There are a few methods you can use to stretch an image or layer in Photoshop. Stretching does, in effect, resize the image, but stretching is different than just scaling because you are altering the appearance of the image, not just the size. 

Stretching an image can produce interesting effects, but it is helpful to keep in mind that stretching may add unnecessary pixelation. This is because stretching an image beyond its original resolution results in a lack of pixels between the areas you’ve stretched, which then appear blurred as the software fills in the space. 

A stretched image may still look fine, though, particularly if it’s a simple pattern, shape, or an image with a lot of blank space – it just may not be as sharp as it was before because of the loss of pixels. It is for this reason that you may not want to stretch faces, animals, buildings, or landscapes with a lot of detail, as stretching will noticeably alter both the appearance and quality of these images.

With that said, small amounts of stretching won’t be a problem with these types of images. Throughout this post, you’ll not only learn a few easy ways to stretch layers in Photoshop but a helpful tip if you’re wanting to extend an image to fit your canvas.

How To Stretch An Image Or Layer In Photoshop

To stretch an image or layer in Photoshop, first, select the Move Tool by pressing V and clicking your desired layer in the layers panel. Next, click on any of the anchor points surrounding your layer while holding Shift. Now when you adjust its size, it will be stretched in the direction you drag.

This method with the Move Tool and the shift key is one of the most basic methods of stretching layers in Photoshop. However, it often causes issues, particularly with your canvas size not matching your new image dimensions. Instead, the 3 other options below will be a more streamlined way to stretch your images.

Option 1: Increase The Width Or Height Using Image Size

If you’re looking to stretch an image, keep in mind that if your canvas isn’t big enough, your image will be cropped if you stretch it beyond the boundaries of the canvas. You can easily fix this issue by increasing the canvas size along with the image size, which happens automatically when you stretch using the Image Size tool.

To do this, open the file you want to stretch and go to Image > Image Size.

In the window that comes up, first click the Link icon on the left to make sure it’s not active, as this will automatically change the width to match the height value, and vice versa – thus resizing the image instead of simply stretching it.

Then, select Percent from the drop-down menu next to Width and Height. Type the value in the box that you’d like the width or height to increase by – for example, 150 percent. That means the height of my canvas will be 50% larger than the width once this stretch is applied.

Keep in mind that you must use a value over 100 percent in order to add to the image; using a value below 100 will warp the image inward. 

Now click OK and you’ll see the image stretched according to the percentage you set.

For my example, here is the original image:

And this is how the image looks after stretching the height 150%:

The image is noticeably stretched, and because the Image Size dialogue box changes the canvas size to meet the image, we don’t have any cropping. To undo your work and try a new percentage, go to Edit > Undo and repeat the process until you’re happy with the stretched effect.

Option 2: Use The Transform Tool With The Distort Setting

The transform tool has tons of different uses, from scaling your image to rotating it, to distorting it in different ways. Using the Transform tool with the Distort setting will allow you to stretch your image in any direction you’d like, warping its appearance.

To do this, first, open a new document. In the New Document window, make sure you set the canvas size much larger than your intended image; otherwise, the image will be cropped if you stretch it beyond the canvas. I’m setting mine to 20×20 centimeters, but feel free to play around with whatever size works best for your image.

Now, add your photo to the canvas by dragging and dropping the image from your computer. This will add the image as a new layer, as opposed to the background layer. It is important for your image to exist as a separate layer from the background, as you cannot use the Transform tool on a background layer; since it is locked. Although you can unlock the background layer, it’s easier just to add your image to an existing project by dragging and dropping.

With your image imported, make sure it’s selected in the layers panel.

Then select the Move Tool (V).

Now, head to Edit > Transform > Distort. 

Then click and drag any of the anchor points on the transform box to stretch that part of your image. The Distort settings will allow you free reign to stretch your image vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.

Another quick way to stretch your image using this same tool is to head to Edit > Free Transform or using the Control + T (PC) or Command + T (Mac) shortcuts. Once the transform tool is active, you can right-click on the layer and choose Distort from the menu that appears instead.

Free Transform only really differs from Distort when moving the corner anchor point. Free Transform moves the sides and corners of your image along with the one you’re clicking and dragging. Meanwhile, the Distort setting keeps all sides locked in place and only stretches the image based on the one corner you’re stretching.

However, by holding Alt (PC) or Option (Mac) and dragging one of the anchor points, the image will distort the opposite side equally.

Just remember the transform tool only works when the Move tool is active. So make sure you’ve selected the Move Tool (V)!

Option 3: Stretch An Image With The Content-Aware Scale

Using Content-Aware Scale stretches an image to fit an aspect ratio that you’ve specified, but can protect certain areas of the image from being distorted by the stretching process.

Before you start, your layer cannot be a smart object. If it is, you won’t be able to use the Content-Aware Scale since it’ll be greyed out. Luckily you can fix this by right-clicking on the smart object and selecting Rasterize Layer.

Once rasterized, use the Crop tool (C) to extend the canvas to the amount that you’d like the image stretched. You can extend one side at a time, or hold the Alt/Option key to extend both sides of the canvas simultaneously. Since I want to make this portrait photo horizontal, I have extended the canvas outwards in that direction.

Now it’s time to use the Content-Aware Scale which means you must first, select the Move tool.

Then head to Edit > Content-Aware Scale.

In the upper setting bar, you can type in the new width and height of the image, or you can simply use the anchor to stretch your image to fill the transparent areas of the canvas.

Notice that, even though we’ve stretched the background, the person in the middle doesn’t appear stretched. This makes the Content-Aware Scale a great option for stretching images but retaining some of the information. Content-Aware Scale has a lot of advantages for stretching images without distorting your subject. I explain more about this technique and the downsides to it in this tutorial on extended backgrounds in Photoshop.

Stretching an image doesn’t have to be difficult, nor does it have to warp the entire image and result in low quality. These methods will allow you to stretch objects in Photoshop while retaining much of the quality and still getting the desired effect.

Happy Editing!