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How to feather edges in photoshop

Table of Contents

a picture of a lady being feathered in photoshop

This article expatiates all you need to know on how to feather edges in photoshop. The edges of an image appear harsh or abrupt when they are noticeable to the eye. One way to soften these edges is by feathering the edge with photo editing software.

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Feathering an image creates an unnoticeable transition between highlights and shadows. With a gradual fall-off in density the farther away from the edge you move. The photo below shows how this technique can be used to create soft, blended edges. That is perfect for portraits or any other use where softer edges are desired. I recommend Feather 0.08 for this effect, but it can be adjusted depending on your image’s content and desired outcome.

“Feathering” is how an image transitions between light and shadow.

Feathering is how an image transitions between light and shadow. To do feather, select the Edge tool (or select the Lasso Tool.) Use the feathering slider in the options bar to process your image. This slider allows you to control the depth of your feathered edge. The greater the depth, the more pronounced will be your feathered edges. From soft to hard, you can start with at 10,000 px and go down to 3,000 px. For very soft feathered edges (which will work best for portraits). Or anywhere in between (which will work well for landscape images. Less depth will work better for close-up shots).

Brush Size: Click on it to set the size of your brush. The resolution of your image also determines the size and sharpness of the brush you should use.

Blend Mode: 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 will all blend your feathering to a specified degree. Keep in mind that the higher you set this, the more blending occurs. Generally, I tend to set Blending Mode at 85% to 90%.

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Feather Density: This affects how soft or hard your feathered edges are, as you feather. Increase this value if your image is too heavy on one edge or too light on another edge. For example, if you have an image that is heavy in the shadows and light in the highlights. You’ll probably need a feather density of around 30%. [CONFESSIONAL NOTE: I usually set this to 10% when I create a new file. Other settings may be more suitable for a given image.]

Feathering Color: This controls how your feathered edges will blend into your original image. Use color values from 0 to 100 with 0 being transparent and 100 being opaque. Values in between will be darkening with transparency. For example, selecting 70 with a feather density of 20 would move your feathered edges at 20% of 200 pixels from the edge of your photo or about 30 pixels from each side. If you want to make the color more opaque or less transparent, use a higher or lower value as desired.

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Resolution: This is the resolution of your original image. A smaller resolution will result in softer edges and thus a larger resolution will result in more defined edges.

Save As: This allows you to save your feathered image as either a .psd or .png file and also will allow you to save your feathered settings so that you can use them later on another project. Be sure to write down your settings so that you can easily find them again!

Select All: Selecting this allows you to create feathering of all layers together instead of each layer individually. Selecting this will also create feathering on the background layer and not just the layers already selected. [CONFESSIONAL NOTE: This is great for when you want your entire image to be feathered.]

Select Layer: This selects one layer at a time. [CONFESSIONAL NOTE: This is better suited for when you want to feathered specific parts of your image or when you’ve feathered an image over a photo that has more than one layer. Just make sure to select your background and merge it back toward the top (the top right corner of the screen if you’re looking at it from where you’re operating).]

“Feathering” is how an image transitions between light and shadow. Use this to create soft or hard-edged effects.

CONFESSIONAL NOTE: I tend to feather images with an opacity below about 5% because it ends up blending more easily if I have not specified feather density. With a lower opacity, there are no hard edges so the feathering isn’t visible. If the feathering is not enough, then simply increase your feather density.


1: Using the Layer Mask Tool: This tool allows you to feather parts of your image by feathering just the layer mask. This is particularly useful when you’re trying to feather an image over a larger than one-layer image or if you’re using this feathered effect on an already feathered photo.

When using this method, be sure to select your layer mask before you deselect it so that it will be feathered with the rest of your photo. Then simply paint the feather on top of what you need to feather.

2: Using the Select Tool: Using the Select tool allows you to create feathered edges through selection. The benefit of using this method is that if you want a smooth feather, you can create a selection with the elliptical marquee tool or the polygonal lasso tool and it will feather evenly. This is particularly useful when your subject is not stationary and you’d like to feather an image around an object.

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3: Using a Blend Mode: If you only want to feathered parts of your image there are several Blend Modes that allow you to do so. A couple of them allow for feathered edges as well as feathered colors. Be sure to experiment with these by selecting one or more layers and then go to Layer > Blending Options > Blend Mode.

4: Using the Layer Palette: This allows you to feather layers through either the layer palette or by using an option within that layer’s drop-down menu.

4b. Using the Layer Palette to feather an image.

Select one of your layers by either clicking on it with your mouse or by selecting it with your keyboard (F7, F8, F9). Go to Layer > Layer Style > Blending Options. This will bring up a new window on your right-hand side of your screen, right below the layers palette. Within this window, you will find two tabs along the top of this new palette which are Drop Shadow and Inner Shadow. Click on either one of these tabs to see your options.

In the Inner Shadow section, you will find a check box within “Precedence” that allows you to feather or keep hard edges. Be sure that the check box is not checked if you want to feather your selection.

4c. Using a Curves Adjustment Layer: If you have a photo with layers and want to feather them together, creating a curves adjustment layer will allow you to feather your images together while maintaining their individual clarity and original color values. Elements use one of its built-in blending modes to blend these layers together to create a feathered look. This can be a great place to start if you want a feathered look, but don’t know exactly how to get there.

Be sure to use a Levels Adjustment Layer after this free-form adjustment, because you will want the red channel’s black point at zero and the green channel’s black point at zero. You can then select Select + Invert or go directly into Selections > None to return your image back to how it was originally.

This method is particularly effective when you’re trying to feather an image over a photo that has more than one layer. Be sure to select your background and merge it toward the top (the top right corner of the screen if you’re looking at it from where you’re operating).

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5: Using a Mask: This allows you to feathered just part of your image by creating a layer mask before merging layers together. To do this, simply create a new layer at the bottom of your layer palette. Then create a clipping mask by going to Layer > Layer Mask > Make. This will create a clipping mask you can click on to reveal a black hole where the mask is. After you’ve done so, merge layers together by going to Layer > Merge Down.

Let’s say that you only want the top of your background feathered. You would then go through the following steps:

Select your background layer and bring it into your foreground using the Move tool.

Then create a layer mask by going to Layer > Layer Mask > Make. You can do this by selecting F9 or by clicking in between your two layers and going down to select, which is located in between your layers palette and your image. You can also go to Layer > Layer Mask > Make.

Then merge the layers into a new, empty layer.

Let’s say that you only want the top of your background feathered and not the bottom part of it. You would have to repeat the above steps for each layer to be feathered separately from each other. [CONFESSIONAL NOTE: The way I feather objects in photoshop is by creating a clipping mask and feathered selections on top of one another. Then using the Background and Layer palettes and merging layers and making an adjustment layer.]

6: Using a Hue/Saturation Adjustment: One of the last areas I’d like to cover is using a hue/saturation adjustment layer. This can be particularly effective for feathered edges. To do this, simply go to Adjustments>Hue/Saturation and click on the option “Create New Adjustment Layer From Selection” or just select it from the menu at the bottom of your screen.

Then click on your background layer and create a clipping mask by going to Layer > Layer Mask > Make. Then merge layers into a new, empty layer. You can then feather the edges of your image within the hue/saturation window by moving the Fuzziness until you’re satisfied with your feathered effect.

Generally, if I’m using this method I take my Fuzziness up to around 100% to keep hard edges at all times.

Hands-On Exercise 3: Practice!

Now that you’ve mastered the feathered edge, try it on some of your own images! Remember, practice makes perfect. The more images you practice on, the better your results will be. Remember that to initially learn anything new, it is important to allow yourself time for experimentation and to embrace mistakes as learning experiences.

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