Photoshop selection tools are incredibly helpful; in fact, I use them almost every time I do an edit.
But while some of these tools are very popular – the Magic Wand, for instance! – others are less well-known. That’s where this article comes in handy. It offers:
- An overview of every single selection tool in Photoshop
- The three Photoshop selection tools everyone should know
- A hands-on example of the tools in action
That way, you can save some time and effort when editing in the future, plus you’ll be well-equipped to select elements like a pro!
What are the Photoshop selection tools?
A selection tool allows you to isolate a part of an image while leaving the rest of the file untouched. Photoshop offers a wide variety of selection tools to make your work easier and more precise.
Some Photoshop selection tools, such as the Object Selection tool, use artificial intelligence to make complex selections with a single click. Other selection tools are manual and more precise but require a higher level of skill from the user, such as the Pen tool.
Under the Select dropdown menu, you can see a handful of Photoshop’s selection tools, which create selections in various ways:
An overview of every Photoshop selection tool
Before I dive into the workings of specific selection tools, I’d like to offer an overview of every selection tool offered by Photoshop. If you’re serious about making Photoshop selections, consider testing out each tool to see how it works!
- Rectangular Marquee tool
- Elliptical Marquee tool
- Single Row Marquee tool
- Single Column Marquee tool
Lasso tools (L)
- Polygonal Lasso tool
- Magnetic Lasso tool
Magic Wand tools (W)
- Quick Selection tool
- Object Selection tool/Subject Selection tool
Pen tool (P)
- Freeform Pen tool
- Curvature Pen tool
Path Selection tool (A)
- Direct Selection tool
Selection tools from the Select menu
- All Layers
- Color Range
- Focus Area
- Select and Mask
- Edit in Quick Mask Mode
When are Photoshop selection tools useful?
The selection tools are useful in many situations.
First, you can use them to cut out or replace the background of an image; you can also use them when you want to create a photo composite (i.e., you use a selection tool to cut out portions of multiple images, then you paste all the elements into a single file).
Selection tools are handy when doing more standard edits, too. Thanks to selection tools, you can apply edits to targeted portions of an image. For instance, you can edit only the image sky, or you can edit only the blue hues in an image, or you can edit only the subject’s face.
The 3 selection tools everyone should know
No Photoshop selection tool is best. Instead, some selection tools are more useful than others in specific situations. (It’s also a matter of personal preference and skill level. Some selection tools are difficult to use, whereas others are rather easy or intuitive.)
Note that, in most cases, you’ll need more than one selection tool to get the job done – so it pays to know a few different tools and how they work.
So without further ado, here are the Photoshop selection tools that are absolutely worth learning:
1. Lasso tool
The Lasso tool is very versatile and can handle nearly any situation. There are three types of lassos to remember:
The standard Lasso tool allows you to do free-hand selections. If you have a very steady hand or you don’t need to be especially precise, it’s a great option.
This tool allows you to make selections using straight lines. Every time you need to change direction, you can click to leave an anchor and then continue with your selection.
This tool “attaches” itself to the border of objects. It works best when you’re selecting a subject that contrasts clearly with the background. For example, if you have an orange basketball on a green grass field, you can use the Magnetic Lasso tool to select it.
2. Object Selection tool
The Object Selection tool is a powerful option that’s powered by AI. It allows you to select any object (or objects) in your picture. You can find it in the Select menu.
If the Object Finder is enabled, you can hover over your picture and you’ll see an overlay of the object that will be selected. Note that you don’t need to pick an object that stands out or is even in focus; as long as the edges are distinguishable, the Object Selection tool can handle it.
Alternatively, you can disable the Object Finder and choose either the Lasso or Rectangle mode. You can then draw an area where you want Photoshop to make the selection, which is useful if you want to select many objects with one click.
You can also select objects from multiple layers by enabling the Sample All Layers option. Also, if you want to select an animal or a person instead of an object, you can enhance hair detection by clicking Select Subject in the Options bar.
3. Select Sky
You can find the Select Sky tool under the Select menu. Note that this is a different tool than Sky Replacement, which is found under the Edit menu.
Select Sky is useful when you don’t want to replace the sky but instead simply want to make specific edits to the sky while leaving the rest of the image untouched.
Thanks to AI technology, you can select the sky with a simple click (which will save you lots of time!).
The selection tools in action (a step-by-step guide)
While all Photoshop selection tools work differently, they can be modified, saved, and loaded in the same way. So this step-by-step guide should be helpful regardless of the tool you use.
Step 1: Make a selection
To start off, you’ll need to select an area of your image. You can use the selection tool of your choice; for my example, I’m using the Object Selection tool.
As you can see, most of the work is done with just one click, though if you zoom in, you’ll realize that the result isn’t perfect.
Step 2: Refine the selection
It’s very difficult to get a perfect selection on the first attempt (or by using a single selection tool). This is why all selection tools can be set to add to or subtract from the selection. Some of the tools even let you intersect with the selection.
In my example (displayed above), the Object Selection tool didn’t do a great job selecting around the petals. Therefore, I needed to remove certain unwanted parts from the selection. I grabbed the Quick Selection tool, set it to Subtract, then refined the selection until I got the results I was after.
I could’ve also used the Edit in Quick Mask Mode and painted over the selection to make it perfect, but in this case, the Quick Selection option was easier.
You can also do more advanced refining in the Select and Mask workspace:
Step 3: Modify the selection
Not all selections need to be modified, but it can be helpful to use a command from the Select>Modify menu:
One of the most popular options is Feather, which softens the selection edge for a more realistic effect.
That said, the modification that you need will depend on the image and what you’re trying to do. For my flower image, I contracted the selection by a couple of pixels; that way, I avoided leaving white borders around my cutout.
Step 4: Save the selection
This step is optional and it depends on whether or not you’ll need to select the same object or the same part of the picture again.
If the selection was difficult and you spent a lot of time refining it, it’s often a good idea to save it (just in case!). Simply choose Select>Save Selection, then type a name for the selection in the dialog box.
That way, you’ll have it available every time you need it – even if you close Photoshop and open it again later.
Step 5: Load the selection
If you save a selection, it will always be available for you to load. Simply hit Select>Load Selection, and it’ll appear.
Note: If you have more than one selection saved, you’ll need to open the Channel dropdown menu and choose the one you want.
Photoshop selection tools: final words
As you can see, Photoshop selection tools are incredibly diverse. And they offer so many features that it’s impossible to cover them in a single article.
Hopefully, this gave you a good overview – enough to start experimenting! In general, Photoshop selection tools are quite intuitive and easy to use, so don’t be afraid to dive in and have fun.
Which selection tools do you like best? Share your thoughts in the comments below!