How to Use Photoshop Frames

Take your editing to the next level with Adobe's frame tool

Frames in Photoshop CC are specialized masks used for holding other images. Frames can be drawn or created from shapes. Once you know how to make a frame in Photoshop, it can hold an image from your local hard drive or an Adobe Stock search.

Person holding a photo of a mountain on the Great Wall of China (framed by a white border) in front of the actual Great Wall.


Getty Images / Yifan Li / EyeEm

Photoshop Frames vs. Smart Objects

Photoshop pros may know the same thing can be accomplished with layer masks and Smart Objects. Frames accomplish essentially the same goal but with a slightly more flexible system. For example, images in Frames can be moved around and transformed within the frame by default. Frames also make changing images and setting placeholders easier. Layer masks still work, of course, but the Frame tool gets the job done a little faster.

How to Make a Frame Using the Frame Tool

  1. Open a new or existing Photoshop file. Select the Frame tool in the toolbar on the left of the screen or press the K key.

    Photoshop with the Frame tool highlighted
  2. Choose a rectangular or elliptical frame from the tools options at the top. By default, the rectangular option is selected.

    Photoshop Frame tool showing the elliptical option selected
  3. Drag the frame across the canvas to set the size of the inserted image.

    A frame drawn on a Photoshop canvas
  4. In the Properties pane, use the menu under Inset Image to select the image you want to place in the frame. You can choose to insert an image from your computer, either as an embedded file or linked file. and search for an image in the Adobe Stock database.

    You can also drag and drop an image from your computer to the frame.

    The Properties panel in Photoshop showing the Inset Image options

    If a linked image is moved or deleted from your computer, the link breaks and the file is no longer accessible. When you insert an embedded image, Photoshop saves a copy of the image within the document holding the image. This increases the file size but ensures the embedded image is always connected to the file.

  5. To resize or reposition the image in the frame, double-click the image on the canvas (or select the thumbnail of the image, not the frame, in the Layers panel). Choose the Move tool and use the handles on the image to adjust the image.

    Photoshop canvas with Move tool chosen and image handles displayed
  6. To apply a border to the image, select the Stroke section of the Properties pane. Choose a color, thickness and position for the stroke.

    Stroke section of the Properties panel in Photoshop
  7. Click off the object to see the result.

    Final Photoshop image showing frame

How to Create Photoshop Frames From Shapes

Frames can also be created in the shape of any selection you can make with the shape tools.

  1. With a Photoshop file open, Select the Shape tool in the toolbar or press the U key.

    The Shape tool highlighted in the Photoshop toolbar

    Frames cannot be applied to normal selections or to paths. If you want to convert a selection or a path to a shape layer, right-click the selection or path, select Define Custom Shape and then use the Custom Shape tool to draw that shape on top of your selection exactly.

  2. Set the fill and stroke to none. Then draw a shape using any of the Shape options in the place you want the contents of the frame to appear.

    Shape tools menu
  3. Position or resize the shape by dragging on it until it is the size and place you want.

    An arrow shape drawn in Photoshop
  4. Select the layer containing the shape in the Layer pane and choose Convert to Frame from the Layer menu.

    The Layer menu with Convert to Frame selected
  5. Give the frame a name or select OK to confirm the default.

  6. Drag and drop an image onto the frame or use Inset Image in the Properties pane to locate the image.

    An image dropped onto a Photoshop frame
  7. Move or resize the image as necessary to complete the effect. By default, the image is scaled to fit the frame.

    Photoshop frame with iimage in place

    The image is inserted as a Smart Object, and it can be scaled non-destructively with the Free Transform tool.

Other Ways to Insert Images Into Frames

You can add images to a Frame in a few additional ways.

  • Drag/Drop asset: Drag an asset from Adobe Stock or the Libraries pane to the frame within the Canvas. By default, Photoshop places a dragged image as an embedded Smart Object. To place the image as a linked Smart Object, hold down the Option/Alt key while dragging.
  • Drag/Drop from Computer: Drag an image from your computer's local storage onto the workspace with the frame selected. This places the dragged image in the frame as an embedded Smart Object. To insert the dragged image as a linked Smart Object, hold down Option/Alt while dragging.
  • Using File > Place: With a frame chosen, select File > Place Linked or File > Place Embedded and then select an image using the file picker. The selected image is placed within the frame and automatically scaled to fit the confines of the box.
  • Drag Pixel Layer: Drag a pixel layer into an empty frame. The layer is converted to a Smart Object and placed in the frame.

Frames can also be left empty as placeholders. Create a frame over an empty layer, and the frame remains empty. Content can be added to the frame using any of the methods above when the asset is chosen and approved.