How to Crop an Image into a Circle Using Photoshop

by Feb 11, 2022Photo Editing Tutorials

Robin Whalley Landscape Photographer

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How to Crop an Image into a Circle Using Photoshop

This tutorial explains how to crop an image into a circle using simple tools in Photoshop. If you’ve already tried to do this, you will have realised the Photoshop Crop Tool only produces rectangular crops. What we need, is a different approach.

All Images Are Rectangles

Before we start, there’s something very important to understand. All images are rectangles, and this isn’t something you can change.

Now I’m sure you’re thinking to yourself, but I’ve seen circular images before and lots of websites use them. This is true, but even circular images are rectangular. You’re just not seeing all the image, so it looks like a circle, like in the following photo.

Example of an image with a circular crop made using Photoshop

This is a square image, but part of the image is hidden, leaving only the circular area visible. This is how all circular image crops are produced. Let’s look at how you can do this with your own images.

Steps to Crop an Image Into a Circle

Open the photo that you want to crop into a circle in Photoshop. If this is a valuable image, be sure to make a copy to work with before continuing.

If there are any layers in your image, flatten the image. You can do this by clicking the Photoshop Layers menu and then choosing the Flatten Image option.

Select the elliptical marquee tool from the Photoshop Tools Palette  which is usually on the left side of the screen.

Elliptical Marquee tool in Photoshop

This allows you to draw and elliptical selection. We will use this tool to draw a circular selection around the image.

Position your mouse pointer in one of the corners of the image you want to crop. This is the point where we will draw the circular selection from using the Elliptical Marquee tool. Starting in the corner also helps you to maximise the size of the circle when you draw it.

Press and hold the shift key on your keyboard. Whilst continuing to hold down the shift key, drag towards the opposite corner of the image. As you drag, you will see the selection created, as indicated by the marching ants. Because you’re holding down the shift key, the selection you draw is a perfect circle. Without the shift key, the selection would be an ellipse.

Draw the selection to the required size and then release the mouse button followed by the shift key. This finalises the selection.

The largest circular selection you can make is determined by the shortest edge in the image.

Positioning your circular selection

You may find that your circular selection isn’t positioned correctly on the image. To reposition the selection, move your mouse pointer over the selected area. You should then see the mouse pointer change shape.

Now click and drag whilst continuing to hold down your mouse button. As you drag with the mouse, you will see the selection move on the image.

Circular image selection used to make the crop

Next, we need to add a Layer Mask to our image layer. You can do this by clicking the “Add a mask” icon, found at the bottom of the Layers window. Before doing this check that the image layer is selected in the Layers window and if not click to select it. If you followed the steps earlier, you should only have one layer.

Add a layer mask icon in the Photoshop Layers Window

After adding the Layer mask, the area of the image outside the selection is removed, leaving a circular image visible. The area outside the circle now displays a chequered pattern, indicating the area is transparent.

circular crop showing a transparent image background

What happened is that your circular selection was converted into a Layer Mask. This mask hides all areas of the image outside the circular selection. This is what creates the circular image, but the image remains rectangular.

Saving Your Circular Image Crop

The final step is to save the image in a format that supports transparency. But before we do that there’s an optional step, which is to crop the image using the Photoshop crop tool. We can do this to remove any unwanted transparent area.

Select the Photoshop Crop Tool from the tools palette and use it to crop the edges to meet the circular image. If you’re not sure how to use the Photoshop Crop Tool, see my tutorial How to Crop an Image in Photoshop.

You should now have a square crop with the circular image in the centre.

Square crop of the circular image

Now we can save the image. Typically, we use the PNG format which is supported by most web browsers.

In the Photoshop File menu select the “Save as…” option.

Using the Save as dialog, set the file format at the bottom to be PNG. Name your image and click the save button. This saves your circular image crop whilst maintaining the transparent area outside the circle.

If you were to save the circular image crop in a format that doesn’t support transparency, like JPEG, the transparent area is converted to white. If you’re using your image on a white background this might not be a problem.

Summary of How to Crop an Image into a Circle

In this tutorial, we looked at a simple method we can use to crop an image into a circle using Photoshop. The method uses a circular layer mask to hide areas of the image, leaving only a circle visible. Then by saving the image in a format that supports transparency we produce a circular image.

You can also use this method to create images with different shapes. All you need to be able to do is create a selection with that shape.

More Photoshop Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Photoshop Tutorials page.

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