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Tips & Tricks

Select & Mask vs Refine Edge | Having Your Cake & Eating It Too

By Holly Roa on December 3rd 2016

Many photographers have been grappling with Adobe’s baffling choice to remove the refine edge tool in favor of the new “select and mask.” Adobe has been known to leave legacy features for generations, with about a million ways to skin the proverbial cat left intact for users who are set in their ways. The thought that they’ve recently cut an extremely commonly used tool is not sitting well with a lot of people, however, there’s great news for you people who hate select and mask – refine edge lives! It’s just sadly not obvious how to access it, but it is simple. All you have to do is make your selection, hold down the Shift key, and go to Select > Select & Mask. Voila! Old school “Refine Edge” appears. You’re welcome.

Back to the task at hand – Nathaniel Dodson has made a video for Tutvid detailing the differences in results one gets when doing knock-outs with the new Select & Mask vs the old Refine Edge. He uses three different photos and an older version of Photoshop as well as a current version to make a side-by-side comparison.

In what appears to be part of a strategy to make Photoshop less intimidating to new users, Adobe’s been giving familiar tools a simpler interface in order to, I’m assuming, reduce the learning curve that has typically been pretty lengthy with many Adobe programs.  appears to have the same controls as refine edge but with a simpler way of getting from point ‘A’ to point ‘B,’ painting. However, as Nathaniel shows us, the painted selections can be very imprecise with lower contrast situations and the sliders don’t always behave the same way as refine edge’s even though they have the same name.


Accidental decapitation with select and mask

There are areas where  Select & Mask is preferable however. In Nathaniel’s testing, complex hair selections came out cleaner with  Select & Mask than Refine Edge, and as anyone who’s dealt with this scenario knows, anything that makes this easier is a good thing.


Hair masking with refine edge

If you do opt to use Select & Mask over Refine Edge (now that we know that’s still an option) Nathaniel recommends that you forget about it as a selection tool and treat it more as a selection refinement tool, making your selections with other tools before opening it up. Check out the whole video to hear all his observations.

[REWIND: Datacolor Spyder5ELITE+ Giveaway ($309 Retail)]


Source: tutvid

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Seattle based photographer with a side of videography, specializing in work involving animals, but basically a Jill of all trades.
Instagram: @HJRphotos

Q&A Discussions

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  1. John Negoita

    I actually used the Refine Edge to create this Smooth Edges Photoshop action And I was unpleasantly surprised  to see that Photoshop replaced Refine Edge with Select and Mask

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  2. William Carter

    Thank you so much for the tip on how to access refine edge without having multiple versions of Photoshop installed!

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  3. Scott Pfau

    Thanks for the run down on the new vs old. I doubt PhotoShop or for that matter any program will ever be able to make a mask in any automated way better than just going in with a brush tool and adjusting the opacity, hardness, softness, etc… and painting in the mask. Especially on images like shown in the video. Refine edge does help in some cases but I always feel it is easier to just paint in the mask rather than trying to fix what the auto masking or the magic wand has messed up when there isn’t an extremely clear cut contrast between the object and the background. Maybe when computers get to the point of A.I. and can recognize what the object is that needs to be masked then it may be possible, but when that happens humans probably won’t be here. Thanks again for the story and posting the video. I’m always looking for better ways to speed up my workflow.

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