How to Use Photoshop Frames

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

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 in CC 2019 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.

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 will still work, of course, but the Frame tool gets the job done a little bit faster.

How to Make a Frame Using the Frame Tool

  1. Select the Frame tool in the toolbar on the left of the screen, or press the K key.

  2. Choose a rectangular or elliptical frame from the tools options at the top. By default, the rectangular option will be selected.

  3. Drag the frame across the canvas to set the size of the inserted image.

  4. Use the Properties pane to select the image you want to place in the frame found under the Inset Image section. You can choose to insert an image from your computer, either as an Embedded file or Linked file. You can also search for an image from the Adobe Stock database.

    If the linked image is moved or deleted from your computer, the link will break and the file will no longer be 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 will always be connected to the file.

  5. Adjust the border around the frame with the Stroke section of the Properties pane.

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. Select the Shape tool in the toolbar or press the U key.

    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, then use the Custom Shape tool to draw that shape on top of your selection exactly.

  2. Create a shape with no border and no fill in the place you want the contents of the frame to appear.

  3. Select Layer > New > Convert to Frame from the menu bar.

  4. Give the frame a name or select OK to confirm the default.

  5. Select the Inset Image drop-down menu and choose the source of the file. If Place from local disk - Embedded is already selected, you can select it again to embed a different image. You can also link an image or choose one from Adobe Stock.

  6. Select Ok in the file picker dialogue to place the image.

  7. Move or resize the image as necessary to complete the effect. By default, the image will be scaled to fit the frame. 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 ways, separately from what we've already covered.

  • Drag/Drop asset: Drag an asset from Adobe Stock or 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 will place the dragged image within 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, then select an image using the file picker. The selected image will be placed within the frame, automatically scaled to fit the confines of the box.
  • Drag Pixel Layer: Drag a pixel layer into an empty frame. The layer will be converted to a Smart Object and placed within the frame.

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