient and Pattern). A dialog box will appear, and you can select a color from the drop-down menu listed under Color. After this, press OK. Now, to see the selection area with the new background, move the selection layer above the new background layer.

Further Read: How To Easily Create Vignette In Photoshop

Now that you know how to use the Refine Edge tool in Photoshop keep experimenting with different backgrounds and more complex subjects (such as trees, hair) to get it right. For some subjects, the selection will be easy, and for busier backgrounds, it might take a little more time. The process of using this tool may remain the same, but the intensity of changes can differ since different images have different requirements, and no particular setting is ‘one size fits all’ in this feature. Remember, like any other Photoshop tool, Refine Edge Tool also takes practice to master, so keep at it. If you found this guide helpful, check out our other Photoshop and Lightroom tutorials. And if you have any questions, drop them in the comments section below, and we will get back to you.

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