How to Soften Photo Edges in Photoshop

Written by melissa worcester
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How to Soften Photo Edges in Photoshop
(Ciaran Griffin/Lifesize/Getty Images)

Soft edges on a photo, also known as feathered edges or feathering, is an attractive effect that is really easy to do. Feathering makes a gradient of opacity in a border around the feathered object. This means that, at the inside edge, the photo is fully opaque so you can't see through it. But at the outside edge, the photo is fully transparent. In between the edges of the border, the opacity is gradually changing from fully opaque to fully transparent, so the edge appears softer because you see the background through it.

Skill level:

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  1. 1

    Open a digital photo file in Photoshop. Select "Open" from the "File" menu. Click on the thumbnail of the image you want to use, and click on the "Open" button.

  2. 2

    Select the Marquee tool, which is near the top of the toolbar. It looks like a dotted rectangle or oval, depending on which option you chose when you used it previously. Click on it and select either the rectangle or the oval option from the small menu that pops out to the side.

  3. 3

    Set the feathering options. Once you've chosen the Marquee tool, the Options Bar contains options for that tool. Feathering is one of the options for the Marquee tool. Set the feathering to the number of pixels you want by clicking in the box, deleting the number that is already there, and typing a number. The bigger the number, the wider the band of feathering. Use larger numbers for larger photos, in general, but the number you choose is mostly a matter of preference. Experiment with it and you will quickly get a feel for what number is best. Start with a number between 10 and 50 if you're not sure.

  4. 4

    Drag the Marquee tool across the photo to make a selection. When you let go of the mouse button, you will see a dotted selection on your photo. Check to see if the location is where you want it. If it isn't, choose "None" from the "Selection" menu and try again.

  5. 5

    Copy the selection by selecting "Copy" from the "Edit" menu.

  6. 6

    Make a new image by clicking on "New" in the "File" menu. Make a new layer by clicking on "New Layer" in the "Layer" menu or using the "New Layer" button in the Layer palette.

  7. 7

    Paste the selection onto the new layer of the new image by selecting "Paste" from the "Edit" menu, making sure the layer you created in Step 6 is selected. If you can't see the feathering, select the background layer and change its colour to one that contrasts with the colours in the photo.

Tips and warnings

  • If you want the shape of your photo to be something other than a rectangle or an oval, use the Lasso tool instead of the Marquee tool. Click and drag the tool to draw the outline of your selection instead of using the Marquee tool in step four above.

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