The creative tutorial home of image wrangler, Lesa Snider.

Give Your Photos an Edge

April 24, 2008 by
How to add a thin black rule around your photos

When it comes to adding a bit-o-class to your images, few effects beat a thin black rule. It's such a simple little thing but it makes a huge difference. In fact, this technique is one of the first tutorials I wrote for the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, and for this very web site, back in late 2004. The reason I'm repeating it today is both to serve as a reminder and to get it in front of Elements users (though the steps are the same in Photoshop). By the way, outlining is referred to as a "stroke" in image editing software.

Speaking of Elements, I just finished up my second training title with KelbyTraining.com called Practical Photoshop Elements. It should hit their web site in the next few weeks, and this here tutorial is lesson six. Woo hoo!

Why it matters

To illustrate how much difference adding a black outline can make, we'll use this goldfish photo I snatched from iStockphoto. It's background color is so close to white that the edges of the image are literally lost, thus it just looks unfinished.

It's also especially important to define the edges of an image when nestled within text. I offer the following example for your consideration:

See what I mean? Outlining the image makes the text easier to read because it provides a line for your eye to follow. Now that you're convinced, here's how to do it.

Creating a selection

Step 1: Open your image and double-click the background layer to make it editable, then load that layer as a selection by Command (PC: Ctrl) clicking its layer.

Step 2: Choose Edit > Stroke (Outline) Selection.

Step 3: In the resulting dialog, enter 1 px in the width box, choose black from the little color well, and click Inside for location. Choosing inside makes the rule appear within the image instead of on the outside (which is great if your document is no bigger than the actual photo). Center puts half the rule on the inside and half on the outside. Click OK when finished.

You're done! See what a difference that made?

As another example, I offer you this photo of The King. You might be tempted to think this photo doesn't need an outline because the blue background provides nice contrast from the background. However, because part of his jacket is the same color as the background the photo appears to be open in that particular spot. Slap a rule 'round it and it'll look better.

Here's the result (and I know both myself and The King are much happier!):

Just do it!

I'm not saying you have to outline EVERY single image but I'm comfortable with saying that at least 8 times out of 10 you'd improve the layout if you did. Whether it's a newsletter, catalog, magazine, or personal blog, defining the edges of your image just makes the design look finished and complete.

Until next week, may the creative force be with you all :)