Tweak Selection Edges with Photoshop Refine Edge Feature

The improved Refine Edge feature in Adobe Photoshop CS5 lets you preview what your changes look like as you make them. It’s available on the Options bar across the top of the Photoshop window whenever a selection tool is active.

To use the Refine Edge feature, follow these steps:

  1. Make a selection.

  2. With any selection tool active, click the Refine Edge button on the Options bar at the top of the Photoshop window.

    The Refine Edge dialog box appears.

    Tweak the edges of a selection with the Refine Edge dialog box.
    Tweak the edges of a selection with the Refine Edge dialog box.

Choose preview method

Choose a preview method by selecting the View drop-down menu at the top of the Refine Edge dialog box. On White is the default. It shows your selection as it would appear on a white background. Don’t worry! The rest of your image hasn’t been removed; this preview helps you better see the effects of this feature.

Adjust with Edge Detection

The Edge Detection section offers you the opportunity to make refinements to the selection edge.

Use Refine Radius

To further improve the selection, click the Refine Radius tool. By pressing either the right (]) or left bracket ([) key, you can increase or decrease the size of the Refine Radius tool and edit your edge selection, by painting the edge of it.

If your results are a little too drastic, hold down the Alt or Option key while painting over the area with the Refine Radius tool again. This is especially helpful for creating selections of hair or fur.

Use the Refine Radius tool to make difficult selections easier to create.
Use the Refine Radius tool to make difficult selections easier to create.

Adjust Edge to refine

Additional refinements can be found in the Adjust Edge section of the Refine Edge dialog box:

  • Smooth: Reduces irregular areas in the selection boundary.

  • Feather: Creates a soft-edged transition between the selection and its surrounding pixels.

  • Contrast: Sharpens selection edges and removes fuzzy artifacts.

  • Shift Edge: Contracts or expands to shrink or enlarge the selection boundary.

Color Decontamination

Color decontamination can create unwanted artifacts, and when this option is checked, the output option is set to create a new layer, which helps to avoid overwriting the original color pixels.

Output

New in Photoshop CS5 is the option to choose how you want selections implemented: only selection edges, a new layer, or a layer mask, for example. Here are your output options on the Output To drop-down menu:

  • Selection: The typical selection of a dashed selection, referred to as marching ants.

  • Layer Mask: Creates a mask on the active layer.

  • New Layer: Duplicates the active layer and applies the refined selection to the transparency of the layer.

  • New Layer with Mask: Duplicates the active layer and uses the refined selection or mask as the layer mask.

  • New Document: The same as the New Layer option but creates the new layer in a new document.

  • New Document with Mask: The same as the New Layer with Mask option but creates the new layer in a new document.

To play it safe, select Layer Mask from the Output To drop-down menu. This option lets you edit the layer mask, using the painting tools as you did with the Quick Mask tool, or turn off the mask (by Shift-clicking the mask in the Layers panel).

If you worked hard to make the perfect selection, don’t forget to select the Remember Settings check box so that your settings apply the next time you open the Refine Edge dialog box.

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