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(Last updated on November 18th, 2021)

Do you want to remove the background for your photo? Is it a photo where merely using the magic background eraser tool isn’t enough? In this article, we’ll walk you through the process of refining edges to find the best way to remove a background from a detailed image.

Among the many impressive features of Photoshop is the ability to remove backgrounds from photographs. It’s a process that has been simplified to such a degree that a mere click of a button can remove the background. Well, the background can be removed if it’s not too complex.

But let’s say you have a photo where the background has a lot of detail. Or maybe the background is a simple color, but the person you want to isolate has a lot of detail. The magic wand and background eraser tool may not do the job.

If that’s the case, all we have to do is refine the edges of a selection. We can isolate the part of a photograph we want to be removed from the background with a few easy steps. This is a simple process, even if you’re just a beginner.

Tutorial Rundown of Refine Edge Tool

  1. Make a Selection
  2. Open Refine Edge
  3. Select a View Mode
  4. Adjust the Edges
  5. Refine Selection
  6. Output Your Selection

Step 1: Make a selection

Let’s start by selecting our area. We’ll bring in a photo and selecting the area we’ll be editing. To make this happen, you’ll have your choice of the selection tools in the toolbar. The choice is up to you but here are some options to consider.

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The Quick Selection Tool is a fairly common tool to use for selecting an intricate area. However, you can also use the Magic Wand Selection tool if you believe your subject isn’t too complicated. You can rework the settings to get the Magic Wand recognition just right.

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The easiest route is to use the Object Selection Tools. These are the easiest tools since it’s a matter of simply dragging a shape. If you have perfectly circular or rectangular subject areas you want to edit, this is the best route to take.

Don’t worry that your selection area is accurate. After all, the whole point of this tutorial is to refine the edges around your selection. Try to leave out as many gaps as possible, though, to avoid extra work if you can.

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In the case of this photo of a dog, we’re going to try to grab the edges around the dog and the carpet. We’ll use the Quick Selection Tool for this task, looking like a paintbrush with a lasso in our toolbar. This tool will work best for this photo since the background is easy enough to tell apart from the subject.

With the Quick Selection Tool selected, we can draw around the area for the dog and carpet. Chunks of the picture are taken into the area as we draw. The final result should look like our area is highlighted with moving lines around the edges.

Step 2: Open Refine Edge

Now that we have our subject selected in the photo let’s refine the edges. To accomplish this, we’ll need to open the Refine Edge window. You can find this option up in your top toolbar of Photoshop.

Navigate in the top menu to Select. Scroll down and find the option for Select and Mask. This will open up the Refine Edge window in the properties tab on the right of your interface. Feel free to scroll around and see what options you can play with inside the program.

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The primary thing you’ll notice about your canvas is that the background we trimmed is gone. It has now been replaced with the checkerboard pattern. That lets us know the background is transparent and that we’re only making edits to our selection of the dog and the carpet.

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Step 3: Select a View Mode

Inside the Properties panel, you’ll see an area marked View Mode. This is where we can test out how our selection will appear with different backgrounds and highlights. Use this to see just how effective your refined edges are looking.

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In this case, we need a view mode that will allow us to see the edges better. Since the dog and carpet were already occupying a white background, we’ll need a different background color to see the edges better.

Click on the dropdown menu in the View Mode, and you can find different viewing options. For this photograph, we’ll use Overlay. This will place a color of our choosing behind the selected subject. You’ll notice that you now have options for selecting the color and its opacity.

To make the edges more pronounced while not being too offensive to the eyes, you can change the color and opacity to anything depending on the selection you’re working with. Let’s change the background color to green with a higher opacity.

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Step 4: Adjust the Edges

Now that we have our selection and can see it with the masking options, we’re ready to start adjusting the edges. In our properties area, scroll down to find the drop-down menu for Edge Detection. Click on it to open the options for fine-tuning the edges.

You can use the radius slider to change how much of your selection is covered. You’ll notice as you move the slider that your selection area tightens. For this photo of the dog, however, some edges are more visible.

To avoid this issue, we’ll click the checkbox for Smart Radius. With Smart Radius checked, the radius slider now recognizes more white areas inside the selection area.

Scroll down a little more in the properties area past Edge Detection and find the drop-down for Global Refinements. Click it to open up a new area of edge tools. These sliders give us more options for trimming the edges.

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The smooth slider can smooth out more of the edges that may have lots of extra hair detail on the borders. You’ll want to be conservative with how much of this slider you use. Too much smoothing can take away too much from the selection.

The feather slider can also cause more of the selection to bleed into the background. Just as with the smoothing slider, you’ll want to use this slider sparingly. The contrast slider can bring about a harsher border around the selection that will appear more visible.

The shift edge slider can determine how thin or thick your edges will be. The positive side of the slider will increase the soft edges, while the negative numbers will tighten the edges. This slider shrinks or expands the edge borders.

This can be a handy tool if you’re trying to create a border for your subject. If you’re trying to develop a look akin to more of a sticker where you want some of the background to bleed through, you’ll want to use these sliders.

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Step 5: Refine Selection

Now let’s say there are still some lingering edges we want out of our selection. In the case of our dog, there’s still some extra white up by his ears. Let’s say we wanted to get rid of that extra white.

While we’re still in our mask mode, take a look at the toolbar on the left side of your interface. You can use these selection tools to either add or remove more to the selection. In this case, we want to remove more of the white spots inside our selection.

Click on the Quick Selection Tool. Once we have that selected, click the negative symbol with a circle in the top settings for the brush, located above the canvas. Now we’ll simply click to erase portions of the white background that linger.

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Step 6: Output Your Selection

Now that we’ve got our dog looking separated from the background, the image is ready to be taken out of mask mode. Before we do that, we need to determine what our selection will be. Will it be a new layer or a new document?

Scroll down further on the right-side properties menu to find Output Settings and click it to open the output customization tools. If you want this selection to come in as a layer, simply select New Layer from the Output To drop-down menu.

You can then exit from this area by saving your Photoshop file, and clicking accept on the mask selection changes. You should now have a trimmed-up photograph with clean edges and a transparent background. Your subject is now ready to be placed in front of any background you desire.

Frequently asked questions

Where is the Refine Edge tool in Photoshop?

Once you have your subject selected with the aid of the selection tool, you’ll navigate to Select in the top menu. You’ll then click Select and Mask. This will open up the Refine Edge options that you can use to trim the edges of your selection with sliders and additional selections tools.

How do you refine edges in Photoshop?

With a selection made using one of the selection tools, you’ll open up Select and choose Select and Mask. In the properties menu for edges, use the various sliders to either bold or thin the boundaries of what you’ve selected. You can use the radius slider to change how much area is covered and the shift edge slider to alter the overall thick distance between your subject and the background

What is the shortcut key of Refine Edge in Photoshop?

You can use a simple keyboard shortcut if you don’t feel like navigating to the Select menu every time you want to refine edges. Press Control + Alt + R if you’re on a PC or Command + Option + R if you’re on a Mac. Pressing this combination of keys will automatically open up the Refine Edge tool interface, toolbar, and properties windows for refining the edges of your selection.

Why don’t I have Refine Edge on my Photoshop?

You may be confused about why Refine Edge doesn’t appear in the Photoshop Select menu. This is because the tool itself has been renamed to Select and Mask. The option does perform the same functions as Refine Edge but doesn’t hold the title any longer.

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