You can soften the edges of almost anything in Photoshop, including shapes, images, text, and much more. In this tutorial, I will show you the different ways to do just that by adding a feathered edge to just about anything in your projects. 

Then I will show you how to blur the edges of a selection, which opens up even more doors for creative uses. 

Let’s get started!

How To Soften The Edge Of A Photo In Photoshop

The most common element you will likely soften is the edge of a photo. This technique is great when editing images for layouts or marketing material. It’s also a cool effect to use on your pictures for social media or a print for your wall at home.

There are two methods you can use to achieve this. Choose the best one for your photo and follow these simple steps to get the best results.

Option 1: The Marquee Tools

The Marquee Tools are quick selections that let you make a rectangular or ellipse selection around an object. These two selection tools are great ways to crop a layer into a square or circle, but you can also use them to soften the edges of an image.

This method limits you to softening the edges using a square, rectangular, circle, or ellipse shape. If you need a more unconstrained approach, you must use option 2.

To soften the edges using a Marquee Tool, open your image in Photoshop.

Then, select the Rectangular Marquee Tool or the Elliptical Marquee Tool. You can click and hold on the tool in the Toolbar or press M to activate them. Choose the rectangle to soften the edges in a square or rectangle shape and the elliptical for a circle or oval shape.

I will use the Rectangular Marquee Tool, but the process is the same when using the Elliptical Marquee Tool. You will use the Feather option to soften the edges, which you need to change before creating the selection. Feathering adds a blur to the pixels at the edge of the selection to blend them into the surrounding pixels.

Find the Feather setting in the Options bar and add the number of pixels you want feathered. The higher the value you input, the softer the edges will be. I’ll put 100 px into the box to demonstrate. The intensity of a certain feather radius will also vary based on your canvas dimensions.

Once you have set the pixel value, you can create your selection by clicking and dragging over the image. The soften will start at the edge of the selection and extend inwards and outwards, so don’t set it too close to any important details in the picture. 

You will notice that the selection has rounded edges, which indicates feathering.

Now, you can remove the edges and create the softened effect in two ways. Either press Control + C, then Control + V (Win) or Command + C, then Command + V (Mac) to copy the selection and paste it onto a new layer, leaving the background layer intact.

Once you turn off the layer visibility of the background layer, you will see the softened edges on the canvas.

If you don’t want to keep the background layer, you can add a mask to hide the photo’s edges instead of copying and pasting the selection. 

Once you have made your selection, click on the Add a Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. Your background layer will unlock, and a mask will be added to the layer hiding the edges outside the selection.

The image will have softened edges on the canvas as well.

You can use the image as it is by adding it to another project or adding a solid-colored background to create a border for a frame or wall print.

You can follow the same directions to soften the edges in an oval shape using the Elliptical Marquee Tool.

Option 2: A Layer Mask & Gradient

If you need a more flexible method of softening the edges, you can use a layer mask and gradient to create blur. This method allows you to determine the softening amount on each edge of the picture. You can also choose between various gradient types to select the shape of the softening.

To start, you need to open your image in Photoshop and add a mask to your image layer. Select the layer and click on the Add a Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.

Keep the layer mask active and select the Gradient Tool (G). Then, since we are working on a layer mask and want to hide areas of the image layer, ensure that the foreground color is set to black.

Now, you can adjust some settings before softening the edges. First, you need to select the correct gradient type. Click on the arrow next to the gradient bar and find the Foreground to Transparent option under the Basic tab.

Next, you need to set the gradient type. You can test out a few options, but I recommend you use the Linear gradient as it works best for this purpose.

You can now start softening the edges as you’d like. To soften one edge, click and drag across the edge of the image.

The further you drag the line into the image, the more subtle the feathering effect. Once you place the gradient, it will soften one edge of the photo.

You can now draw more gradients around the remaining edges at different lengths and angles to soften the other edges. This means you don’t have to create a uniform softening around the photo. 

If you make a mistake at any stage or don’t like how the gradient came out, press Control + Z (Win) or Command + Z (Mac) to undo as many steps as you need and then redo the gradient.

You can then use the image as you want, for example, by adding a background color.

How To Soften The Edges Of A Selection In Photoshop

If you want to soften the edges of a selection that you made with a tool other than the Marquee Tools (or Lasso Tools), the process is slightly different since there isn’t the Feather setting in the Options bar. However, it’s still an efficient method, and you can use it with the tools mentioned above as well.

First, select your tool of choice. In this case, I chose the Quick Selection Tool (W).

Once your chosen tool is active, create the selection on your photo. I just clicked and dragged around the palm tree and the woman to soften the surrounding areas.

Now you need to access the Select and Mask Workspace, which can be done in one of two ways. 

Firstly, you can add a layer mask to your image layer by clicking on the Add a Mask icon at the bottom of the panel, then double-click on the layer mask thumbnail.

Alternatively, don’t add the layer mask and open the Select and Mask workspace by clicking on the button in the Options bar.

The Select and Mask workspace offers several tools and features to refine your selection. However, for this purpose, we will only consider the Feather and Shift Edge sliders in the right-hand panel under Global Refinements.

Firstly, you can slide the Feather setting to the right to increase the feather and soften the edges. 

However, you will notice that the feather moves into the selection, which is fine if you want this effect, but it may cover some of the details you want to keep.

You can use the Shift Edge slider to move the selection and the feather outwards. Move this slider to the right to shift the selection edge outwards, and move it to the left to shift the edge inwards.

Once you have the settings you want, you can select the Output Settings at the bottom of the panel. You can choose between keeping it as a selection, adding it to a new layer and a layer mask, and more. Choose the output you want and click OK.

I added mine as a layer mask on a new layer, and you can see that the edges of the selection have softened.

You can now use the layer as you’d like, such as adding a background color.

Other Methods Of Softening Edges In Photoshop

Now that you know a few ways of softening images and selections, you may wonder whether you can apply these effects to text and shapes. Since text and shapes are “vectors” and not raster elements, you won’t be able to use the same methods. 

You also can’t add filters such as a blur filter onto a text or shape layer. While you can rasterize the text or shape layer, it prevents you from editing it later.

Using a slightly different method, you can still soften text and shapes. The technique is generally the same for these two elements.

Softening Text Edges In Photoshop

Once you have added your text box to your canvas, you can easily soften it using a few quick steps.

First, right-click on your text layer and select Convert to Smart Object.

Now, you can edit the text layer using filters, such as a blur filter. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

You can now move the Radius slider to the right to increase the amount of blur on the text. Click OK when you are happy with the blur amount.

Firstly, you will notice that the text has been blurred on the canvas, ultimately softening the edges.

Next, you will see that a Smart Filter is added to the text layer in the Layers panel. You can double-click on the filter to edit the blur amount at any stage.

Since you converted the text to a smart object, you can edit it by double-clicking on the text thumbnail.

Once you double-click on the thumbnail, the text opens in a new tab, where you can click on it and edit it as needed.

Then, press Control + S (Win) or Command + S (Mac) to save the changes. Close the tab and open the original tab. You will now have the new text saved with the softened effect still applied.

Softening Shape Edges In Photoshop

To soften the edges of a shape works the same as with text. To recap, add your shape to the canvas using one of the Shape Tools (U).

Convert the shape layer to a smart object by right-clicking on the layer and clicking on Convert to Smart Object.

Then, add a blur filter by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

Set the Radius amount and click OK.

You can edit the blur by double-clicking on the smart filter or edit the shape by double-clicking on the shape thumbnail.

You now have a shape with softened edges on your canvas.

You can use these methods to soften the edges in Photoshop for images, selections, shapes, and text. These techniques can help you create unique collages, add elements to other projects, and much more.