How To Blur A Layer In Photoshop (3 Easy Ways)

If you want to draw more attention to a subject in your photo or make it have a whimsical feel, you might opt to blur part of the layer. However, it can seem a bit confusing how to get a blur to apply in only sections of your layers in Photoshop. So let’s take a look at three different ways you can blur a layer (with some more extreme examples) so you can refine these techniques to your own tastes! 

The 2 Best Ways To Blur Layers In Photoshop

There are two main ways to blur an entire layer in Photoshop. You can either duplicate your original layer and add a blur filter, or convert your layer into a smart object, then apply a Smart filter. 

Both options are viable for any user, and choosing the best option comes down to your personal choice.  

Option 1: Duplicate The Layer & Add A Blur Filter

Out of the two ways to blur a layer in this guide, this option is the quickest to apply. This option involves blurring your entire layer, and then, if your project requires it, you can erase parts of the blur away to reveal your subject. 

Step 1: Duplicate Your Layer 

In order to pull off the effect you’re going for, you’ll need to create a duplicate copy of your original layer. 

To do this, right-click the layer, then select Duplicate Layer in the menu that pops up. Or press Control + J (Win) or Command + J (Mac) to duplicate the layer. 

The duplicated layer should be on top of the original layer in the Layers Panel

Step 2: Go To Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur To Apply The Blur Layer 

Now that your duplicated layer is ready, it’s time to apply your blur filter layer. There are several blur filters to choose from, and selecting the right one is important. 

Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to apply your blur layer. 

Applying the Gaussian Blur filter will give you the best settings for the next step. 

Step 3: Adjust The Gaussian Blur Settings 

After applying the Gaussian Blur filter, an options menu will pop up. 

First, ensure the Preview box is checked so you can see the blur effect in real time in the Preview Window. 

Also, use the Size Control buttons below the window to see the full image in the Preview Window. 

Once you can see your image clearly in the Preview Window, use the Radius Slider, or input a number in the Radius Box to adjust the Gaussian Blur. 

Once you’re satisfied with how the blur looks, click the OK button to confirm. 

Step 4: Add A Layer Mask (Optional) 

If you plan on removing parts of the blur layer to showcase the original layer below it, you must first add a layer mask

To add a layer mask, select the blur layer, then click the Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel

In the Layers Panel, the layer mask appears next to the image thumbnail on the blur layer. 

Step 5: Select The Brush Tool & Adjust The Brush Settings (Optional)

Next, select the Brush Tool (B) in the Toolbar. 

In the Options Bar, click the Preset Brush Picker button and choose the Soft Round brush

Also, set the Hardness to 0%. This will prevent hard edges as you paint with your brush in the next step. 

Step 6: Paint The Areas That Need To Be Revealed In Your Image (Optional) 

Now that your brush is set up, it’s time to “paint away” parts of the blur layer to reveal your image below. 

First, select the mask itself in the Layers Panel

Then, make sure your Foreground Color is Black

You must paint with black because your mask is white. The motto to remember here is: white reveals, black conceals. So if your blur mask is white, painting with black will hide the pixels on the blur layer. 

Once you’re ready, use the Brush Tool to paint over the areas you want to keep from your original image. 

Remember, you can easily change your brush size with [ or ] to brush over larger or smaller areas of your blur layer. 

If you make the mistake of concealing too many pixels while using the Brush Tool, you can always change your Foreground color to White, then paint over the areas you need to bring back. 

Step 7: Adjust The Fill Of The Layer To Reduce The Blur Effect (Optional)

After you finish using the Brush Tool, you may feel the blur effect itself is too strong. 

To adjust the blur effect itself, select the blur layer, then move the Fill slider down to adjust the layer’s pixel density. 

You shouldn’t have to adjust the percentage down past 70%, but pay attention to your image as you adjust the Fill down. 

Also, this step may not be necessary if you’re fine with how your blur looks. 

You now have a blurred image with your subject highlighted. 

Option 2: Using A Smart Object & Smart Filters

This option to blur a layer is slightly more complicated but gives you more control in some ways. 

Note: this option works best when using one filter or adjustment layer. A smart object / smart filter layer might affect other filters or layers in your project.  

Step 1: Convert Your Layer Into A Smart Object 

To convert your layer into a Smart Object, right-click on the layer, then choose Convert To Smart Object

You will know if your layer is a smart object when you see the smart object icon in the bottom right corner of the thumbnail. 

Step 2: Go To Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur To Apply A Blur Smart Filter

Now that your layer is a Smart Object, you can go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur to apply a blur smart filter

Step 3: Adjust The Settings Of The Blur Smart Filter 

Before you adjust the Radius, set up your Preview Window by clicking the Preview box, then use the Size Controls to see your image better.

Adjust the Radius of the filter until you’re satisfied with the results. 

Thanks to your original layer being a smart object, applying a Gaussian Blur will create a smart filter with a mask below the layer. 

Step 4: Invert The Blur Smart Filter 

The next step is to invert the blur smart filter to turn the mask from white to black. 

To do this, click the mask itself, then press Control + I (Win) or Command + I (Mac). This will invert the mask, turning it from white to black.  

After reversing the mask, all of the blur on your canvas will disappear. 

Step 5: Select White As Your Foreground Color 

Now that the mask on the smart filter is black, you need to paint with white to reveal what is underneath. 

Make sure your Foreground is White

Step 6: Choose The Soft Round Brush

The next step is to set up your brush. 

First, select the Brush Tool (B) in the Toolbar. Then, change the settings in the Options Menu. Make sure Hardness is set to 0%, then choose the Soft Round Brush

Step 7: Use The Brush Tool To “Paint” On The Blur

Now that your filter layer is inverted and your brush is all setup, you just need to brush the areas you wish to be revealed. 

The areas you brush over will appear blurry as if you were painting on the blur effect itself. 

Using this option gives you more control over which areas of your image you want to be blurred, allowing you to pick and choose which areas you want to paint over. 

How To Blur Adjustment Layers In Photoshop

Do you have a selective adjustment layer that looks fine in the Layers Panel but has a hard edge that you want to get rid of on the canvas? 

You can easily fix this problem by using a blur filter. To do this, select the adjustment layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur

Position the Gaussian Blur Options Menu so you can see both the menu and the canvas at the same time. Adjust the Radius slider until you see the hard edge of the Adjustment Layer get blurred away. 

Once everything looks good, click OK to confirm. 

The hard edge that was present on your adjustment layer should be gone entirely. 

Another great thing about using a blur filter is that you can still edit the adjustment layer without affecting the blur filter. 

To do this, click on the Adjustment Layer icon, then use the sliders in the Properties Panel to adjust the adjustment layer. 

You can edit your adjustment layer at any time while working on your project. 

Now the examples you learned here are a bit extreme for the sake of example, but you can refine your blur effects with less noticeable edits to add subtle blur effects to your layers in Photoshop.

Happy editing!

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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