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How to use Photoshop Elements Refine Selection Brush tool

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Get to grips with the Refine Selection Brush tool to tackle tricky areas

Time needed: 15 minutes

Skill level: Beginner

Kit needed: Photoshop Elements 14

The trouble with regular selection tools is that they act like a switch. Pixels are either selected or not, and this produces unnatural transitions and edge effects.

What you need is a subtler, more intelligent tool that can automatically identify areas you want to keep and separate them from an unwanted background, while creating a smooth and natural-looking boundary around even the most complex and finely divided details. 

That’s what the Refine Selection Brush is designed to do. It was introduced with Elements 13 but it’s been enhanced in Elements 14 and is a useful alternative to the Refine Edge dialog. The tool is designed to improve a selection you’ve already made – it’s not designed for making selections from scratch. In our example, we’ve started off with the Quick Selection tool and then used the Refine Selection Brush to get a much better result. When you switch to the Refine Selection Brush you’ll notice that the cursor appears as two concentric circles, the outer circle represents the Tolerance setting for detecting edges. The darker centre disc marks the areas you definitely want while the outer grey area automatically selects and blends details.  


Press and hold the cursor on the area where you want to make a precise adjustment. The selection within your concentric circles grows (the lighter outer area of the circle) as it starts to make a precise selection. Make sure you include the entire edge in this selection. The size of the selection edge is determined by the Selection Edge slider, use this to adjust how hard or soft you want your edges to be. On detailed edges, such as hair or fur, a softer edge will be more effective.


Grab the Quick Selection tool, click-and-drag to paint over your subject to make a rough selection. Instead of adding to or subtracting from the selection to tidy up the edges, click on the Refine Selection Brush, in the same toolbar fly-out as the Quick Selection Brush.


When you refine the selection, the background is red by default; choose black instead as it’s closer to the image we want to use as a background. This tool has different modes – we’ll use the Push mode, as we want to ‘push’ the selection out to select more fur.


When hovering over the background, hold Shift to toggle between adding and subtracting from your selection


The dark centre disc marks areas you definitely want while the outer grey area selects and blends details. Move over the background to ‘push’ the selection, or over the boundary to change to ‘edge’ mode, where you can paint along edges to produce a subtler blend.


When you’re done, switch back to the Quick Selection (or any other) tool to commit to a final selection and drag the cutout image onto the new background. To blend any remaining rough edges, we’ve used the Eraser tool set to a large, soft brush of 35% opacity.

Rod Lawton

Rod is the Group Reviews editor for Digital Camera World and across Future's entire photography portfolio. Previously he has been Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar. He has been writing about digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. 

Rod's near-encyclopedic knowledge of cameras both old and new makes him an invaluable resource, whether we need to ask a question about transparencies or the latest X-Trans sensor. He owns all manner of cameras, from Nikon DSLRs through Olympus, Sony and Fujifilm bodies, and on any given day you'll see him using kit from just about every manufacturer.