Refine Edge – Your Best Friend in Photoshop
Being able to create precise selections of objects, even if they have fuzzy edges is of major importance in Photoshop. You’re not only going to need this ability if you want to create a composite image (two or more images blended together). It’s also super helpful for selective editing where you apply different adjustments to the different objects in your images.
No matter which method you’re using to make your selections, the Refine Edge tool is your universal weapon for cleaning the edges of complex selections. However, when you open the tool for the first time, it may not be intuitive to use. In this article, I will show you how three Photoshop masters use Refine Edge in their Photoshop workflow.
Here’s a video by Aaron Nace where he goes through the Refine Edge tool and explains how to use it. The subject Aaron is selecting is a Lion , which creates the problem of selecting all the short, fine fur at the edges. He mainly uses the Refine Radius Tool (available inside the Refine Edge tool) to brush on the edges and tell Photoshop which areas to refine.
Howard Pinsky selects fuzzy hair in this video which can be even more difficult than fur since the edges of your selection tend to be more complex. First, he tries to do it with the Color Range tool which can only create a very coarse-looking selection, leading to a composite image that is not really believable. Then he applies Refine Edge to solve this problem. Howard also shows you how to use the Decontaminate Colors feature to clean up color artifacts from the original background of the subject. This helps if the selected object shows strong color fringes.
Improving Your Selection Even More
In this video by Glyn Dewis, he essentially applies the same technique as Aaron and Howard. But at the end, Glyn shows you a very nice trick for making your selection look even better after you applied the Refine Edge tool: The trick is to apply a slight inner shadow through a layer style to give the selected hair more volume.
Often when you try to work on a selection using a solid black or white background, it seems very hard to get it perfect. You’re always going to see some slight haloing or color casts in those edge regions no matter how hard you are trying. But once you actually put the selected object on a new background, you may not see those artifacts anymore. Therefore, I recommend that you place the subject you want to select on that final background first and then make your selection. This way, you can optimize it for the type of usage you have in mind, and you won’t spend any time ironing out problems that you won’t see anyway later on.
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