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Core Skills: Photoshop Selection Tools


Photoshop Selections Tutorial Title PostSelections have a variety of uses in the Photoshop workflow, and there’s a multitude of ways to perform them. Being spoilt for choice can often lead to confusion, so this guide will take a look at the more commonly used selection tools and modifiers in photo manipulation. Once armed with the basics you can then employ more sophisticated selection techniques such as working with channels or color-range.


Selections 101

In photo manipulation we often remove elements from images or apply adjustments to selected areas; the numerous selection tools allow us to ‘select’ the region we would like to adjust, copy, move, transform or delete. Selection control is major facet of pixel based editing.

Via the tool palette you can access a variety of commonly used selection tools.

Photoshop Selections Tutorial 1

The Marquee tools are most frequently used for ‘quick n dirty’ or shape based selections.

The Lasso Tools are used to ‘draw’ selections, the most frequently used being the standard Lasso Tool for quick selections.

Quick Selection and Magic Wand Tools are automatic tools that will select based on pixel similarity.

The tool used is dependent on the job at hand, however most of Marquee (M) and Lasso (L) tools are used for quickly copying, moving or deleting portions of a layer. For precision work such as object extraction or creating complex shapes – the Pen Tool (P) is most often the go-to tool of choice.


Automatic vs Manual

When starting out it’s tempting to rely on ‘quick fixes’ such as the Magic Wand (W), Quick Selection (W) or Magnetic Lasso (L) to make automatic selections of objects. There are a number of pitfalls to taking this approach, most notably the issue of quality – quite often mistakes are made and degraded ‘pixelly’ edges are the result. Even with software algorithms becoming progressivley smarter, these auto-selection tools cannot beat good old hand-eye dexterity. It is advisable that you get acquainted with manual selection controls such as the Pen Tool (P) if you desire sleek, flawless work 8-)

Further reading: • 10 Photo Manipulation Tips for Beginners • Core Skills: Photoshop Pen Tool [HD] Video Tutorial


Layer Based Selections

Aside from the using the tools to create user defined selections, you can also use make selections based on a layer contents. To create a selection based on the contents of a layer, simply hold Ctrl (Mac: Cmd) and click the layer preview icon. This is useful for when you want to make amendments on another layer, but only within the boundaries of a certain layers contents.

Load Layer Selection

Further reading: • Core Skills, Photoshop Layers Part 2


Adding / Subtracting Selections

Once you have made a selection, you can add to or subtract from it using simple shortcuts. To add to an existing selection, hold down Shift whilst using a selection tool of your choice. Alternatively, to subtract from your selection – hold down Alt whilst using a selection tool of your choice.

Adding to a selection using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M):

Photoshop Selections Tutorial 2

Selection Modifiers

Aside from adding / subtracting, there are a wide range of modifiers that can be used to tweak your selections further. All selection controls can be accessed via the Select options at the top of the workspace:

Photoshop Selections Tutorial 3

Each option allows you to modify your selection as per it’s description, wih a user defined pixel value. In this example, the existing selection was expanded using a value of 15px:

Photoshop Selections Tutorial 4

‘Feathering’ is a modifier that has many uses in photo manipulation, it produces a transitional blend based on pixel value – useful for achieving varying levels of transparency.


Selection Shortcuts

The Photoshop workflow is vastly improved by the use of shortcuts, here are a few of the top time savers when using selections:

Select All (Ctrl/Cmd + A) – Will select the entire workspace.

Deselect (Ctrl/Cmd + D) - Turns off all active selections.

Reselect (Shift, Ctrl/Cmd + D) – Will reselect the last active selection.

Select Inverse (Shift, Ctrl/Cmd + I) - Inverts your selection.


Refine Edge & Complex Selections

In Photoshop CS5, the Refine Edge function was drastically improved – allowing users to deal with complex elements such as trees or hair with a level of control never seen before. If you have ever struggled with complex extractions, why not check out this awesome walkthrough by Terry White (Tech Blog). The principles explained here can be applied to a broad range of uses:




Selections play a big part in pixel-based editing, so it’s worth getting to grips with their functionality sooner rather than later. Have your own selection tips? Please feel free to share in the comments section below.

Conzz 8-)

Follow on Twitter >> @Conzpiracy

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9 Responses to “Core Skills: Photoshop Selection Tools”

  1. Harry says:

    Awesome as ever. I particularly found the bit on shortcuts useful – having to right click to invert every time annoys me :)

  2. Irene says:

    Oh man, I have to try that refine edge tool on some hair! Hair is the suckiest thing to cut in photoshop.

  3. Nola Shingledecker says:

    I knew most of this, thankfully, but so glad to know the shortcut to add/subtract from a selection!

  4. Rennegade Hunter says:

    wow thanks, this was really really helpful :)

  5. Nicolas Rao says:

    Wow! That really puts me where I wanted to be a long time ago. I avoided photos like these because my methods were not good. This is fantastic.

  6. [...] • Core Skills: Photoshop Selection Tools >> An introduction to the common selection tools and modifiers used in Adobe Photoshop. [...]

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