Cropping images to fit a particular shape is often a significant element in graphic design or photo editing. Photoshop, as the most widely used photo editing software, naturally gives photographers and designers an easy method to get the exact crop they need.
To crop an image into a shape in Photoshop, select any Shape Tool and set the mode from Shape to Path in the Options bar. Now click and drag to define your cropping area with your shape’s path. Then press Make Selection in the Options Bar, set your feather to 0, and add a layer mask to your image.
This is a really easy way to crop your image into a shape and even works for custom shapes as well. However, if you’re looking for a bit more detail, I outline this exact process step by step below, along with an alternative option that’s great for rectangular or circular crops instead.
How To Crop Images Into Any Shape
Step 1: Open Your Image And Unlock The Background Layer
First, you’ll need to open your image in Photoshop. You can do this by heading to File > Open.
The image will appear in a new document.
In the Layers panel, make sure you unlock the background layer by clicking the Lock icon next to the layer (where your image sits).
The layer will become Layer 0.
Step 2: Select The Shape You’d Like To Crop The Image To
Once the image is open, you’ll need to select the shape you’d like to use to crop the image. You can create the shape using the Shape Tool (U). Click and hold the icon in the toolbar and select the shape you’d like to make. You can choose between a rectangle, ellipse, triangle, polygon, or a custom shape (this won’t work with the line tool).
I’ll go with a triangle for this example — but don’t make the shape yet! First, you’ll need to change some settings in the Options bar.
Step 3: Set The Shape Type To Path
Once you’ve selected your shape, you need to change the shape type to a Path before making the shape itself. You’ll see a way to set the Shape Type in the Options bar.
Click the drop-down, and set the type from Shape to Path.
This will allow you to turn the shape into a selection later on.
Step 4: Create Your Shape Path
Now, you can either create the shape by clicking and dragging on your image or by clicking the document and entering the shape’s dimensions in the window that appears. Click OK when you’re done.
If you’d like to make a shape with equal sides, such as a triangle, a circle, or a square, you can also hold the Shift key while dragging on the document.
Once you’ve made the shape, it will appear over an area of your image. Since it’s a path and not a shape layer, there will only be lines to indicate the path without any stroke or fill settings.
Step 5: Position The Path Over Your Image
Now, you’ll need to position your shape over the image correctly. Drag the toggles around the path until you have the outline over the part of the image you’d like to crop to fit inside the shape.
Remember that anything outside your shape won’t be part of the final product, so be sure to choose and position your shape accordingly.
Step 6: Turn Your Path Into A Selection
Because you’ve set the type to Path, you’ll be able to click Make: Selection in the Options bar.
The Make Selection window will appear. Set the feather radius to a higher amount if you’d like softer edges, or leave it at 0 for well-defined and sharp edges then click OK.
This will convert the shape to an active selection, and you’ll see the marching ants around your shape.
Step 7: Apply A Layer Mask To Your Image
Head to the Layers panel and click the Layer Mask icon, and the rest of the image will be cropped away with just the shape remaining.
Step 8: Unlink The Mask And Image Layer To Refine The Crop
To make sure you’re able to move the image around within the shape, you’ll need to unlink the image and the mask.
You can do this by heading to the Layers panel and clicking the Link icon that sits between the layer thumbnail and layer mask.
Now, as long as the layer’s image thumbnail is selected, you can head to the Move Tool (V) and click the image to move it around inside the mask. This won’t move the actual mask, so the triangle remains in place while the image inside moves.
From there, you just need to save your image as a PNG file to preserve the transparent background and complete the cropping effect.
How To Crop Images Into Circles With The Frame Tool
There is another fast and easy method to crop an image into a shape using the Frame Tool — but the only shapes you’ll have available are ellipses and rectangles. This method won’t work with any other shapes.
So, to crop your image into a circle or a rectangle, you’ll first need to have your photo open and ready to go in Photoshop.
Now we’ll use the frame tool to cut the shape into our image. This tool quickly creates a mask over a part of an image to crop it into a specific shape. To access it, click the Frame tool icon located in the Toolbar.
You can also press the K key on your keyboard to immediately activate the Frame tool.
With the frame tool open, head to the Options bar and select which of the two frames you’d like to make — Ellipsis or Rectangle. I’ll create a circle frame for this example, so I’ll select Ellipsis.
Now, click and drag to position your frame over your image — even if you’ve chosen Ellipsis, the frame will show as a rectangle to mark the circle’s height and width, just while dragging it along at first. Once you release the cursor, the circle will appear with the image cropped.
With your image thumbnail selected in the Layers Panel, you can access the Move Tool (V) to reposition and resize the image within the frame. Alternatively, you can click on the frame thumbnail to resize and reposition the frame with the Move Tool, independently from the image. Once everything is positioned as you want, you can once again export with a transparent background to save your new crop.