Have you ever wondered what the most popular tool in Adobe Photoshop is? It’s the Crop Tool. Isn’t that interesting? I think so. Out of all the fancy things Photoshop can do, the basic task of cropping is what the majority of folks choose to do the majority of the time. I don’t know, I just find that fascinating. I would have guessed the most popular tool would have been one of the selection tools or one of the healing brush tools. Oh well.
There’s a lot to the Crop Tool these days. Back when I first began using Photoshop, I took advantage of the Rectangular Marquee Tool, made a selection around the object I wanted to preserve, visited the Image > Crop menu item, clicked and was done with it. I still use that method sometimes when I want to crop out a certain shape or selection, but those instances are few and far between.
In today’s post, I’d like to visit the Crop Tool and just mess around a bit. I’ll use a photo to experiment with and I’ll attempt to demonstrate some of the functions that are contained within. I’ll also visit the Crop Options area to give you a peek behind what makes this tool tick. Inside of this area, I’ll have the opportunity to revert back to the original Crop Tool (pre Photoshop CS6), show and hide certain aspects of the image I’m cropping and even adjust the opacity of the area outside the crop. This is actually a very powerful tool with tons of bells and whistles, so follow along down below to learn a little something about it.
The Demo Photo
Of course, I needed something to crop, so I decided on a cow in a field. I mean, what else is there? Since the subject is isolated, I think my demonstration will be clear and easy to understand. Here’s the photo.
My Previous Post
I’d like to let you know that I’ve already written a pretty good post that covers a lot of what the Crop Tool can do and how it works. If you’re interested, please click through this link below.
In my previous post, I talk about the functions of the tool and how to change many of the basic settings. Below, I’d like to focus more on a few areas I haven’t covered before.
What is Cropping – Really?
If you think about it, the act of cropping is really just an isolation of a part of an image. It’s a focus, if you will. You’re attempting to remove anything other than that on which you wish to work. The strange thing is, back in the early 2000s, I was doing what I just explained. I was isolating areas so I could work on them further. I got rid of everything I didn’t want and I continued on with my projects.
Although my process worked most of the time, I did come across a few issues. I can remember cropping something and then doing a bunch of work to an image and after all that work, I’d tell myself how much I wish I had part of the image back. Meaning, I cropped too much out and because of the old method of cropping, those pixels I got rid of were gone forever. Because of this type of thing, I found myself making backup layers (duplicates) of everything I ever wanted to crop. Things got ridiculous after a while.
One of the areas Adobe has focused on in recent years is making various tools non-destructive. All this means is that, in this case, if I were to crop something out of an image, whatever it was that seemingly disappeared was never really gone. It would always be recoverable. I can’t even tell you how much this has helped through the years. No more backup layers for me – well, for this purpose anyway.
When using the Crop Tool, never delete the cropped pixels. With the tool active, you’ll see a check box up in the options bar. This box is the Delete Cropped Pixels box and by default, it shows as unchecked. I advise that you keep it that way, unless you’re a master user and you really know what you’re doing.
If you were to go ahead and check this box, you’d be nullifying many of the advancements this tool offers. You’d really be removing the pixels that aren’t used in your focal area and they wouldn’t be recoverable, ever. That’s not a good thing.
Using Classic Mode
As I said, the Crop Tool has grown up a lot over the past few years. If you’re using versions of Photoshop before CS6, you’ll be using what’s known to us futuristic types as Classic Mode. While there are major differences between the classic mode and this new version of crop, the most visible one is the fact that when you click on the Crop Tool icon in the left vertical toolbar, with this new version, you’ll instantly see the crop border surround the entire image. From there, you’d either pull the border in towards the center to shrink the workable area or out to create a larger work area. With the classic version of this tool, you won’t see the border. To crop, you’ll need to click and drag over the area you’d like to keep. While this old way isn’t terrible, I can tell you that you get used to the new way mighty fast. The new way isn’t bad at all.
If you’re using a newer version of Photoshop (post CS6), you can still use Classic Mode if you want to. To activate it, simply activate the Crop Tool and then click on the Crop Options icon up in the options bar. When you do that, a drop-down will appear and all you’ll need to do is check the first box. This one says, Use Classic Mode.
From there, you’ll enjoy the older version of the tool.
The Front Image Option
This one is for all of you out there who have tons of photos to work on that all need to be sized to the same dimensions. This type of situation is so common; it makes my head spin when I try to think about the best way to get these types of edits completed.
As an example of how this feature works, I’ll open two images of different dimensions into Photoshop. The first image (the one with the bull) is 5760px x 3740px.
The other image I have opened is of a fox. This image’s dimensions are 4928px x 3280px.
Both images have a resolution of 300dpi.
Let’s say I wanted to crop the image with the bull in it to the same exact size and resolution of the fox image (or vice-versa). How could I do that? Well, to accomplish this sort of task, I would first click the tab of the image that has the dimensions I desire. In this case, since I want to shrink the bull image to the size of the fox image, I’d click the fox tab so that image is showing in the Photoshop workspace. Then, I’d activate the Crop Tool by clicking on its icon in the left toolbar. After that, I’d head up to the drop-down box and select the Front Image option.
What this option does is set the image’s dimensions into the Crop Tool fields, as you can see in the above screenshot. To crop the other image to these dimensions, all I would need to do is click the other image’s tab to make that one active in the workspace and then, because the Crop Tool is still active and those same dimensions are still in the options bar (they carried over), double-click with my mouse to initiate the crop. Either that, or I could just press the Enter key on my keyboard. It’s that easy.
Creating a Quick Border
Besides cropping, creating borders around images is a very popular thing to do. I think I’ll cover a really fast method for doing this now.
Most people think about reducing an image’s area when they crop, but I’d like to let you know that you can also extend an image’s area just as easily. There’s no reason you can’t click on one of the crop border handles and pull it outward as opposed to inward. This is just something most people don’t think about doing all that much.
To create a simple border around an image, I’ll first click the small background layer lock icon in the Layers panel. This will unlock the layer. Then, I’ll click the Add New Layer button down at the bottom of the Layers panel. I’ll arrange this new layer so it’s underneath the image layer. This is what the Layers panel will look like after I’m finished with these steps.
Next, I’ll activate the Crop Tool, head up to the drop-down box in the options bar and select the Ratio option. This option will lock the shape of the crop bounding box into the same ratio as the one the image has.
Finally, I’ll hold down the Alt key on my keyboard, click anywhere on the crop border and drag outward. I’ll drag until I see the border thickness I like. Holding the Alt key forces the crop box to expand from the center of the image, making the border sides equal to one another.
When I’m done with that, I’ll press the Enter key on my keyboard. That will tell Photoshop to accept and apply the new image size.
To fill in the border with a color, I’ll choose a color from the color picker, click on the empty bottom layer in the Layers panel and then use the Paint Bucket Tool to pour the color into the layer. This is how the result will look.
Pretty cool, right? And it didn’t take much effort at all.
Changing Crop Area Opacity
I’m going to show you something now that you most likely never knew existed. First though, I’ll activate the Crop Tool and click and drag some of the corners of this tool so the edges hug the bull in the photo fairly tightly. Take a look at what I did.
Do you see the area around the crop box? The inside is nice and bright at 100% opacity while the outer area is much dimmer. Right now, 80% of the light in the area around the primary crop box is being hidden, so basically, the outer area is at a 20% opacity. What if that was just too dark for me and I wanted to see the outer area brighter? Or darker? Or the same as the image itself? Well, the opacity value of the outer area is adjustable and I’ll show you right now how to make that adjustment.
I’ll first activate the Crop Tool so the proper options bar appears above the workspace. Then, I’ll click the Crop Options icon again and at the bottom, I’ll click the Opacity slider.
If I push the slider to the left, the outer area will remain brighter. If I push it to the right, it will get darker. In this case, I’ll set the Opacity slider so only 25% of the light is being hidden, which will make the outer area brighter. Then, I’ll click and drag the crop edge inward again. Let’s see the difference between this example and the last one.
See? It’s so easy to change the opacity of this type of thing so you can truly customize your experience while working.
I hope I clearly showed you some areas surrounding the Crop Tool in Adobe Photoshop that you may not have known about. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!