What is the Photoshop Magic Wand?

The Photoshop Magic Wand is one of the oldest tools in the software's toolkit, and it still serves a powerful function when selecting and editing images. Unlike the Lasso or other selection tools, the Magic Wand selects pixels that are roughly the same color or tone. This works especially well when selecting sections that show extreme contrast. Below, we've shared some of the Magic Wand's essential features, as well as a practical example to show how you can use the tool in your own creative projects.   

Selecting the Wand

First, you'll find the Magic Wand tool in your main toolbar, underneath the Quick Selection tool. To access it, click and hold on the Quick Selection icon (it looks like a paintbrush drawing a dotted circle) to bring up a submenu, and then choose "Magic Wand Tool".  

Before using the Magic Wand, let's get familiar with the tool's unique options, which can be found in the top options bar:

  • Tolerance: If you're trying to select an area of an image with a gradient in color or tone, you can use the Tolerance value to change the acceptable range that will be included in the selection. For example, a Tolerance value of 50 will include the color that you clicked on, as well as colors that are up to 50 shades darker and brighter. Meanwhile, a Tolerance value of 0 will limit the selection to the color you initially clicked on.   
  • Anti-Alias: Sometimes, your Magic Wand selection will have a jagged outline (because of the pixels), and enabling "Anti-Alias" will help to smoothen those edges. Essentially, the software will apply a subtle blur to your selection, so that it's more appealing to the naked eye.  
  • Contiguous: This handy option allows you to select a color gradient in one isolated section of your image, or analyze the entire image for the desire gradient. For example, if your image has two large sections with the same blue hue, but they're separated with a thick black line, the Contiguous option will keep your Magic Wand selection in the area that you clicked on. Unchecking the box, however, will result in both blue areas being selected.  
  • Sample All Layers: Finally, this option allows Photoshop to search every layer in your current project, and select any section that matches the color/tone range that you selected with the Magic Wand. By default, Sample All Layers is disabled, but there may be a situation where you need to isolate a specific color throughout multiple layers. 

Using the Photoshop Magic Wand 

When you're happy with the options on the top bar, start clicking on your image with the Magic Wand! For example, let's say you want to tweak a photo's background to be a bit brighter, but don't want to go to the trouble of selecting it by hand. With a Tolerance value around 32, and "Contiguous" checked, just click on the background with the Magic Wand. 

If you're lucky, most of the background will be selected on the first click. However, you may need to expand the initial selection to include some lighter and darker areas. To do this, hold down the Shift key (you should see a plus sign next to the Magic Wand cursor) and click on the areas that you'd like to include.  

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