How to Apply Content-Aware Scaling in Adobe Photoshop

In Brief...

When an image is scaled, each individual pixel is squashed or stretched, and if scaled in only one direction, rather than proportionally, the image is distorted. Content-aware scaling attempts to analyze the image, based on user-specified criteria, and preserve areas of detail. Content-aware scaling can be applied to RGB, CMYK, and gray-scale images. It doesn't work on layer masks, adjustment layers, 3-D layers, or Smart Objects.

This feature works the same in Adobe Photoshop CS6 and CC versions.


  1. First, the layer must be unlocked. If need be, click the lock icon in the Layers Panel to unlock the layer.
    Layers Panel

  2. Go to Edit > Content-Aware Scale.
    Edit Menu

  3. Look at the Options Bar to see the scaling preserve criteria that can be specified:
    • Reference Point Selector: Click on a node in the icon [ Reference Point Icon ].
    • Reference Point Position: Enter the x and y coordinates for the location to preserve.
    • Amount: Specify the ratio of content-aware scaling to normal scaling as a percentage.
    • Protect: Choose an alpha channel as an area to protect.
    • Protect Skin Tones: Protect regions based on skin-tone colors.

    Options Bar

  4. Content-aware scaling works like normal scaling in free-transform mode. You pull at the handles on the transformation bounding box to scale the image.
    Image in Bounding Box

  5. This image has had the width only scaled to the right, from the center reference point, using both normal scaling (Free Transform) and Content-Aware Scale. Note the detail preserved in the image's original center region.
    Original and Scaled Images

  6. In this image, the width only was scaled using both normal scaling and the Protect Skin Tones [ Protect Skin Tones Icon ] option with content-aware scaling.
    Original and Scaled Images

  7. The last example will use Content-Aware Scale with an alpha channel I created selected in the Protect Alpha Channel option.
    Protect Alpha Channel

  8. Width-only content-aware scaling with alpha channel protection:
    Original and Scaled Image

Author: Kate Cahill

Kate Cahill is a graphic designer, writer, and creative director who has developed content for print and web. As creative director, she has produced award-winning work for agencies focused on the pharmaceutical, and health and beauty aid industries. She has also served as production manager, with responsibility for the successful fulfillment of long-run print contracts. Kate has been delivering training for Webucator clients since 2010. Her enthusiasm for cutting-edge technology, combined with hands-on practical experience, brings an added benefit to her class. Kate teaches real-world techniques and integration of Adobe software, as well as Microsoft PowerPoint to produce a fully-developed and cohesive brand identity.