How to Use the Refine Edge Tool in Photoshop

Fine-Tune Your Selections with This Built-In Tool

The Refine Edge Tool in Photoshop

Ian Pullen

The Refine Edge tool in Adobe Photoshop is a powerful feature that lets you fine-tune selections, a task particularly helpful when dealing with complex edges. The Refine Edge tool is available from both the Photoshop menu bar and the right-click context menu.

The various controls in the Refine Edge tool, like Edge Detection and Adjust Edge, make creating natural selections much easier than doing it manually. The results might not always be perfect, but you can always edit your resulting layer mask if you want to perfect the selection later.

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Make a Selection

Make a Selection

Ian Pullen

The very first step is to make a selection. It doesn't matter how you go about this, so long as the end result is some sort of selection.

For example, from the Select menu, you can find Select All to select everything on the canvas, or use one of the tools ("L" keyboard shortcut) from the Tools menu to refine the edge for one specific part of the image.

Two other options are the Quick Selection Tool and Magic Wand Tool ("W" on the keyboard).

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Open the Refine Edge Options Window

Once the selection is active (you see the "marching ants" around the selection), open the Refine Edge window by right-clicking the selection and choosing Refine Edge.

In some instances, depending on the tool you used to make the selection, you might not see the Refine Edge option via the right-click context menu. In those cases, you can find it in the Select menu.

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Choose a View Mode

Choose a View Mode

Ian Pullen

By default, Refine Edge places your selection against a white background, but there are several other options you can choose from that might be easier for you to work with, depending on your subject.

Click the down arrow next to View to see all your options:

  • Marching Ants shows the standard selection animation with the image still visible.
  • Overlay shows the selection as a Quick Mask with a red background around the selection.
  • On Black and On White makes the background around the selection black or white.
  • Black & White makes the selection white and the background black.
  • On Layers lets you view the layer as masked by the selection.
  • Reveal Layer shows the entire layer without any masking.

If you're working on a subject that's originally on a plain white background, choosing a mode like On Black can make refining your selection easier.

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Set Edge Detection

Set Edge Detection

Ian Pullen

The Smart Radius checkbox can quite dramatically affect how the edge appears. With this selected, this tool adapts how it works based on the edges of the image.

As you increase the value of the Radius slider, the edge of the selection becomes softer and more natural. This control has the greatest influence on how your final selection will look, though it can be further adjusted using the next group of controls.

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Adjust the Edge

Adjust the Edge

Ian Pullen

You can experiment with these four sliders in the Adjust Edge group to get the best result.

  • The Smooth slider smooths out any jagged edges. It's best to keep this setting low, especially if increasing it takes away too much of the selection.
  • The Feather setting should also be kept low in most cases. It helps to blend the selection more naturally into its eventual background.
  • The Contrast slider adds more definition to your edge, creating an almost opposite effect to Feature. Push it too high and it might produce a harsh edge.
  • The Shift Edge slider is set to 0 by default. When moved left into a negative value, the selection becomes smaller, showing more of the background. When moved right into a positive value, the selection grows outward and encapsulates more of the original image.
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Output Your Refined Selection

Output Your Refined Selection

Ian Pullen

If your subject is against a contrasting color background, the Decontaminate Colors checkbox reveals a slider setting that lets you remove some of the resulting color fringe. 

The Output To drop-down menu gives several options for how to use your refined edge. You can use New Layer with Layer Mask to enable edits later on if the edge isn't exactly as you want it. You can also pick New Document or New Layer.