Posted by IG Designs On February - 16 - 2011 12 Comments

When I started to learn Photoshop years ago, my very first wish was to become able to cut a piece out of an image and paste it into another one to make a composition. I thought it was so cool! It used to look a bit like a magic to me. Still some people ask me to show how to do that. So I will.

I decided to divide this subject in two parts, so I can explain it properly. Part one will be an explanation of tools themselves, their settings and options (you got to know what you’re dealing with, right?). And part two will be just simple step-by-step tutorials for every tool. So, let’s go!

There are four types of selection tools in Photoshop found on the top of the tools panel on your left hand side:

Geometric (second icon from the top on the tools panel), keyboard shortcut – K

To reveal a list of those tools, you have to right click on the icon.

  • Rectangular marquee tool – selects a rectangular area in an image
  • Elliptical marquee tool – selects elliptical area
  • Single row marquee tool – selects 1 pixel high row
  • Single column marquee tool – selects 1 pixel wide column

geometric type selection tools

Freehand (third icon from the top on the tools panel), keyboard shortcut – L

  • Lasso tool – click and drag it around the area to select it freehand.
  • Polygonal Lasso tool – click to set anchor points and the tool will connect them with a straight line.
  • Magic Lasso tool – click the start point and drag over the border of two contrast colours, and the tool will trace that border. The better is contrast between the area you want to select and it’s surroundings, the more precise tracing you’ll get.

freehand selection tools

Edge based (fourth icon from the top on the tools panel), keyboard shortcut – W

  • Quick selection tool – quickly makes a selection by finding and following defined edges automatically.

quick selection tool

Colour based ( sharing the fourth icon with previous type), keyboard shortcut – W

  • Magic Wand – makes a selection based on the similarity in colour of adjacent pixels.

magic wand tool

That’s all the basic selection tools we have in Photoshop. There is one more selection technique which does not deploy any of these tools because it’s performed by transforming paths into selections. It is a bit more complex method and understanding of paths is needed to use it. I’ll leave it for another article. Also we can load mask as a selection. Masking will go as a separate article later on as well. The above tools are enough to make ANY selections, so you don’t have to worry about paths and masks for a while.

Options panel for selection tools

There are four modes for each selection tool on the options panel:

selection modes

  • New selection – just makes a new selection. If any selections have been made before, they will be deselected.
  • Add to selection – adds an area to an existing selection. Previously made selections will not be deselected.
  • Subtract from selection – subtracts an area from an existing selection.
  • Intersect with selection – keeps selected only the area where one selection overlaps another. Not available for Quick Selection tool.

You should always pay attention to which mode you’re in BEFORE you make the selection.


There is a Feather textbox next to tool modes.


It works for any Lasso and Marquee tools. Feathering blurs the edges of your selection with it’s surrounding pixels. To do feathering you have to input a value between 1 and 250 pixels into a textbox. It can be applied to an existing selection as well (Select > Modify > Feather > enter a value for the Feather Radius > click OK).


A little checkbox next to Feather feature.


It smoothes the jagged edges of a selection by softening the colour transition between edge pixels and background pixels, very useful for copying and pasting to create compositions.  It’s available for any Lasso, Elliptical Marquee and Magic Wand tool. To apply it, you have to select it BEFORE making the selection.  Once a selection is made, you can’t apply anti-aliasing to it.


Is available for Rectangular and Elliptical Marquee tools.

style box

Style drop down list has three options:

  • Normal (default)
  • Fixed Ratio – width and height ratio can be specified manually
  • Fixed Size – size can be specified manually in pixels. In this mode you don’t have to drag a cursor to make the selection. You just click on your screen and your specified size selection appears automatically at the click point.

There are four options available only for Magnetic Lasso tool:


  • Width in pixels – sets the distance from edge to consider the path. If it’s set to 10px, selection line will stick to any colour contrast border within 10 pixels away from your cursor.
  • Contrast – sets contrast of edge in percents to consider for path.
  • Frequency – sets how frequently to add anchor points to the selection path.
  • Tablet pressure button – used with graphic tablet. Pressure on tablet changes pen width.

There are two options available only for Quick Selection tool:


  • Brush settings – size, hardness, spacing etc.
  • Auto enhance checkbox – automatically enhances the selection edge

There are two options available only for Magic Wand tool:

  • Tolerance box – sets range when sampling colour. If it’s set to 5 it will sample the colour you click plus 5 lighter and 5 darker tones. For instance if you’re sampling white colour at a tolerance of 5, it will sample only almost pure white. If you’ll set tolerance to be 90, then it will sample very light grey as well.
  • Contiguous checkbox – samples only contiguous pixels.

And one more option is available for both Magic Wand and Quick Selection tools:


  • Sample all layers checkbox – samples colours from composite image.

Refine Edge


This option is available for all the selection tools. After you’ve made a selection, press the Refine Edge button and it will bring out the dialog box with radius, contrast, smooth, feather, contract/expand settings to adjust your selection.


To make a selection using any of the geometric selection tools you just click and drag your mouse over your selection area. But by default Rectangular and Elliptical marquee tools will use your start point as their corner. So if you want your start point to be at the center of your selection, you have to hold the ALT key and then click where you wish your selection’s center to be and drag the cursor.

If you need your selection to be a perfect circle or a square with all equal sides, you have to hold SHIFT key + click and drag the cursor.

SHIFT+ALT+click and drag will draw an ideal circle or square with the center at your start point.

To deselect your selection – right click on it > deselect or CTRL+D.

To inverse the selection – top menu > Select > Inverse or CTRL+SHIFT+I.

To transform the selection – top menu > Select > Transform selection.

To modify your selection – top menu > Select > Modify

You can also select a particular colour – top menu > Select > Color Range > use an eyedropper to pick a colour.

When a selection has been made, any changes you do to your image will take effect only WITHIN that selection.

That’s basically it about the tools themselves and their options. There are couple of small things left to explain and more shortcuts as well, but I’ll better show them in the Part 2 tutorial.

It all looks a bit messy as the plain text, I know. All those modes and options… But believe me, it will make sense later on. When you’ll go through a tutorial I’m going to publish very soon, you’ll be familiar with those tools.

Have a nice day!

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