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Photoshop: Selection Tools

Version: Adobe Photoshop CC 2020. Be aware that different versions of Photoshop will vary in appearance and functionality. Full Guides: Photoshop: Images, Photoshop: Graphic Design


Four sets of tools can be used to select parts of a document. The settings for each tool can be adjusted in the Options Bar. When making a selection, ensure the correct layer is selected in the Layers panel. Holding the Shift key when using these tools will allow multiple areas to be selected. Using a combination of these tools may be required to select the desired region. Selections will be outlined with a black-and-white marching ants border.


Rectangular/Elliptical Marquee: click-and-drag to select an area, in either a rectangular or elliptical shape.


Object Selection tool (new in Photoshop 2020): click-and-drag the entire area that contains a desired object/element. This tool will attempt to detect the edges of the object and select it. Use the Quick Selection tool to modify the selection as necessary (see the next section for more details).

Quick Selection: the most commonly used selection tool. Similar to the Magic Wand tool, but also looks for similar textures and detects edges (more details below). 

Magic Wand: selects pixels of similar tone and color. Not recommended when selecting an object/area that has a variety of colors.

Lasso: draw a freeform shape around the desired object/element. When closed, the selection will be made in the drawn shape.
  • Polygonal Lasso: can be used to draw a shape around the object/area with straight lines. Click to create the points of the shape, and click the first point again to close the shape and make the selection.
  • Magnetic Lasso: can be used to capture the outline of an object. Click to create the first point on the outside, then move the cursor around the figure. Points will be automatically added. Click the first point to close the shape and make the selection.
Alternatively, to select the main object/element, navigate to Select > Subject. This method is more effective in portraits and simple images. Use the Quick Selection tool to modify the selection as necessary (see the next section for more details).

Tools that assist with area selection, such as Magic Wand and Quick Selection, work best when the main content is on a simple background such as a green screen. If the background is complex, the selection process may take a long time.

Quick Selection Tool

The Quick Selection tool can be used to select specific objects. It selects pixels based on their color, tone, and texture, and can detect edges.

To use the Quick Selection tool, click to select part of the desired object/area. Click again as needed to select the rest of the object/area. Alternatively, click-and-drag the cursor to quickly select larger areas. 

Below are basic functions and tips for the Quick Selection tool:
  • Use the bracket keys ([ and ]) to change the size of the tool.
  • Hold the Option (Mac) or Alt (Windows) key and click to subtract from the selection. This is helpful when too much gets selected, such as part of the background or other unwanted objects.
  • Select small increments at a time. This will make it easier to fix mistakes.
  • The History Panel can be used to go back to previous steps if mistakes are made.
  • Select as much of the object as possible, but don’t worry about small outlying details (such as individual hairs coming from a person’s head).
  • To deselect everything and start over, press Command+D (Mac) or Ctrl+D (Windows).


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Keywords:graphic design, editing, select, magic wand, quick selection, lasso, marquee   Doc ID:106116
Owner:Misty B.Group:Pacific Lutheran University
Created:2020-09-23 12:05 PDTUpdated:2020-09-25 13:38 PDT
Sites:Pacific Lutheran University
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