What Is “Feathering” In Photoshop And How To Use It

Many times photos or drawings require a softening effect around their edges and in Photoshop, this is known as “Feathering.” It’s a somewhat simple process that proves useful for blending images, softening edges, or creating localized adjustments to your images.

Feathering in Photoshop is used to soften the edge of an image, brush, or layer. For example, a brush stroke with a high feather will have blurred edges that blend into the image. In contrast, a brush stroke with a low feather will have a hard edge and prove more useful when painting near objects.

Now throughout this tutorial, you’ll learn the different ways feathering changes your images, as well as how to use it to soften the edges of your photos to make them stand out.

What Is “Feather” In Photoshop?

Feather in Photoshop refers to soft edges. You can use these soft edges around a selection to nicely blend images, do away with hard edges, or add localized adjustments to object within an image. It can also be used to fade parts of an image, blend brush adjustments, and make cutouts look more realistic

The feather setting in Photoshop can be achieved using the brush tool or selections. Selections are more commonly used because they can cover a large area to apply the effect at once. In contrast, a feathered brush is used for more specific adjustments, such as feathering a small area in an image or achieving a softening effect on a particular part of an image. 

Here’s what a hard edge brush looks like vs. a feathered edge brush:

How To Adjust Brush Feathering

To adjust the Brush Tools feather in Photoshop, select the Brush Tool, then right-click on your canvas to open the Brush Preset panel. Here you will see a Hardness slider that controls the amount of feather your brush has. Set the hardness to 0% for a soft-edged brush or 100% for a hard-edged brush.

Let’s break this down step by step.

Here’s how to adjust a brush’s hardness to achieve a feathered look:

  1. Create a new layer by clicking on the new layer icon in the layer panel (it’s the square with the cross in it). You can also use the shortcut Shift + Control + N on Windows or Shift + Command + N on Mac to create a new layer. 
  1. Next, select the brush tool, it’s the paintbrush icon in the toolbar to the left of the screen. You can also use shortcut B to quickly select the brush tool as well. 
  1. Once you’ve selected the brush tool, go to the Setting Bar and there will be a circle next to the brush tool icon. Click it and a popup menu will appear with the brush’s settings. 
  1. In the brush’s settings, you’ll see two sliders, one determines the brush’s size and the other determines the brush’s hardness. For this tutorial, a 100 px brush was used, but you can use whatever size is most comfortable for you. The hardness is set at 100% as default. 

This level of hardness provides the sharp edges you usually see in most images, but the feathering effect softens those edges. To add a feather to your brush, bring down the hardness amount. 

  1. Since you have your new layer ready, paint a brush stroke with your brush at 100% hardness. It will look something like this:
  1. Next, you’re going to lower the brush’s hardness by 25% and paint a stroke beneath the first one. Notice how the edges are not as hard on the second stroke as they are on the first stroke? That’s because the hardness has been reduced, even though it’s only by 25%. 
  1. Now, reduce the brush’s hardness by increments of 25% and make a stroke until you reach 0% hardness. Then compare each stroke and see how the edges gradually get softer, giving the brushstroke that feathering effect. 

As you can see, as the brush’s hardness goes down, the feathering effect increases. But, of course, the feathering you’d need for your images would depend heavily on you and your project, so don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works best.  

How To Feather The Edges Of An Image Or Layer In Photoshop

To feather the edges of a layer in Photoshop, select the layer by holding Command or Control and clicking on the layer thumbnail. Next, go to Select > Modify > Feather and set the desired feather amount. Now add a layer mask to your image layer to feather the edges of the image.

To give you a more detailed idea of this process, let’s break it down further:

  1. Create a new file in Photoshop by pressing Control + N on Windows or Command + N on Mac, and then import the image you want to give the feathering effect. Once you’ve imported the image, press Control + T on Windows or Command + T on Mac to activate the free transform tool. Then adjust the image size and position so that it is centered on your canvas.
  1. Now that you’re all set up, press Control on Windows or Command on Mac and then click the thumbnail of the image layer. This will select the image, and you can tell it’s selected when it has the broken lines surrounding it, also known as marching ants. 
  1. After selecting the image, go to the Menu Bar and click Select. From the dropdown menu, hover your cursor over Modify and click Feather from the menu that appears to the right. If you wish to forgo all of this, you can also use the shortcut Shift + F6 to open the Feather Selection Window.
  1. Next, you’ll see the Feather Selection pop up. The Feather Radius is how much feathering will be applied to your image. For this tutorial, a feather radius of 100 pixels was used. You can tweak it however you wish for your future projects but for this example, I’ll set it to 100 pixels then click OK. 
  1. When you’re finished applying your Feather Selection, you’ll notice that the selection around your image has changed. It’s no longer a rectangle with sharp corners, but now one with rounded corners. This is because the selection has adjusted inward to match the feather. 
  1. With your image still selected, go back to the layer panel and click the layer mask icon to successfully apply the feathering effect to the edge of the image. 

How To Add Feather To Marquee Selections

Applying the feathering effect is possible not only through using the feather function mentioned in the method above. You can also add feather to marquee selections as well. 

  1. First, select the rectangular marquee tool from the Toolbar. You can also use the shortcut M to activate it as well. 
  1. Next, go to the upper Setting Bar, where you will see a Feather section. Its default will be 0 px, but I’ll adjust the feather to 100 px. This will apply the feather effect to your selection when it is drawn with the marquee tool. As always, the 100 px is merely a value used for demonstration, you can adjust as you see fit. 
  1. Once you’ve adjusted the marquee tool’s feather, draw a selection on your image. As you can see, even though you’re using the rectangular marquee tool, it will adjust inward to the feather value applied in the previous step. 
  1. After drawing your selection on your image. Go to the Layers panel and click the layer mask icon at the bottom of the panel to apply a layer mask and reveal your feather effect. 

There you have it; you now know about feathering Photoshop and how to use it. As you’ve seen, feathering is a great way to get rid of rough edges or make parts of a photo stand out on their own. 

Happy feathering!

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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