Feb 12, 2015

How to Use the Refine Edge Tool in Photoshop

If you have a complicated selection to make such as hair, let us introduce you to your new best friend: the Refine Edge Tool! Learn how to master the Tool and get flawless results in today’s episode!

Begin by using whichever Selection Tool you prefer. In this episode, we use the Magic Wand Tool to select the sky around the lion, and then Invert that selection. because the lion has so much detailed fluff, a lot of the sky shows through and the hair is not defined at all. To mend this, go to Select- Refine Edge.

In this dialogue box you can choose which view is most helpful to you. You might want to Soften the edge a little, and you can do this by feathering. Play around with the Contrast and shift edge as well. Keep looking for what makes the Hair more defined and realistic looking- it might be helpful to shift the edge inwards a little bit.

Hint: If you’d like to use the “output to” option to output to a different location such as a Layer Mask, be sure that you are not on the Background layer (You can hold Alt/Opt and double click on the background to change it to a regular layer).

To use the edge detection Tool, check the Smart Radius box and paint around the edge of the Hair. Photoshop does an amazing job of determining what is the Background and what is the fur, and eliminates the unwanted parts of the Background sky.

If you plan to put a new background underneath whatever you are cutting out, it makes sense to match the general tone from old to new. If you had an originally Light Background, it’s much more successful to use a Light colored background for the final image.

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  • user image

    Great tutorial, always wondered how to do it! I just love the way you explain PS, makes it really easy to understand.

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    Your lion gave me insperation and this is what I came up with my spare time. It’s some sort of desktop background with maybe a Movie theme.

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    Scott Micale


    Great TUT! I would love to see you take this a step further and show how you would handle fixing this selection that you need to place on a darker background and how you would handle that fringing and color coming through on the hair.

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    Jeff Kingston

    I find that once the selection has been made and you are trying to integrate it into another image, as in this case the lion when it was on a darker background, click on the layer to make it active, then in the panel menu select (Layer>Matting>De-fringe) or (Layer>Matting>Remove Black/White Matte) as this can be helpful to finish off the selection process.

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    Ken Parnell

    The only thing I have with this and other videos on the internet they all have background that are similar colour, no one has done one that has a multi colour image background on how to do one that presents a real challenge. Aaron I have been watching your tutorials for the last year and half I real like how your group does the tutorials your approach gets better as the months have past.

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    Awesome tutorial!
    I’m pretty sure that’s a Mrs. Lion though 😀

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    Thanks for the great instruction, but I do have a question.
    Many times when I use the refine edge tool, I get some desaturation or loss of pixels inside of the edge I am trying to cut out. How can I remedy this?

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    Aaron, thank you great tutorial. Id also love to see how you remove the fringing to place your subject on a darker background.
    I struggle with this always.

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    Don Funderburg

    I’ve seen these before but like so many other teachings, they must be practiced.

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    Brian Hartley

    Fantastic tutorial. Really helps to gain a good understanding of Refine Edge.
    Keep up the great tutorials

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    Wendy Friesen

    Can you tell me where I can find the photo you are using for this tutorial and the reference materials for all of the free tutorials? I can’t seem to find them and I would like to do these tutorials. Thanx.

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    Javier Hernandez

    Great tutorial, it will help me a great deal for my magazine newsletter. I do nave a suggestion for a tutorial. I have ben shooting some glamour and bikinin models that are fit and some don’t like the veins from working out to show in their hands and even stomach. I know I can use the stamp tool but the problem is with darker images and images that create shadow, its really hard to remove them without makeng them look like porcelein and ultra smooth. Hopefully you do a tutorial that shows us how to fix this issue and please send me a link when you do. Thanks again for all your knowledge!

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    Is there a trick for cutting out really fine hairs? I am trying to select whiskers to cut out along with an animal. There is plenty of contrast in the image (dark hairs on a light background), but the refine edge tool (nor the selection tool) does not recognize them. I have been using the refine radius tool with smart radius. I am running out of names to call my computer. Thanks for any suggestions (for cutting out whiskers, not for names to call my computer).

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    Monica Jane McMahon

    If the lion-hair- tree, was on a busy background that instead of a plain one, can the same method still work. I haven’t ever seen that done, it must leave a mush in the hair line, no?

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    Hi Aaron,
    First I must say thank you. I have learned so much from your tutorials. I’m having a problem with the refine edge and feather tools. The hair always comes out looking kind of strange with pieces of the background still attached. After trying and trying to get it right I always end up blurring the edges with the blur tool and erasing pieces of the background between the strands of hair. Which of course, destroys some of the strands of hair, not to mention the fact that it’s very time consuming.

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    Really helpful thanks, the problem I was having was removing the white edge which you covered with the shift edge tool.

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    This is a nifty video. What tool did you use to create the tutorial. I like the video of the person in the corner where the Navigator panel is.


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    Charles Jacoby

    Nice job explaining one of the most difficult tools in Photoshop. Sometimes, it’s not so easy–if/when your background is not one solid color. In fact, it’s just about impossible to make the necessary selection in that case, depending on HOW complex the background is. This is a fairly simple task in this example, but much appreciated, especially explaining, for instance, how Feathering works with Contrast. That I did not know about.

    I have really struggled with this tool at times, and longed for the older method of extraction, but now I see how this can work very well, and I have a better idea of how to use the Radius tool. So thanks very much and now back to the weeds I have to cut out so to mask them precisely in order to make them darker than the background, which, alas, is fairly close in color value to the weeds. It can get very tricky.

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    Need a new tutorial since i no longer see the refine edge tool on new update of of PS.

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    Now who removed the refine edge feature from the latest release ?!?

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      Like George, I can’t find the Refine Edge tool. I am a beginner so maybe I’m doing something wrong. How do I find it?

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    H, thanks for the great tut! I have a question. I got almost to the end and I see an area that needs to be refined more. Can I not go back? Have to start all over?

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    Very well done video. The audio and video were excellent and the tutorial was well done. Often you can’t see or hear the commentary on on line videos.

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    Great tutorial. Watched it twice and now I can finally use the refine edge tool properly. Thanks.

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    Boo the new version (2017) got rid of this tool. Just when I was learning to use it well from your tutorials.

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    Franck Lund

    Hello, I felt really good about your videos about Photoshop, I have a problem in connection with “refine egde.” I use Photoshop CC version 2017.0.1 and similar Lightroom – but now I use this tool, and it has been in previous versions, it is possible that you will / can help me here and how do I answer? If you make one or have you made a video? Sincerely Franck Lund – Denmark.

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    [email protected]

    Hi Phlearn, I hope you can help. I keep wanting to use the Select and Mask but find it really difficult to get it to do anything like what I keep seeing in tutorials. When I use the refine edge tool and I click and drag around, to do what I would expect it to do it either doesn’t add anything or it takes absolutely ages to fill in the areas I am wanting it to fill in from my image. See attached an image I’m trying to cut out its really close but I have highlighted two areas which are just a small piece of the whole image.

    Literally this applies to the whole image and any image I work on. The refine edge just seems to do either not a lot or just adds in small parts when it feels like it. The hardness of the brush is set to 100%. Any help you can offer would be great. Thanks

    Photoshop Tutorials: How to Use the Refine Edge Tool in Photoshop