Refine Edge tool being used to adjust a picture of a person wearing a yellow jacket.

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How to use the Refine Edge tool in Adobe Photoshop.

Discover how to make precise selections for realistic composites.

What does it mean to refine an edge?

Sometimes photo editing calls for extreme precision. Maybe you’re trying to select a tree you want to remove from the background of a wedding photo or copy your kids from a family picture to paste into a photo collage. The Refine Edge tool can help you accurately select every tree branch and strand of hair without including anything from the background. Read on to see how you can use the Refine Edge tool to select complex edges with ease.

A picture of a person that has been adjusted using the Refine Edge tool.

The right tool for rough edges.

The Refine Edge tool combines the accuracy of the Pen tool with the convenience of the Quick Selection tool, so you can make exact selections of ragged edges quickly.

Refine Edge tool being used on strands of hair.

Brush it on.

Adjust the settings, then run the Refine Edge tool over the complex edges of your image like a brush to select and mask leftover bits of background image.

How to refine an edge.

See how you can use the Refine Edge brush tool to make complicated selections in just a few strokes.

1. Duplicate it:

Right-click the background layer and select Duplicate Layer to create a backup of your original image, just in case you make any changes you don’t like.

2. Select it:

Use the Select Object tool, Lasso tool, Magic Wand tool, or Quick Selection tool to select the area around the object you want to work with. A row of black, animated dashed lines — sometimes called “marching ants” — will surround what you’ve chosen. Hold the Alt key (on Windows) or Command key (on Mac) and click on any areas you want to remove from the selection.

A picture of a tree branch that has been selected.

3. Set it:

Click the Select and Mask option in the top menu. This will open the Properties tab and allow you to adjust the Refine Edge tool settings to control how your edges get cleaned up. Make sure you’ve selected the Refine Edge tool in the new sidebar. Below is an overview of your settings.

This setting determines how much of the area around your subject the Refine Edge tool will include. For especially tricky edges like strands of hair, click the Show Radius box to see exactly which areas are being refined and then adjust accordingly.

When Smart Radius is enabled, Photoshop will automatically use a smaller radius along simple edges and a larger radius on complex edges.

Adjust the Smooth slider to control how much the Refine Edge tool smooths the selection’s edges.

Use Feather to soften jagged edges.

If you want to harden your selection’s edges instead, dial up the Contrast setting.

Move this slider to adjust the edges of your selection in or out.

If the background has cast a colored reflection onto your selection, this option will help to restore the selection’s original color.

Use this drop-down menu to choose what to do with your selection when you’re done editing.

Edge Detection setting superimposed on an image being edited in Photoshop.

4. Refine it:

Run the Refine Edge tool over the edges you want to clean up. Always click inside your selection and then draw the brush outward. That way the tool can better spot the differences between the subject and the background.

5. Output it:

When you’re finished, return to the Properties tab and find the Output To option at the bottom of the panel. Choose an option from the drop-down menu to determine what to do with your finished selection. For example, if you want to take your selection and add a new background to it, you could choose to output as a new document. To continue editing the selection in the existing document, choose New Layer with Layer Mask.

Adobe Photoshop

Do more with Adobe Photoshop.

Explore more of the Photoshop workspace.

Now that you’ve got the hang of the Photoshop Refine Edge tool, discover tutorials about the app’s other features and functions.

A photo of a person with a greenery backdrop.

Transport your subject anywhere.

You know how to select your subject — now learn how to give them an entirely new backdrop.

 

Create a new background

A composite image created using Photoshop and Lightroom.

Create reality-defying compositions.

See how a professional photo editor uses Photoshop and Lightroom to make mind-bending creations.

 

Make a photo composite

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