Five Secrets of the Marquee Tools in Photoshop

Five Secrets of the Marquee Tools in Photoshop

There are two key marquee selection tools in Photoshop: the rectangular and elliptical marquee tools and they share a toolbar position. Here are some things you may not know about these tools.


1. Squares and Circles

The rectangular and elliptical marquee tools can be used to draw perfect squares and circles. When you click and drag the marquee, hold the Shift key to constrain the shape to a circle or square.


2. A Circle is a Square? No Thank You!

Try and draw a circle or ellipse in a fixed position on an image and you may be confused about just where the shape starts. A circle or ellipse is drawn as if it were placed inside a square or rectangle shape so you start drawing the shape from a corner of its square or rectangular container. All this makes it very hard to position a shape accurately. To make things easier you can draw your shapes from the center outwards by holding the Alt key (Option on the Mac), as you drag on the marquee tool. Add the Shift key to constrain the ellipsis to a circle.


3. Right Shape, Wrong Place?

What do you do when you’ve drawn a perfect shape but in the wrong place on the image? Don’t let go the mouse! Instead, hold the Spacebar and you can now move the shape into the desired position. Let go the Spacebar and then let go the left mouse button fix the marquee in position.


4. Right Shape, wrong Rotation?

When you want to create a rotated shape such as a rectangle, square or ellipse, first create your shape using the marquee tool and ignore the rotation issue. Now let go the mouse button and choose Select > Transform Selection. The shape now shows a set of transform handles that you can use to rotate it. Hold the Ctrl key (Command on the Mac) and you can drag on a corner of the shape to distort it. Press Enter or Return to commit the transformation and remove the handles. You can now continue to work with the marquee selection.


5. Exact Size Selection

If you want to make a selection that is an exact size, from the Style dropdown list choose Fixed Size. Type the pixel width and height into the boxes and click on the image and a selection exactly the desired size will appear on it. Use Fixed Ratio to make a selection at a fixed ratio like 1:1 shown here.


Next time you need to make a selection on an image using the marquee tool remember that there’s a lot more to it than might meet the eye.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Ed December 4, 2012 09:27 pm

    Thanks for the tips. Very clear and helpful.

  • K Mathew Thomas October 25, 2012 01:19 pm

    I found the tutorial very useful. The explanation and illustrations; I categorise as excellent. Thank you so much. Thomas

  • Andy The Bald July 24, 2011 10:38 pm

    Thank you so much. You have no idea how often I've longed for something like tip 3, and it was there all along! Gotta love the way Photoshop hides functionality away on hidden key presses and clicks.

  • MANNY September 19, 2009 08:37 pm

    already seen this but always forget which combination to use; really nice having them all together like this; thank you!

  • Fiona September 17, 2009 09:54 am

    I just got a macbook, and holding down the shift key does not constrain things the way it does on a pc. So it doesn't lock me into a straight line, or into a square or circle. Does anyone know the keystroke combos on a new macbook for these functions?

  • Daniel H Pavey September 9, 2009 01:05 am

    Really good list of tips

    I've stuggled with performing a few of these task in the past and didn't know about these options


  • Tim A. September 8, 2009 11:41 pm

    @pye - Many times the tool is used when masking out sections of an image or even cutting parts out of the image. In LR, you probably use the adjustment brush. All that is doing is revealing parts of a mask to show through the effect placed on the image (so to speak). With the marquee tool, I've done things like draw an eclipse around a 16:9 image on the layer mask and then blur out the edges of the image while keeping the center in focus. Of course there are ways to do this with gradients too. And you can do the same thing in LR as well. But this way it's far more precise.

    Either way, it allows you to make very specific selections and, by allowing you to make specific sized selections and also transform the selections, it gives you yet another tool to manipulate an image to what you saw in your own mind's eye.

  • susan September 8, 2009 11:14 am

    Great group of tidbits!!!!

  • Pye September 8, 2009 10:35 am

    I don't have photoshop, I seem to get by with Lightroom. What I still don't know, after reading this article is why I would need the marquee tool. All I can infer from the article is that it draws circles and squares. I'm still unclear on exactly what this tool does.

  • Rodrigo September 8, 2009 06:19 am

    In Photoshop, the selection tools are essential...
    And to ask questions, articles like this are essential.

    Great job!

  • Arya September 8, 2009 04:54 am

    Great! A few good things here I didn't know - but which have given me some headaches earlier!

  • Dana Lane September 8, 2009 02:39 am

    Thank you for the tips! I didn't know any of these, and I've been using PS for a good long time! :)