Selection in Photoshop is important because it gives you exact control over what you do with your images. Selection allows you to work on specific areas of your images with accuracy, as well as providing unique features from the image itself.
However, unless you are very familiar with Photoshop (you can start with any of our great articles on it, like this one), its selection tools can be one of the most confusing aspects of the application.
If this is your case, then read along to learn all you need to know about the basics of different selection tools in Photoshop and some of the amazing things that you can do with them.
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While these are the most basic selection tools, they are also definitely the most important ones.
Rectangular: It creates a rectangle or a square. If you hold the Shift key using this tool, it will always create a square, and if you hold the Option key, it will start drawing from the center.
Elliptical: This tool performs the same basic selection as its rectangular counterpart, except that with a round shape. As above, use the Shift key to create perfect circles and the Option key to start drawing from the center.
Single Row/Column: These tools help you select either a row or a column that is only one pixel wide. This can come in quite handy when needing to delete scan lines on photos or other imperfections.
The Upper Toolbar
Now, here is a very important set of complementary options to Photoshop’s selection tools. Take a look at the top toolbar, just under the Photoshop bridge icon and you will see four different icons.
From left to right, the first one is the traditional freeform selection used most of the time, the next one lets you add sections or entire selections. The third one does the opposite, letting you remove what you select from your selection. The last of these icons, when clicked on, will erase everything from your selections except for their intersection.
Magic Wand and Quick Selection
The Magic Wand is one of the most cherished tools in Photoshop.
What it does is that when you click somewhere on your image, it selects all the surrounding pixels that are similar to your selection and includes them in your selection as well. This allows you to perform a pretty complicated selection in a very simple way.
Cool Tip: Tweak the number in the Tolerance field (it ranges from 0 to 255) at the top of the window to increase or decrease the amount of information that you are able to select. The more you increase the number, the more surrounding elements your selection will include.
The Quick Selection tool does almost the same as the Magic Wand tool, but it does it dynamically as you move your cursor. Just click somewhere on your image and start dragging the cursor. If by any chance the selection includes something you don’t want, simply click on that area while pressing the Alt key.
Lasso Tool: As its name states, this one allows you to ‘draw’ your selection. It requires quite precise movements though. Personally, I think this is a great tool for rough selections, instead of more precise ones.
Polygonal Lasso Tool: Just like its cousin above, except that this one deals in straight lines. Click and drag to start your selection and click again every time that line segment is finished and you’re ready to start the next one.
Magnetic Lasso Tool: If you’ve never used this tool, you’ll understand the reason for its name the moment you do. The Magnetic Lasso is especially helpful for selecting objects with complex and irregular shapes a lot faster than it can be done with other selection methods.
The Magnetic Lasso achieves this by working with contrasts, isolating a group of similar pixels from the rest. Simply click somewhere on the edge of the shape you want to select and drag the cursor along it all the way until you are back to the starting point.
Saving Your Selection
Let’s say you spent quite a while performing a pretty complex selection and you want to come back at a later time to finish it or to refine it further.
You can easily do this by clicking on the Select menu on the menu bar and then choosing the Save Selection… option and naming your selection.
Now whenever you go back to that image you will be able to return to that selection by choosing the Load Selection… option from the same menu this time.
And there you go. Bookmark this post so that next time you sit in front of your computer to use Photoshop, you’ll have a simple way to remember exactly what all these selection tools are for.