Adding borders is a quick and easy way to make an image stand out. From the simplistic and the tasteful, to the extravagant and the grungy, adding borders is just a matter of layer masks and using the proper filter. It’s also a basic technique that every aspiring graphic designer should understand how to do. Once you know how, the possibilities are pretty endless, reliant completely on your own design specifications and tastes.
This article will provide a step-by-step guide on adding borders to liven up your images.
Creating Borders in Photoshop
The first thing you want to do is prepare your image. In this example, we’ll be using a screenshot from a game. Pretend we’re trying to prepare this image for a magazine spread, or a website banner, but we want an interesting border to fit with the rest of its page’s theme.
If you want to take an extra precaution before beginning work, you can duplicate the layer the image is on by going to Layer > Duplicate Layer in the menu at the top, or highlighting the layer you want to make a copy of and pressing Ctrl+J.
Step 1 – Create a new layer
After your base image is ready, create a new layer between your original and your duplicate layer. You can do this by going to Layer > New > Layer at the top menu, or pressing Ctrl+Shift+N, or clicking the small, square icon highlighted in the example image above. Either way, make sure the new layer is between the original layer and its copy.
Step 2 – Color the new layer white
Open up the color swatch, and make sure the background color is set to white. You can pick another color if you want, but this example will use white so it’s easier to see how the border interacts with our image once the final product is complete.
The default foreground and background colors are represented by the overlaid squares in the color swatch, with the background color being the square in the back. Click that square, and set your background color. You can do this with a paint bucket or fill tool, or by highlighting our new middle layer – renamed Border Layer in the above example – and pressing Ctrl+Backspace.
You won’t see any changes to your image, but if you look closely, you will notice that the thumbnail for Border Layer has changed from the checkered pattern representing transparency, to white.
Step 3 – Pad out the image by expanding its canvas size
For this example, we want to make sure we can see exactly how our border filter will look. We can give ourselves some extra workspace by extending the edges of our canvas.
You can find this option by going to the menu at the top and selecting Image > Canvas Size, or by pressing Alt+Ctrl+C. Once the prompt is open, check the box marked Relative, and expand your canvas size by whatever amount works for you. In this example, we’ve added an extra two inches on each side of the canvas. The result looks like this:
Our image didn’t get bigger – the size has just been adjusted, and the workspace cleared, so you can get a good look at what expanding the canvas did. Now that we have some breathing room, it’s time to get to work with selections.
Step 4 – Create and contract a selection around the image
Select the contents of the image layer (the duplicate, if you made one) by holding down Ctrl and clicking the layer’s thumbnail image. You can see in the example above that our image has been selected. What we need to do next is pull back, or contract, the selection.
Do this by going up to Select > Modify > Contract, and then entering in a number. It’ll vary depending on your image size. Once you hit OK, your image should look something like this:
Step 5 – Create a layer mask
Next, we have to add a layer mask to the layer we just made a selection on.
To learn more about layer masks and how they work, you can check out this blog post on masking in Photoshop, or watch a lecture about layer masks from this Udemy.com video series on the fundamentals of Adobe Photoshop CC.
We won’t need to know too much about how layer masks work for this tutorial – just how to create one.
First, make sure the correct layer is highlighted. In this example, that’s Base Image – Copy. Then, click on the Layer Mask button in the Layers swatch, as pictured to the left. You’ll notice a little chain icon binding Base Image – Copy and its layer mask together in the Layers swatch.
Again, while it’s not necessary for this tutorial, you should understand how layer masks work if you want to improve your Photoshop skills. There’s an entire course on selections and masks in Photoshop here, and plenty of free tutorials on the web as well.
Step 6 – Create your border using filters
Once you’ve created a layer mask, your Photoshop document should look something like the example above. The next step is to just apply a filter of your choosing to the layer mask, and you’re done!
Remember: select the layer mask, not the actual layer. The layer mask should be outlined, as pictured on the right.
Once you have the layer mask selected, head on up to the menu at the top, go to Filter, and start experimenting.
For this example, let’s go with something bold and noticeable by going to Filter > Pixelate > Crystallize, and setting the Cell Size to 25. In the screenshot above, the preview is zoomed in 100% so you can see the detail, but you can zoom in and out using the + and – signs if you want to see how the finished product will look.
You can always undo a filter and continue experimenting with new ones until you get exactly the kind of effect you want. If you want to learn more, check out this free lecture on how to add borders in Photoshop, part of this comprehensive Adobe Photoshop course.