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Scale an image not its contents with CS4's new Content-Aware Scale command

Added on Wednesday 22nd of July 2009 05:29 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS4

Operating Systems:


Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

When you need to scale an image, Murphy’s Law dictates that the ratio you need your image to fit is never the same as the original image. Well, move over Murphy, because CS4’s Content-Aware Scale command makes this transformation a breeze. You can now protect your image’s contents and resize an image any way you need it.


To scale an image but protect its contents, we’ll:

     Introduce you to the new Content-Aware Scale command and explain how it works.

     Make a selection and create an alpha channel to preserve the content during scaling.

     Resize an image with the Content-Aware Scale command for amazing results.


Photoshop’s Transform command is great when you need to scale images and keep the image proportions the same. However, if you dare attempt to scale in just one direction, Photoshop will distort your image and its contents. Not anymore: CS4’s Content-Aware Scale command comes to the rescue! You can now scale an image—without constraining proportions—and prevent certain image elements from distorting, as shown in Figure A.





The new Content-Aware Scale command

As we mentioned, CS4’s Content-Aware Scale command allows you to resize an image but preserve an image’s contents. That means that you can protect image areas with important visual content, such as the girl in Figure A, or other objects important to your image’s composition, but you can scale an image out if its original ratio.

Here are a few things you should keep in mind as you use this new feature:

        If you want to use this command on a locked background layer you must first press [command]A (Ctrl]A in Windows) to Select All or make a selection on the layer to transform.

        If you want to preserve the aspect ratio while using the Content-Aware Scale command, click the Maintain Aspect Ratio button located on the tool Options bar. Tip: The button has a chain link icon on it and is located to the right of the Width text box.

        You can’t use the Content-Aware Scale command on adjustment layers, individual channels, Smart Objects, layer masks, 3D or Video layers, layer groups, or multiple layers at the same time.

        You can scale an image smaller or larger with the Content-Aware Scale command. Note that the same scaling rules apply in regards to increasing and decreasing image sizes: If you scale too far in either direction, you’ll lose image quality.

        If you’re going to scale your image larger, you should increase the canvas size first.


Time to resize

To use the Content-Aware Scale command you’ll need an image to work with. To follow along with our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article, extract the file taxi.psd, launch Photoshop, and open the file shown in Figure B. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.)




Our image consists of one unlocked layer so we can jump right in and access the command. If you need to access the command on a locked background layer check out the first bullet point in “The new Content-Aware Scale command” section of this article.

We’re going to maintain the image’s...