Using Photoshop's Pen Path Tool

by Guest Writer

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How to retrace the edge of a selection in Photoshop

After creating your selection you can further refine the edge of the selection. With the Refine Edge tool you can expand, contract, soften and even automatically trace the nearest edge.

refining the edges of pen tool work

Refine edge is available in many selection tool’s menu, usually the very last button as well as under the menu Select-Refine Edge or using the shortcut Alt+Ctrl(Option+Command)+R.

menu   viewing the different styles

First, lets look at the bottom of the pallet (above left); you will find five different displaying method. Try them all to see which method suits you the best for the photo you are working on.

  1. First icon is the standard default selection; you can get a sense of which area is selected with the marquee border.
  2. The second one is mask mode, it will create a RED overlay around everything that is NOT selected and the area that are being selected will be left alone.
  3. The third option is similar to the mask mode but instead of a Red overlay a Solid Black color is used to cover up the unselected area.
  4. The fourth option uses a solid white to cover up any unselected area.
  5. The Last option will only show Black, White and Grays where Black is not selected, White is selected and any shades of grays are partially selected. This is a good preview to use if the image becomes too distracting or if you are more worry about the shape of your selection rather than what is on your photo.

Press F to cycle through the Views and X to temporarily view the image.

I’ve selected the flower with the Polygonal Lasso tool, as you can see, the outline is very sloppy. Refine Edge will help fine tune your selection so it is more presentable.


The first slider is Radius, Refine Edge will search around your existing selection and try to see if there is any obvious edge/contrast and try turn that into your selection border instead. As you can see in the example that when I turn up the radius the edge of the selection becomes blurred/softened but it also rearranged the selection border to more closely follow the contour of the flower.

To create a crisp edge turn up the Contrast slider, this will create a more definite edge on the selection.

If the selection has too much sharp corner you can Smooth it out with the Smooth Slider. Notice in the picture that the edges are rounder than when I first started. You can give it a Anti-Aliased edge by turning on the Feather Slider. You can also Contract and Expand the selected area when necessary.

Here is the flower masked out using the Polygonal Lasso and after the Refine Edge treatment. It took me less than a minute to mask out the flower in Polygonal Lasso tool than another minute to Refine the Edge. It will not work in every situation depending on the photo but the closer you make your initial selection is the better the Refine Edge tool will work.

I hope you find the tutorial useful. If you know more tricks for the Refine Edge please also share with us. Thanks!

Before After

San's Graphic Blog - Photoshop Tutorial and Graphic Blog - San is currently working in the marketing industry and freelancing in design, his home page is intended to share his knowledge with others as well as getting other artist to come together and discuss about designs.

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