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The Refine Edge command

From: Photoshop Selections Workshop

Video: The Refine Edge command

The Refine Edge command is largely responsible for the fact that the Extract filter is no longer installed by default with Photoshop. In this lesson, I'll show you how powerful the Refine Edge command is which will likely change the way you work and make you realize that Refine Edge really is powerful enough to possibly make the Extract filter obsolete. I'll start by creating a selection. In this case, naturally, I want to create a selection of this burrowing owl but I'm going to start with a selection of the background. I'll use my Quick Selection tool and simply paint around the background behind the owl here in an attempt to get a good selection.

The Refine Edge command

The Refine Edge command is largely responsible for the fact that the Extract filter is no longer installed by default with Photoshop. In this lesson, I'll show you how powerful the Refine Edge command is which will likely change the way you work and make you realize that Refine Edge really is powerful enough to possibly make the Extract filter obsolete. I'll start by creating a selection. In this case, naturally, I want to create a selection of this burrowing owl but I'm going to start with a selection of the background. I'll use my Quick Selection tool and simply paint around the background behind the owl here in an attempt to get a good selection.

As you can see, the selection is far from perfect, especially along the front edge of the bird here. We see that it didn't quite get it right. We can use the Refine Edge command to help improve this selection significantly. I'll start by clicking the Refine Edge button on the Options bar. And this button is available on the Options bar for all of the Selection tools in Photoshop. You could also access this command by choosing Select > Refine Edge from the menu. When we choose this command, either by choosing it from the menu or clicking the button on the Options bar, the Refine Edge dialog will appear.

Let's start with some of the more basic adjustments available in Refine Edge. The Smooth slider will smooth out the edges of the selection. In this case, what that basically means is we'll be straightening out all of the curves. So as I increase the Smooth value, you'll notice that all of the curves get sort of straightened out. The edge of the selection is smoother. This can be a good thing when you need to clean up a jagged edge. But in many cases, it can cause the selection to no longer follow fine detail along the edge of the object you've selected.

So, I recommend using this option sparingly and in most cases, I try to avoid using it altogether. The Feather Setting is the same as is available for all of the Selection tools and is also the same as what you'll find on the Select menu for modifying the selection. By increasing the Feather amount, we're increasing the Transition Range along the edge of the selection. In other words, making the selection fuzzy. This owl is fuzzy but that doesn't necessarily mean that feathering the selection is going to give me the best result.

The Feather command should be thought of as a way to ease the transition between areas you're effecting and areas you're not. And in fact, in most cases, I prefer to accomplish a similar result by modifying a Layer Mask later in my workflow. In other words, I'll use a selection that is not feathered as a basis for a Layer Mask. And then after perfecting that Layer mask, I'll apply Feathering to that mask. So, in this case, I'll leave the Feathering set to 0 pixels. Contrast is the opposite of Feathering. I'll increase Feathering once again just to demonstrate the concept that if we increase Contrast, we will reduce Feathering.

So, if you have a selection that was already feathered, you could use contrast in order to remove some of that Feathering. In this case, I'll leave both of these options set to their minimum value. In addition, we can shift the edge inward or outward for our selection. If I choose Plus, I'll be expanding the selection, which in this case, because the selection was of the background is pushing it into the owl. I can also shift it in the opposite direction, and this can be very helpful in ensuring that a selection edge aligns perfectly with the edge of the object I'm trying to select. For now, I'll just leave this set to the default value of zero. Those are the basic settings in the Refine Edge dialog but there's something much more valuable here and that is Edge Detection.

I'll go ahead and turn on Smart Radius which allows the radius that I'm about to adjust to be variable throughout the edge of my selection. As I increase Radius, what I am doing is enlarging the area that the Refine Edge command is looking in order to fine tune the edge of my selection. So, if I increase the Radius amount significantly, the Refine Edge command will look outward and try to clean up the edge of the selection. Because I have the Smart Radius option turned on, the size of that edge will vary in various areas of the image. For example, along the back of the bird, it's relatively small, and along the front of the bird, it's a bit larger because it had to do a bit more clean up work there.

But I can also customize the Edge Detection area. I'll reduce the Radius setting a bit and then I will use the Brush in order to show Photoshop specific areas that I want it to pay attention to. I'll paint along the ear of the owl here and along some of these other areas that were not selected very well. In fact, in terms of the front of the owl, I'll pretty much paint along the entire front edge all the way into the area that had not been selected. You can see that it's refining that selection based on my painting. To get a better sense, I'm going to use the Overlay mode. This is like our Quick Mask mode for fine tuning the selection. I'll go ahead and paint on some of these other areas that need clean up work and you can see that Refine Edge is doing a great job of cleaning up those areas. On the front of the bird, it looks like it's caused some problems, though. You can see an overlay extending out into the background of the image. I certainly don't want that to be the case.

So, I'll paint to make sure that I'm getting all areas of the edge included in the selection, and then I'll Click and Hold on the button for the Refine Radius tool in the Refine Edge dialog. From the file, I'll choose Erase Refinement. And then, I'll click and paint the outer edge of the bird, in that background area that was getting a little bit of an overlay on, indicating that portions of the background are not currently included in the selection. I can use this process to continue cleaning up the entire edge of this selection.

At various times, it can be helpful to use different View modes in order to get a better sense of the selection as you're cleaning it up. Some of these are more helpful than others and it depends in large part on how you prefer to work and on the results you are aiming to achive. In this case, I can see, for example, that I can still use a little bit more cleanup work in the front of the bird. So, I can use my Refine Radius tool to continue painting there. I can also show the radius so that I can see exactly where I've painted. That will make it easier to determine which areas need a little bit more cleanup work.

For example, I might use my Erase Refinements tool in order to expand the area of the bird here so that Photoshop is not looking into that area and creating an inaccurate selection. I can continue fine tuning until I'm happy with the overall result. I'll go ahead and turn off the Show Radius option, and you can see we're making good progress here. I still have a little bit of cleanup work to do, right along this portion of the bird, for example, and now I think we're in pretty good shape. Now, we do have the option to output onto a separate layer, but in most cases, what I'm really using Refine Edge for is to refine a selection.

And so I want the output to be a selection. The Decontaminate Colors option allows us to clean up color fringing along the edge, but that would only relate to situations where we were using this layer to create a separate layer. That's not the case here, so I'll leave the Decontaminate Colors option turned off and my Output 2 option set to Selection. If I find that I'm using the same settings pretty consistently, I can also turn on the Remember Settings check box so that the settings I've established will be the defaults moving forward. At this point, I think I'm good to go so I'll click OK to create the final selection.

And of course, in this case, I probably wanted a selection of the bird not of the background so I could also choose Select > Inverse from the menu. Keep in the mind, by the way, that the marching ants display only shows us the transition point between pixels that are at least 50% selected and those that are less than 50% selected. Therefore, the marching ants display is not always the most accurate way of evaluating the selection. At first glance, the Refine Edge command seems like a very basic tool that mostly brings together a variety of selection modification options that are available elsewhere in Photoshop. However, as you've seen in this lesson, there is considerable power available in Refine edge, making it a critical tool in your Selections toolkit.

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Photoshop Selections Workshop

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