Using the Different Photoshop Selection Tools

At a glance, Photoshop's plethora of selection tools may seem a little excessive. A novice image editor might learn one of the tools and decide to use it as a one-size-fits-all solution, but the editing software has so much more functionality than that! Each of the Photoshop selection tools exists for a reason, and it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with every tool in the box, so you understand their unique benefits and drawbacks. Below, we've outlined the differences between the various Photoshop selection tools, so you know exactly which tool to use in any editing situation. 

Marquee

Arguably the most straightforward selection tool, the Marquee allows you to draw a box (as well as a circle, column, or row) around a section of your image, and select everything in that section. By default, the Rectangular Marquee is the primary tool that's visible in your toolkit, but if you click and hold on the icon, a submenu will appear with the other Marquee tools. To quickly access the Marquee, just press the M key, and to switch to the other Marquee tools, you can press Shift+M. This tool is ideal for handling basic tasks. 

Quick Selection

The Quick Selection tool is one of the newer additions to the Photoshop toolkit, and it allows you to paint a selection just like a brush, with options for brush hardness, size, and more. Just paint around the desired area, and Photoshop will do its best to identify the edges of your selection. For even more finesse and accuracy, you can enable the "Auto-Enhance" and "Refine Edge" settings on the top options bar.  

Magic Wand

In many cases, the Magic Wand isn't the right tool for the job, because it measures color and contrast when making your selection. It's great when selecting objects that have an extreme color contrast with the background, but for a more complex selection, you may want to use one of the other tools. Fortunately, Photoshop's developers have included a "Refine Edge" setting on the Magic Wand options bar as well, and this does an excellent job of cleaning up a messy selection.   

Color Range

Like the Magic Wand, the Color Range tool lets you target specific colors in an image, and then select them all. To access this tool, go to "Select" > "Color Range" and a new dialog box will appear. Then, select the eyedropper icon and click on a color in your image to target it. You'll see a preview in the dialog box, and all of the selected areas will be white. 

Lasso

Similar to the Marquee, the Lasso tool offers a freeform approach to drawing your selection. Once you've completed a lasso shape, Photoshop will analyze the image and adjust your lasso selection so that it matches more cleanly. This is the second fastest way to make a selection (after the Marquee), but it often leads to sloppy results. Depending on the situation, you may want to use these other Lasso tools: 

  • Polygon Lasso: Click on the image to create points, and Photoshop will draw selection lines between them. 
  • Magnetic Lasso: Draw a line like the normal Lasso, and Photoshop will include points on the line, which you can adjust later. You can also click to manually drop points along the selection. 

Pen

Unlike the Lasso, the Pen tool allows you to create paths, which can then be converted to selections by pressing Command+Click. This is probably the most accurate selection tool, since it can draw smooth curves and shapes. To master the Pen, you'll need to get comfortable creating entirely manual paths. Instead of freehand drawing, the main Pen tool uses anchor points and direction lines to determine the selection. However, there's also a Freeform Pen tool, which automatically creates anchor points as you draw a path.   

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