How to Smooth Edges in Photoshop CC: A Step-by-Step Guide for 2022

This step-by-step guide explains how to smooth the edges of an image using Photoshop CC. Photoshop is a powerful photo editing program with seemingly endless tools and techniques to learn. If you’re a beginner, it can be overwhelming! If you’re using Photoshop to create composites — combining objects from two or more images — the tricks you’ll learn in this guide will help you quickly improve your skills.


how to smooth edges in photoshop
Photo by Caio

Why and when would you need to smooth edges in Photoshop?

There are a few different reasons why you might want to smooth, soften, or blur the edges of an image. Here are a few reasons:

  • To create a vignette;
  • When creating a composite image to make it look more realistic;
  • If you remove and replace the background;
  • When you want the edge to fade or dissolve to transparent.

Different methods to smooth edges in Photoshop

If you’ve spent any amount of time working in Photoshop, you’ve probably noticed that there are many different ways to achieve the same result. Ask five different graphic artists or photo editors how to do something in the program, and you’re likely to get five different responses — and none of them will be wrong! 

In this guide, I’m going to show you two different ways to blur the edges of your image in photoshop. The first method is how to soften, or feather the edge of an image to create a vignette. The second is smoothing the edge of an isolated image. This method is helpful if you were removing and replacing the background or creating a composite image. 


Creating a vignette

A vignette, or intentional blur around the edge of a photograph, is a great way to focus attention on the subject of your image. Vignettes can be any color, black, white, or even transparent. Here’s how to feather the edges of an image using Photoshop to create a vignette:

Step 1: Define the area 

Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool (M), found in your toolbar, to draw the shape you want inside the vignette. 

how to smooth edges vignette
Creating a vignette with this original photo by Becerra Govea Photo

Now, this selection will have a hard edge, so next, you will need to make the selection softer — or feather the selection. 

Step 2: Feather the edges

To feather the edges of your selection, go to Select > Modify > Feather. A “Feather Selection” dialogue box will pop up, asking you to enter a Feather Radius. The amount you enter will depend on the size of your image. I entered a radius of 40 pixels. 

how to smooth edges vignette

Don’t be afraid to play around with this figure till you reach your desired result. To preview what your blurred edges will look like after you set your feather radius, press “Q” to edit in mask mode. The red mask that appears will give you an idea of what your blur will look like. If you’re happy with it, press “Q” again before you move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Inverse the selection

Select > Inverse will swap the selection. For example, in the image above, now the couple is not selected, but everything outside of the oval is selected instead. 

vignette
With inverse selected

Step 4: Add an adjustment layer

Remember, vignettes can be any color, black, white, or transparent. In this step, we add a solid color adjustment layer and choose what color to make the vignette. The easiest way to add an adjustment layer is to click on the icon at the bottom of the Layers palette and choose solid color. 

When the Color Picker dialogue box appears, choose whatever color you want. You can always adjust the opacity and layer blending mode later.

how to smooth edges in photoshop
Choosing the color for the solid color adjustment layer

Step 5: Adjust layer blending mode

While you do see some people using solid color vignettes, it is a bit old-fashioned to use them in that way. You’ll find that today photographers and editors tend to use vignettes in a more subtle way. You can achieve the same outcome — leading the viewer’s eye toward the subject — without being too obvious or tacky. 

Make your vignette more subtle by either lowering its opacity, changing the blending mode of the layer, or a combination of both. The blending mode can be found in your Layers palette. In this example, I decided on Soft Light as the best-looking blending mode. 

vignette
Changing layer blending mode to Soft Light

Smoothing edges of isolated objects in Photoshop

If you’re using Photoshop to isolate an object in your image, either to remove the background, change the background, or place the object onto another image as part of a composite, then try this technique. The result will be a more natural selection, with smooth edges that blend into the background.

Techniques for making your selection

Just like we mentioned above, there are so many different ways to achieve the same result when it comes to Photoshop. That’s especially true when it comes to selecting an object. You can use the quick and easy Magic Wand tool, the Lasso, or the Pen Tool. You can create a layer and mask off everything but the object you want to be selected. Or, you can use Photoshop’s game-changing Subject Select tool that works surprisingly well. 

For this tutorial, I’ll use Select and Mask to select an object from one photo and place it on a different background.

Step 1: Select and Mask

With either the Magic Wand or Lasso tool selected, click “Select and Mask” at the top of your window. (Alternatively, you can choose Select > Select and Mask)

how to smooth edges isolate subject
Original photo by Tim Mossholder

From there, adjust the Global Refinements panel on the right-hand side. Here are some suggestions to start with.

  • Smooth: 3 This rounds over any rough or jagged edges, smoothing out the selection.
  • Feather: 0.5px The softens or blurs the edge of your selection.
  • Contrast: 0 This is used for inorganic shapes that need help with the transition.
  • Shift Edge: -20% This adjusts the boundary of the selection slightly

Then, click “Select Subject” at the top of the window and watch what happens!

how to smooth edges isolate subject
Photoshop’s Select Subject tool works surprisingly well

Step 2: Use the Refine Edge Brush Tool (optional)

Oftentimes, Step 1 is all you need. But, if you’re working with a complex object, like a furry animal or a parrot with lots of tiny feathers on top of his head, for example, you may find that you need a bit more help. 

That’s where the Refine Edge Brush Tool comes in. Some say it’s the closest thing to actual magic we have in real life! Step 1 did a great job, but as you can see, I just need to clean up a little bit of the fine feathers around the parrot’s beak because the green background was coming through with the feathers.          

how to smooth edges isolate subject
It was almost perfect on the first try, but I need to refine the edges on those tiny feathers using the Refine Edge Brush

To use this tool, simply select the Refine Edge Brush Tool on the toolbar on the left-hand side. Adjust the radius (I chose a radius of 13px) and then brush along the edge of the subject where the selection needs to be refined. You will see the selection adjustments happening in real-time. I chose Color Aware as the Refine Mode, so it would keep the red feathers and eliminate anything that wasn’t red. This technique works really well with fur and hair.

When you’re happy with the subject selection, click OK to return to your workspace. Then, you’ll be able to select the inverse, delete the background, and replace the background as shown below.

how to smooth edges isolate subject
From the jungle to the beach!

Summary

There you have it! Using the tips and tools you’ve learned in this guide, you should be able to smooth the edges of any image in Photoshop. You can use these techniques to create a vignette for drawing attention to the subject of your photo. Or, use Photoshop’s powerful Subject Select tools to isolate a subject, blur the edges and blend or feather the edges for a natural, realistic effect.

Looking for more photoshop tips and tutorials? Check these out.

Brooke Arnold

Brooke Arnold is a writer and award-winning photographer specializing in cat portraits. She is an advocate for rescue animals and is best known for dressing up her cats as famous people like Bob Ross and Evel Knievel. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is being child #2 in an orange juice ad that hung in a mall in Miami at age 8.

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