How to Anti Alias in Photoshop

Frustrated by jagged edges on your text or graphics in Photoshop? Perhaps these jagged edges didn’t used to happen and you’re wondering what changed? It’s likely your anti-aliasing feature got turned off. 

Luckily it’s an easy fix, but you need to know where to find anti-aliasing and understand the limitations of the feature.

Let’s dive in and learn how to anti-alias in Photoshop! 

Note: I use the Windows version of Photoshop. If you are using a Mac, the workspace will look slightly different from the screenshots displayed here.

What is Anti-Aliasing?

First off, what on earth is anti-aliasing? It makes me think of that early 2000s spy show Alias with Jennifer Garner. However, I don’t think that has much to do with what’s going on in Photoshop. 

Remember that everything in Photoshop is built on a pixel grid. It’s super tiny and most of the time you can’t see it. But, when it comes to type and graphics with curved edges, that pixel grid creates jagged edges. 

As with most things in Photoshop, it’s easier to show you rather than explain. So let’s look at the letter D.

Notice how on the curved side of the letter there are all those jagged edges? That’s because of the pixel grid. Pixels are boxes and can’t make a smooth curved line.

To help make this more clear, I’ll zoom in on the curved arm of the D. Now we can see the pixel grid and the tiny colored pixels that make up the shape. 

So how does anti-aliasing fix this? Well, it adds a few pixels with varying transparencies to the sharp edges, thus visually smoothing them.

See what happens to the curved part of the D when I turn on the anti-alias feature?

Photoshop adds in a few pixels of varying transparencies to better blend those curved edges. When we zoom back out, you’ll see that the edges of the D are much smoother.

How to Turn on Anti-Aliasing?

Now that you have an idea what anti-aliasing is, you’re probably eager to know how to turn it on. 

There isn’t a single place where you turn it on, the feature is built into various Photoshop tools rather than standing alone. However, it’s always found in pretty much the same place so it’s rather simple to find it.

Let’s start with the Text Type tool active. Go to the Options bar and you’ll see a box called aa, which conveniently stands for anti-aliasing. 

Click the dropdown and you’ll see you have a few options. You can try each one to see which gives you the best effect for your project.

For the other Photoshop tools that have anti-aliasing, it is found in the Options bar but looks a little different. These tools include all the Lasso tools, the elliptical Marquee tool (the rectangular one doesn’t need it), the Paint Bucket tool, and the Magic Wand tool.

Click on any of these tools and look in the Options bar. You’ll see a box that says anti-aliasing. Check the box to turn on anti-aliasing, and uncheck it to leave the feature off. 

When Not to Use Anti-Aliasing?

Since we’re all about high-tech, smooth graphics these days, you might wonder why you wouldn’t want to use anti-aliasing. Except for the occasional retro project or something like that, you want your work to be neat and precise. 

However, there’s something to be aware of when using the anti-aliasing feature. The feature adds pixels of various transparencies, right? So what happens if the background is a certain color when you add graphics with anti-aliasing activated and then change the color later?

That’s right! It ends up picking up a slight color cast around the edges.

You can minimize this effect after the fact by going to Layer, scrolling down to Matting, and choosing Defringe.

In the box that appears, you pick how many pixels Defringe should affect. This will vary depending on the size of your project. This example project of mine isn’t very big so 1 pixel did the trick.

However, you can avoid the problem altogether by not using anti-aliasing. But then, of course, you’ll have jagged edges on your curves. You may or may not be able to go back and use the anti-aliasing feature at the end, so keep that in mind. 

For example, when working with a text layer you can wait to turn on anti-aliasing once you’re sure about the colors you’ll be using. However, if you rasterize the layer for whatever reason, you won’t be able to turn on anti-aliasing. 

An Anti-Alias Master

All in all, anti-aliasing is an easy feature to use, and very handy for keeping your projects sleek and smooth. As long as you understand the benefits and limitations of the tool, it will be a piece of cake to work with.

Eager to learn more about Photoshop? We get it! That’s why we have tons of awesome tutorials here on Photoshop Buzz to learn with. Check out how to create metallic text here or turn something into gold here.

About Cara Koch
Cara fell in love with photography circa 2014 and has been exploring all corners of the imagery world ever since. When she felt limited by Lightroom, she dove headfirst into Photoshop to learn how to create the images she wanted.

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