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

These instructions apply to Adobe Photoshop CS5 and later. Some menu items and commands may be different between versions.

How to Use the Refine Edge Tool

The Refine Edge tool is available from both the Photoshop menu bar and the right-click context menu.

  1. Make a selection in your file in Photoshop. You can use a Marquee, the Magic Wand, or the Lasso Tool.

    An image open in Photoshop with its subject selected
  2. 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.

    A selection in Photoshop with the right-click menu open. Refine Edge is highlighted
  3. 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.

    The Refine Edge window in Photoshop with the View button highlighted
  4. The Smart Radius checkbox can dramatically affect how the edge appears. With this selected, the 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, you can further adjust it using the next group of controls.

    Adjust the slider with Smart Radius off and on to see which option gives you better results.

    Refine Edge window in Photoshop with the Smart Radius section highlighted
  5. Experiment with the four sliders in the Adjust Edge group to further adjust your results.

    • 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 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 you move it left to a negative value, the selection becomes smaller, showing more of the background. When it has a positive value, the selection grows outward and encapsulates more of the original image.
    Refine Edge window in Photoshop with the Adjust Edge sliders highlighted
  6. 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 fringes.

    Refine Edge tool in Photoshop with the Decontaminate Colors check and slider highlighted
  7. The Output To drop-down menu gives several options for how to use your refined edge. 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 a New Document or New Layer for more permanent options.

    Refine Edge tool in Photoshop with Output options highlighted
  8. Click Okay in the lower-right corner to save your changes and output your selection.