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


Michael Collins

Outlining a selection in Photoshop CS5 is a fundamental skill that can help you create precise edits and manipulations in your digital artwork. This quick guide will show you how to outline a selection using the built-in tools available in Photoshop CS5. After reading this paragraph, you’ll be ready to take your Photoshop skills to the next level.

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

Before we dive into the steps, it’s important to understand that outlining a selection refers to creating a border around a selected area of an image. This can be useful for highlighting a particular section or preparing to apply effects to just that area.

Step 1: Make a Selection

Use any selection tool to select the area you want to outline.

Making a selection is the first and most crucial step. You can use the Marquee tools for rectangular or elliptical selections, the Lasso tools for freehand selections, or the Quick Selection tool for a more automated approach. Ensure that the "marching ants" boundary is visible, indicating an active selection.

Step 2: Refine the Selection

If necessary, refine your selection by adding or subtracting areas.

Sometimes, your initial selection might not be perfect. You can hold down the Shift key and use a selection tool to add to the selection, or hold down the Alt key (Option on Mac) to subtract from the selection. The goal is to have a clean and precise selection for the best outlining result.

Step 3: Create a New Layer

Go to the Layers panel and create a new layer for the outline.

Creating a new layer for your outline is a good practice as it keeps the outline separate from the rest of your image. This makes it easier to edit or remove the outline later if you need to. Just click on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.

Step 4: Stroke the Selection

Go to Edit > Stroke, choose your desired width and color, and then click OK.

Stroking a selection creates the actual outline. You can specify the width of the stroke in pixels and select any color you want. You can also choose whether the stroke should be inside, outside, or centered on the selection boundary.

Step 5: Deselect

Finally, deselect the selection by going to Select > Deselect or pressing Ctrl+D (Cmd+D on Mac).

Deselecting is the final step to see your outlined selection without the "marching ants." Now, you should have a clean outline around the area you initially selected.

After completing these steps, you will have a crisp, outlined selection that stands out from the rest of the image. It’s a great way to draw attention to specific elements in your design or prepare for further editing.

Tips: How to Outline a Selection in Photoshop CS5

  • Always work on a new layer to avoid destructively editing your original image.
  • Experiment with different stroke widths to find the best look for your project.
  • Use the "Preview" option in the Stroke dialog box to see how the outline will look before applying it.
  • If your selection is complex, consider using the Pen Tool for more control over the selection shape.
  • Remember that you can always undo (Ctrl+Z or Cmd+Z) if you make a mistake.

Frequently Asked Questions

What if my selection is not perfect?

If your selection isn’t perfect, you can refine it using the Add to selection or Subtract from selection options while holding Shift or Alt (Option on Mac), respectively.

Can I outline a selection with a pattern instead of a solid color?

Yes, in the Stroke dialog box, you can choose a pattern from the Fill Type dropdown menu instead of a solid color.

How do I remove the outline if I don’t like it?

Since you’ve created the outline on a new layer, you can simply delete that layer or hide it by clicking on the eye icon next to the layer in the Layers panel.

Can I make the outline semi-transparent?

Yes, you can adjust the opacity of the outline layer in the Layers panel to make it semi-transparent.

Is it possible to outline a selection with multiple colors?

While you can’t stroke a selection with multiple colors at once, you can create multiple outline layers with different colors and adjust their widths and positions to create a multi-colored effect.


  1. Make a selection using a selection tool.
  2. Refine the selection if necessary.
  3. Create a new layer for the outline.
  4. Stroke the selection with your desired width and color.
  5. Deselect to view the outlined selection.


Outlining a selection in Photoshop CS5 is a straightforward process that can greatly enhance the look of your digital artwork. Whether you’re creating graphics for web design, adding emphasis to a photo, or preparing elements for compositing, mastering the art of outlining selections is an essential skill. With practice and experimentation, you’ll find a multitude of creative ways to use this technique in your projects. So go ahead, give it a try, and watch as your images transform with sharp, defined outlines that make your subjects pop!