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How to Crop a Layer in Photoshop: 4 methods

Cropping photos is something that we do every other time after taking pictures, and one of the most basic and common tools for this in Photoshop. We crop our photos for several reasons: remove someone or an object or simply just to resize the images to fit well on our social media timelines or profiles. Whatever the specific reason may be, the aim is to make our portraits look more pleasing to the eyes. However, many of us find it very hard to effectively crop our photos when using the crop tool, especially if you want to crop a single layer. The crop tool can become frustrating as it crops the entire document and is not helpful if you are looking to crop and refine a single layer’s edges.

Why crop tool does not crop individual layers?

The major issue when dealing with crop tool is that it crops your entire document. This implies that all your adjustments in all the layers are cropped along with it. How exactly do the layers and canvas work? Let’s briefly get into this to make you understand better how the crop tool works. Think of the canvas as a culmination of all the layers put together. It is the end product of all your different layers put together, and that is what you are shown. The layers are, therefore, individual segments of your overall portrait or picture. Fortunately, the layers can be separated and altered at any time, which helps you polish the final outlook of your photo portrayed on the canvas. With that knowledge, you can now understand why the crop tool does not crop individual layers because it only affects the end product (canvas).

How to crop one layer in Photoshop?

The knowledge on how to crop single layers in Photoshop is not complicated and easy to grasp. Many top photographers around the globe use this knowledge to come up with perfect images of their subjects. As easy as it is to learn, it requires practice and experience for you to completely get the hang of it. Here are some ways that will allow you to crop single layers and come up with the state of the art photos. Each of the tools listed below provides an edge depending on what effect you are looking to come out within the final product.

1. The Marquee Tool

This is the most basic cropping method and involves a basic selection tool that allows you to pull out a selection. The Rectangular Marquee and the Elliptical Marquee are the two options offered by the Marquee tool. You can access these tools by either pressing M or locating them at the top of the toolbar. You should then click and hold on to the icon for it to show the other tool options. This works because you simply click anywhere on the image, and it pulls out a selection. After this, you will notice a black and white line appears on your image. This line is what represents your selection and is also known as marching ants because of its appearance. If you are unhappy with your selection and want to redo it, press Command + D for Mac and Control + D for PC. Once you are here, you are faced with two options, the first one being to crop the layer by deleting the excess. This makes your modifications permanent and hence unalterable later. The second option is creating a layer mask that masks out the excess and crops the layer in the process. This allows for change later if you are not content with your work.

2. Delete method

You first select the layer you intend to crop and make sure that your selections are accurate. You then use the keyboard shortcut command + shift + I for Mac or control + shift + I for PC. This command inverts your selection and selects everything that was not in your initial selection. You simply press the delete key after this, and everything that was outside your selection gets erased. To deselect, you use keyboard shortcuts control + D for PC or command + D for Mac. With that, remember this method is permanent.

3. Layer mask method

You first select the layer you want to crop and again make sure that your sections are positioned exactly how you want them to be. Having selected your layer, click on the layer mask at the bottom of the Layers panel. This will automatically subject your selection to a layer mask, and everything that was outside of your selection is erased. A layer mask will now appear to be visible next to your cropped layer. Just to put some little perspective on how the layer mask technique works, if you are not already familiar with it, here is a brief explanation. Anything that appears white on your mask is 100% visible, while everything that appears black is 100% transparent. In between the two, any shade of grey that is there represents different transparency values. This implies that despite it looking like some parts of your layers have been erased; they are instead just hidden from the eye. Suppose you were to use a white brush and paint over the black parts of your layer mask. They would become visible.

4. The Pen tool

This tool takes things a notch higher by enabling you to be more elaborate with your layers crop. The pen tool in Photoshop allows for customizable layer cropping in that you can choose a selection in any shape using anchor points. To access the Pen tool, press P or find it in your toolbar. Once you click anywhere on your image, a small square appears, and this is the anchor point. Continued clicks will create more anchor points connected by little lines. These lines merge and join a pen pathway that is your selection. Repositioning of anchor points is done by clicking on it while holding Control for PC and Command for Mac. Once you have your shape, you connect the pen pathway back to its starting point. You then right-click in the path and select Make Selection, and set your feather radius to 0. You should then highlight the layer you intend to crop in your layers panel, and you can again choose between deleting or the layer mask method that I explained earlier. The Pen tool’s advantage is that it allows you to create custom shapes and trace the exact crop you want, providing infinite options for you.


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Dion Lewis
My name is Dion Lewis.

Photography is my life and I have taken it as my profession after my graduation.

I am a professional, I almost cover everything from fashion, architecture, editorial topics, and corporate lifestyle.

I have worked with clients such as CNN, Alabama State University, Steelcase, LiveStrong, and more.

I'm based in Alabama. If you need my service, just feel free to contact me.

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