How to Outline a Selection in Photoshop CS5: A Step-by-Step Guide

Outlining a selection in Photoshop CS5 is a useful skill for creating clean and precise edits. To accomplish this task, you will use the selection tools to make your initial selection, and then refine and outline it to your liking. This process is important for graphic designers, photographers, and anyone looking to make professional-quality image edits.

After you complete the outlining of a selection, you will have a clearly defined area that you can fill, manipulate, or isolate for further editing. This outlined selection can be used to create borders, apply effects, or cleanly remove or replace background elements.


Photoshop CS5 is a powerhouse when it comes to photo editing, and one of the essential skills any aspiring graphic designer or photographer should master is how to outline a selection. This technique allows you to isolate a part of your image, making it easier to edit without affecting the surrounding areas. It’s particularly useful for tasks like background removal, compositing, or applying localized adjustments.

But why is it so important? Well, imagine you want to change the color of a shirt in a photo. If you don’t select and outline the shirt precisely, you might end up with a messy edit where the new color bleeds into the background or other parts of the image. That’s certainly not the mark of a professional!

So, who needs this skill? Honestly, anyone who uses Photoshop regularly can benefit from knowing how to outline a selection. Whether you’re editing product photos for an e-commerce site, creating marketing materials, or just sprucing up your social media images, the ability to outline a selection is invaluable. Let’s dive into the step-by-step process of how to do just that.

Step by Step Tutorial: How to Outline a Selection in Photoshop CS5

Before jumping into the steps, it’s critical to understand what you’ll achieve by following this tutorial. Outlining a selection means creating a border around a chosen area of an image. This border can then be used to edit only within that selected area.

Step 1: Choose a Selection Tool

Select one of the selection tools from the toolbar.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 offers a variety of selection tools, each with its own strengths. The Marquee tools are great for geometric shapes, the Lasso tools for freeform shapes, and the Magic Wand and Quick Selection tools for color-based selections.

Step 2: Create Your Initial Selection

Click and drag or click around the area you want to select.

Depending on the tool you chose in step 1, you will either click and drag to create a rectangular or elliptical selection, click multiple points to create a polygonal selection, or click on an area to let Photoshop auto-select based on color.

Step 3: Refine Your Selection

Go to Select > Refine Edge to adjust the selection boundary.

Refining the edge of your selection helps to ensure that the outline will be smooth and precise. In the Refine Edge dialog, you can adjust the radius, smoothness, feathering, and contrast of the selection edge, as well as shift the edge inward or outward.

Step 4: Create an Outline

Go to Edit > Stroke to outline the selection.

In the Stroke dialog box, you can choose the width, color, and location of the outline. You can also choose whether the stroke should be inside, outside, or centered on the selection boundary.


PrecisionWith a clearly outlined selection, edits are more precise, avoiding any unintentional changes outside the selected area. This precision allows for cleaner, more professional-looking image edits.
VersatilityOutlining a selection can be used in a variety of editing scenarios, from graphic design to basic photo retouching, making it a versatile skill in your Photoshop arsenal.
Non-destructive editingBy working with outlined selections, you ensure that the original image remains intact, allowing for more flexibility and the ability to revert changes if necessary.


Learning CurveFor beginners, outlining a selection might seem daunting, and it can take some time to master the various tools and options available.
Time-ConsumingDepending on the complexity of the selection, the outlining process can be time-consuming, especially when refining the edge for a perfect result.
Potential for ErrorIf not done carefully, it’s possible to end up with an outline that is not smooth or that does not accurately follow the desired selection, which can compromise the final edit.

Additional Information

When working on outlining a selection in Photoshop CS5, there are a few additional tips that can make your life easier. Firstly, remember to zoom in on the area you’re selecting to ensure maximum accuracy. It’s also wise to work on a separate layer so that your original image remains unaltered. Another trick is to use the “Quick Mask” mode, which allows you to paint your selection with a brush, giving you even more control over the selection shape.

Moreover, don’t forget about the “Save Selection” command under the Select menu. This feature allows you to save your outlined selection for later use, which can be a huge time-saver if you need to perform similar edits across multiple images. Lastly, practice makes perfect. The more you use these tools, the faster and more efficient you’ll become in outlining selections like a pro.


  1. Choose a Selection Tool
  2. Create Your Initial Selection
  3. Refine Your Selection
  4. Create an Outline

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best selection tool for outlining complex shapes?

For complex shapes, the Pen Tool or the Lasso Tool can offer more control and precision.

Can I move my selection after outlining it?

Yes, you can use the Move Tool to reposition your outlined selection.

How do I deselect an area if I make a mistake?

You can deselect by pressing Ctrl+D (Cmd+D on a Mac) or by going to Select > Deselect.

Is it possible to outline a selection with a pattern instead of a solid color?

Yes, in the Stroke dialog box, you can choose a pattern instead of a color for your outline.

Can I save my outlined selection for future use?

Yes, use the “Save Selection” command under the Select menu to save your outlined selection.


Mastering how to outline a selection in Photoshop CS5 is a game-changer for anyone serious about image editing. Whether you’re a professional designer or just someone who enjoys creating stunning visuals, the ability to isolate and manipulate parts of an image with precision is crucial.

Remember, practice is key, and the more you work with the tools and techniques discussed in this article, the more natural they will become. So go ahead, fire up Photoshop, and start outlining like a pro!

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