It seems like every time we turn around, there’s a new feature added to Photoshop CC. The latest update at the end of June brought us several new features that we’ve looked at in detail, including the impressive Content Aware Crop tool. Today we’re going to look at another new addition: the ‘Select and Mask’ space, which replaces the ‘Refine Edge’ option that was available in previous versions.

Technically, it’s not a tool, but is referred to as a ‘space’, which is a relatively new distinction in Photoshop. Instead of being a tool in and of itself, the Select and Mask space is a new workspace that brings together a bunch of formerly separate tools and processes to make them all easier to use, and to make it easier to review and adjust your results.

It doesn’t sound quite as sexy as some of the other new features, but it’s actually an incredibly powerful way to manage your masking and selections. It replaces many of the old selection tools and methods, and shows off some of the most powerful image-recognition capabilities of Photoshop.

You can access the workspace in a couple of different ways. Any of the selection tools (Marquee Selection Tool, Lasso Tool and Quick Selection Tool) now have a button in their respective toolbars titled ‘Select and Mask’, or you can choose the Select menu and click ‘Select and Mask’. Last but not least, the keyboard shortcut Alt+Ctrl+R will open it as well.

Once you’re in the Select and Mask space, you’ll be presented with a number of different options:


Primarily the way to interact with the workspace is by using a brush style tool system, similar to the way the Quick Selection Tool works in the normal editing workspace. You can control the size, shape, and hardness of the brush, and you have various other tool options on the left hand side such as different brushes and a Lasso Tool.

As in most of Photoshop’s cool features, though, the most important stuff is handled on the right, where you’ll see a number of different options that will be familiar to anyone who used the Refine Selection tool in the past, as well as a few handy new extras.

Even using nothing but the default settings, it’s possible to make remarkably accurate selections in a fraction of the time you’d expect, especially if you’re used to working entirely with layer masks or the Quick Mask mode and you’ve had to painstakingly draw out each mask, but that may be a thing of the past thanks to this new workspace.

Take our example photo – drawing by hand, it could take 5-10 minutes to draw out a mask to duplicate the upper layer of shelf fungi, but with the Quick Selection brush, it happens almost instantly.

By default, the main image appears at 20% opacity and any areas of the image you’ve selected turn to 100%, but that can be a rather difficult way to work. You can adjust the default transparency to help you determine where to mask in the first place, but to quickly check out the results of your mask, you can adjust the ‘View Mode’ area. To do this quickly on the fly, just tap the F key to cycle through the various modes.


By cycling through to the Overlay mode which highlights everything unselected in red in the same manner as the old Quick Mask mode, we can see that there’s a few little areas that need to be adjusted in our initial 3 second mask. Fortunately, that’s easy to do, as we can switch our brush into Subtract from Selection mode by simply holding down the Alt key while painting. Alternatively, you can change the brush to Subtract mode permanently by clicking the appropriate button in the top left area of the Select and Mask workspace.


Naturally, you’ll have to experiment with the settings for Edge Detection and the Global Refinements panel to get the results that best suit your particular image, but this will change regularly based on the type of subjects you need to mask. Fortunately for most of us, the default settings work quite surprisingly well.

Last but not least in the new workspace is the Output Settings panel. This is probably one of the most useful areas, and contains the two features that really make the new workspace worth incorporating into your workflow (say that five times fast).

The ‘Decontaminate Colors’ option is incredibly useful when doing ultra-fine masking work such as hair, fur, foliage or anything else that has a huge number of individual small elements. Instead of being forced to mask each element individually, you can select the general area and choose ‘Decontaminate Colors’ to clean up the resulting output. This doesn’t always work perfectly and works best on images where the background behind your mask is a solid colour, but it can still save a huge amount of time.

Finally, the option to output your mask automatically as a new layer with a layer mask makes sticking to a non-destructive workflow incredibly easy. If you selected Decontaminate Colors, then your options in this area are slightly more limited due to the extra processing required, but typically you can output the result of your selection into a wide range of non-destructive methods, depending on what works best for you.