If you’ve ever needed to take screenshots of a Photoshop, or Photoshop Elements technique that demonstrates making selections, you’ll know how difficult it can be to get their marching ant border to show up properly, especially against a low-contrast background.
In this article we’ll use a little trick to make selections stand out better. This will be of particular use if the resulting images are destined for print, where they will only be a couple of inches across.
1. Although it’s not strictly necessary, it’s useful to turn off the Zoom Resizes Window option in preferences as it will make the procedure easier to work with. This can also be done by unchecking Resize Windows to fit in the Options Bar when the Zoom tool is selected.
2. Before starting to make the selection, create a new layer above all the rest. Bring up the Fill Dialog from the Edit menu, or by pressing Shift + Delete on Mac, or Shift + Backspace on PC (although I would argue they are both backspace!). Select 50% Gray as the contents and click OK.
3. Turn the grey layer off for the time being by clicking its eyeball icon in the Layers panel. Now go back to your target layer and make your selection. It’s a good idea to save your selection once you’ve finished as a precaution, in case it is accidentally lost during the procedure. To do this, go to Select > Save Selection. Give it a name and click OK.
4. Turn the grey layer back on. Now, zoom out on the image, either with the Zoom tool or by using the keyboard shortcut Cmd – (minus) on Mac, or Ctrl – (minus) on PC. In this instance it’s zoomed out 3 times. The further out you zoom, the bolder the result will be.
5. Now using your screen-capture software, take a grab of the smaller image rectangle within the main window (shown as a red overlay here for clarity). I use Snapz Pro X on the Mac but any software capable of capturing regions will work. If you do have to grab the whole screen, you will need to open the grab first and crop it to the rectangle and resave before moving to the next stage.
6. Turn the grey layer off again. Go to View > Fit on screen or Press Cmd + 0 (zero) on Mac, or Ctrl + 0 (zero) on PC to have the image fit the window again. Go to File > Place. Navigate to the location where your screenshots are saved and select the image you just grabbed. The grab will be placed scaled in the centre of the image on a new layer with a Free Transform box in place.
7. Hold down Opt + Shift on Mac, or Alt + Shift on PC. This forces the transform to maintain its aspect and scale around the centre point. Now click and drag one of the corner handles out to the meet the edge of the image. Once you’ve done this, hit Enter to commit the change. Note: in Photoshop Elements, the layer will already be scaled to fit the background.
8. Finally, set the layer’s blend mode to Hard Light. This hides the midtone grey leaving only the selection boundary visible. The image can now be saved as a flat image ready for inclusion in your work through. This may seem like a lot of effort to go through at first but it becomes second nature after you’ve done it a few times and the end product is much clearer.
Notes: This is a very basic example, if you were working with objects that were already on layers, you could skip the part where you save the selection, as you can simply load it up by Cmd/Ctrl clicking its thumbnail. Also, if you were showing the layers panel as part of a full-screen image, you would need to edit the additional layers out or work in such a way that you could delete them after creating the new grab.
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