How to easily Crop a Layer in Photoshop
There are so many reasons for cropping photos – to remove someone or something, to make our portraits look better, or just to resize our photos so they can fit perfectly into our Instagram feed. In many cases, we are facing an issue when using the crop tool that doesn’t let us crop just one layer. Indeed, It will crop your entire document.
In this article, we will discuss two methods that let you crop a single layer in Photoshop.
In the first one, we’ll simply make a copy of the layer in question, convert it to a Smart Layer and then use the free transform tool to crop it to our liking. The second method use a layer mask to hide the portion of the layer you don’t want to appear.
Let’s have a look at the first method that allows you to resize and crop your layer without losing in quality.
By the way, if you’re looking for stock images for your work, you can check our 25 High Quality Stock Image Resources here.
First Method – Use Smart Layer
Step 1: Import your image in Photoshop
In the File tab, click Open.
The explorer window will appear like in the screenshot above. Now select the image you want to work with and Click Open.
Now, you imported your image into Photoshop.
In the next step, we will be working with Layers and Smart Objects.
Step 2: Making a copy of a Layer
Click on the Layer tab > New > Layer Via Copy.
You can even do this by pressing CTRL+J on Windows or Command J if you are using a Mac.
Now, we have created a Layer copy successfully.
Why are we making a Layer copy?
It’s because it makes the whole process easier and carefree. In case we make a mistake or when we’d like to start over just want to make another type of editing – we can just delete the Layer copy and create a new copy to work with – instead of importing the photo again or restarting the Photoshop.
Step 3: Converting a Layer into a Smart Object
Make sure that your Layer copy is selected, just click on it and it will be selected. In this case, my Layer copy is called “Layer 1”.
Right-click on the Layer copy and then select the option Convert to Smart Object.
The Layer copy will now have a small square-like thumbnail on it, which means it is now converted into a Smart Object.
Things to know about Smart Objects:
You have probably heard about Smart Objects in the past. This is actually one of the most powerful tools in Photoshop. It is like a container of image information that preserves all the data of an image and keeps it original shape.
Data such as Resolution, details, colors and many more.
This tool is especially useful when you are cropping your images.
In Steve Patterson’s video, you can see how well the Smart Objects tool actually performs in cropping. It’s not only a great way for keeping a good quality when cropping your layers but it lets you do many more different things that you’ll see in other tutorials.
Step 4: Using The Free Transform Tool
Go to Edit tab and then click on Free Transform. You can also do this by pressing CTRL+T or Command + T on your keyboard.
This is how the Free Transform window looks like.
You can resize your image by clicking and dragging the edges of it until you reach which is good for you. You can make it smaller or bigger.
There is another way to make your selection more accurate than just clicking and dragging.
When the Free Transform Tool is selected, you have also more detailed settings in the upper right corner of Photoshop. Most important settings for cropping are W (width) and H (height).
Here you can make more precise measurements and be sure that your image has been cropped evenly on all sides.
If you want to crop your image evenly on all sides, make sure that you click on the Maintain aspect ratio button. It looks like a small chain icon between the Width and Height. By doing this, the aspect ratio of the layer will stay the same and no matter how you change its Width, its Height will change accordingly.
You can play with this Maintain aspect ratio option by holding your MAJ key while changing the size of your image.
It is going to look like this.
When you are satisfied with your selection and the new size of your image – click on the Commit transform button to confirm your Free Transform selection or just press Enter on your keyboard if you are using Windows or Return if you are using a Mac.
Now you have made your Free Transform step and by doing that you have cropped your image.
Why don’t we use the Crop Tool instead?
It’s because the Crop Tool will just crop your picture and delete the parts we don’t need.
On the other hand, Free Transform in combination with Smart Objects tool – will keep all the details preserved as much as possible and it will retain a good image quality even after cropping.
Tip: For the best results, make sure that you take your photos in RAW. Every camera and even some smartphones can do it nowadays.
RAW files allows your camera to store all the data from an image. The files are much bigger in size than a normal jpg and lets you play a lot more in post production than any other format. You will have way more freedom while editing your images later.
One last step that will help you maintaining a good level of details in your images is called Sharpening.
The Sharpening Tool can help you to fine tune your images after cropping in case you lost some details in the process or the image became a little bit blurry or too smooth.
Step 5: Fine Tune Your Cropped Image By Using The Sharpening Tool
Go to Filter > Sharpen > Smart Sharpen.
This is how the Smart Sharpen Tool looks like. Here you can adjust the Amount, Radius and Noise reduction of your image.
Adjust the Amount, Radius and Reduce Noise to your liking and then click OK. Don’t be afraid of playing with those settings in order to discover the best option for your image.
And you’re done.
Here is my example of using this cropping technique:
Now you have learned the correct way to crop your images or layers in Photoshop without losing quality.
Second Method – Use Layer Mask
First, unlock the background layer by clicking on its little lock icon.
Now you want to select the area of your layer you want to keep. You can use whatever selection tool you want. In my case, I simply use the rectangle selection tool as follow:
Now that you have the area you want to keep selected, we will simply hide the rest by applying a layer mask. You can do this by clicking the little rectangle icon in the layer panel.
Once you click on the layer mask icon, you’ll see that everything but your selection just disappeared. That’s the magic of layer masks. You can edit them afterward without any limit, it’s a non-destructive method.
To resume how they work, what’s 100% black on a layer mask won’t appear, and what’s 100% white will.
One really powerful feature of layer masks is that you can directly paint on them. You will use black color to hide everything you don’t want to appear from the layer. On the contrary, you will use a white color to paint the areas you want to keep from your layer. If you want to know more about Layer Mask, I recommend you to check this article by HowToGeek.
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