How to Crop a Layer in Photoshop

If you’re new to Photoshop and are trying to crop a layer, you might be having some trouble. Turns out the Crop Tool in Photoshop just crops the entire canvas rather than a specific layer! In this article, we will go over several methods of how to crop a specific layer.

The Marquee Tool

The Marquee Tool is the easiest and quickest way to crop a layer. In many ways, this tool is the Crop Tool for layers. You can choose from the Rectangular Marquee and the Elliptical Marquee. Most often you will probably choose the rectangular one, but sometimes you’ll want to crop in a circular shape. To use the Marquee Tool, click and hold on your canvas. The location of your initial click will be a corner of the crop, so it’s easy to visualize. Drag the tool until you have the section you’d like to select.

Using this tool, you can either select what you want to crop away or what you want to keep – whichever makes the most sense. If you want to invert your selection, you can click on Select > Inverse, or press Ctrl+Shift+I. This is convenient when you want to crop around an object. You can create a marquee around that object, then invert the selection.

marching ants cutout for marquee tool
Marching ants outline from the Marquee Tool

Now you will need to select the layer in the layers panel that you wish to crop. You can simply press the delete key to permanently delete the selected portion of the layer. If you want to select the object to keep, and delete everything around it, you will need to invert your marque selection. Click on Select > Inverse, or press Ctrl+Shift+I, to change the selection to everything outside of the box. Then press the delete key.

cutout of photoshop layer with marquee tool
Cropping a layer with the Marquee Tool

If you’d like to be non-destructive and be able to make changes later, you can create a layer mask. With the marquee still active and the layer selected, click on the layer mask icon in the layers panel. It will hide everything outside of the marquee selection, and you can adjust this as needed. In fact, if you then want to be more precise, you can paint on that mask in black to reveal more of the layer, or paint in white to hide it.

The Pen Tool

The Pen Tool method works similarly to the Marquee Tool method, but it allows you to be more precise. To use the Pen Tool, just click on it from the toolbar and click in your project. Then just click somewhere else, and a line will form between these two points. Keep doing this all around the object you’re trying to cut out, and be sure that you finish the circle. Then right-click within the cutout and click on Make Selection. A menu will pop up but the default settings should be fine. Now you’ll see the “marching ants” cutout you saw on the marquee tool and you can treat this just like a cutout from the Marquee Tool. This means you can use layer masks to perfectly crop a layer in Photoshop.

cutting out photoshop layer with pen tool
Using the pen tool to cut a more precise shape.

Need more Photoshop tips? Check out how to unmerge layers so you develop healthy and time-saving Photoshop skills.

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