Fix It In Photoshop | Master Photoshop Selections In 10 Easy Lessons

David Coultham

This article is a beginner’s guide to Adobe Photoshop Selections.

Click here to display content from YouTube.
Learn more in YouTube’s privacy policy.

Video | Master Photoshop Selections In 10 Easy Lessons

How To Make Rectangular Selections

In Photoshop, you make rectangular selections using the Rectangular Marquee Tool located in the Tool Panel (illustrated above). To use it, grab the Rectangular Marquee Tool and then click and drag on your image in the Document Window. By default, the ratio of the selection is unfixed, but you can lock the ratio by pressing the Shift key as you drag to get a perfect square.

As with the other selection tools in Photoshop, the Options Bar includes features to make a new selection, as well as making additive and subtractive selections. This enables you to build up complex rectangular selections if you need to by adding to or removing them from an existing selection.

If you ever need to adjust a selection, just make sure you select the tool again, then click and drag the selection from inside the marching-ants display. If you want to move the part of the image that is selected, you need to switch to the Hand Tool first. 

If you want to deselect whatever you have selected, use the shortcode Command D (on a Mac) or Control D (on a PC). Alternatively, head up to the Application Bar and ‘Select > Deselect’.

How To Make Oval Selections

To make oval selections use the Elliptical Marquee Tool, which is located in the Tool Panel (illustrated above). To use it, you select the Elliptical Marquee Tool and then click and drag on your image in the Document Window. By default, the ratio of the selection is unfixed, but you can lock the ratio by pressing the Shift key as you drag to get a perfect circle.

Making A Rough Selection

The Lasso Tool enables you to quickly make rough selections around an object. After selecting the Lasso Tool from the Tool Panel (illustrated above), you click and drag around the object you want to select. You just need to make sure that the beginning and end points of your selection intersect. Photoshop then creates a selection around your object from this. Using the Options Bar you can also choose to make additive selections or subtractive selections using the same method, this enables you to add to or remove elements from existing selections that you have made.

Automatically Selecting Objects

 The Object Selection Tool uses Artificial Intelligence to automatically detect objects in your image. After selecting the tool from the Tool Panel (illustrated left), you might notice that in the Options Bar, there is a small rotating icon indicating that Photoshop is analyzing your image and detecting objects that it can automatically select. After opening an image, it usually takes a few seconds for Photoshop to identify objects in your image, after which, you can hover over the object you want to isolate in your image, and then click it to make a selection.

Additionally, you can semi-automatically make selections by first grabbing the Object Selection Tool, and then clicking and dragging a rectangle around it. Photoshop then looks for an object inside the rectangle and selects it for you. Note that whether you use the full or semi-automatic modes, they work best when there is a good amount of contrast between the object you want to select, and its background.

The Quick Selection Tool Method

The Quick Selection Tool (illustrated above) is great for selecting complex shapes and/or objects in your image. It tends to work best when there is a higher contrast between the object and its background. The principle is that you click on the object in your image, and then drag the quick selection tool to the area of your object. Photoshop analyzes your selection and looks for edges; which it then defines as your selection.

I tend to use it to make a rough selection, and then jump into the Select & Mask user interface to refine things afterward, as there are a few useful tools in Select & Mask that make masking very easy. See ‘HOW TO REFINE SELECTIONS (SELECT & MASK)’

Making Precise Selections

By far the most accurate way to make selections in Photoshop is the Pen Tool (illustrated below), as you can make selections around even the most complex of objects. The investment in your time is often greater than some of the other methods outlined in this book, but if you need really precise selections, then the Pen Tool is the way to go.

There are several variations of the Pen Tool, but most of the time you will use the basic Pen Tool, which you can select from the Tool Panel, or use the short-code P which toggles between the basic Pen Tool and the Freeform Pen Tool. Using the Pen Tool couldn’t be simpler:

STEP 1: Firstly, zoom into the object you want to isolate. I generally find that 400% zoom is the optimum zoom, as your selection needs to dig in slightly to the object to avoid halos. At 400% zoom, you can generally see where the halo might be, as the colors tend to get lighter at the edge transitions of objects.

STEP 2: Select the Pen Tool and pick and use it to left-click on the image where you want the selection to start. You then gradually work your way around your object by clicking your way all around it. By default, the Pen Tool makes straight lines in this mode, and even if you are selecting quite complex objects, straight lines are just fine as long as the lines are not too far apart. If you do need to make a curve, however, you can do so by clicking and holding a point and then dragging the line.

From the example above, you can see that I have started making a path around this otter. Notice that you can even make paths around fine details such as hair!

STEP 3: Keep on making selections around your object until you eventually get back to the starting point. When you do, hover over the start point, and you will notice the point turns into a circle. This is Photoshop’s way of indicating that it now recognizes a complete path around an object, so do a final left-click to close the path.

STEP 4: What you now have is a path as opposed to a selection, so we need to convert it. To do this, navigate across to the Panels, and select the Paths, tab (illustrated below). From the bottom of the Paths Tab select the ‘Load Selection From Path’ option. 

STEP 5: (OPTIONAL) To help refine any hard lines. From the Application Bar, go to ‘Select > Modify > Feather’ use 1 or 2 pixels, and press ok to submit the change.

How To Refine Selections (Select & Mask)

Photoshop has a dedicated workspace so that you can fine-tune your selections; using optimized brush tools and special features.  

STEP 1: With a Selection active, head up to the Application Bar and ‘Select > Select & Mask’. Alternatively, you can use the short-code Option Command R (on a Mac) or Alt Control R (on a PC).  NOTE: If you have any of the selection tools active, you will also see a dedicated button named Select & Mask in the Options Bar; pressing this also gets you into the Refine-Selection workspace.

STEP 2: The Selection Tools (illustrated above); work in the same way as the tools in the main Photoshop window. From top to bottom, these respectively:

  • Quick Selection: This enables you to automatically add to or subtract from your selection.
  • Refine Edge Brush Tool: As its name suggests, this brush tells Photoshop to specifically look at the area you are painting over for edges. It is therefore great for fine details like hair and fur.
  • Brush Tool: Enables you to manually brush over areas to add or remove from your selection. 
  • Object Selection Tool: Works in the same way as in the main Photoshop interface, and enables you to select around an area that has a subject/object contained within it. Photoshop then uses its internal algorithms to analyze the area and automatically select the object for you.
  • Polygonal Lasso Tool: Enables you to make rough selections.
  • Hand Tool: For moving around a zoomed image.
  • Zoom Tool: For zooming into and out of your image.

TOP TIP: Use the Selection Properties to assist you in the visualization of your selections. From this panel area, you can take a look at how your selection will look in black, white, or transparent. This is great for checking you have no halos. You can also change your mask color, as well as use marching ants view or onion skin.

TOP TIP: The Edge Properties panel area is great for feathering your selection, as well as refining your edges; e.g., if you need to dig into your selection to help eliminate halo effects.

Deselecting A Selection

If you need to deselect a selection so that you can work globally on your image, then head up to the Application Bar & ‘Select > Deselect’. Alternatively, just use the shortcode Command  D (on a Mac) or Control D (on a PC). 

How To Invert A Selection

If you need to invert a selection, then head up to the Application Bar & ‘Select > Inverse’. Alternatively, just use the short-code Shift Command  I (on a Mac) or Shift Control I (on a PC).

How To Save & Load Selections

To save a selection, head up to the Application Bar and ‘Select > Save Selection’. A pop-up window displays for you to give your selection a name, and then press OK to commit the change. 

Similarly, if you want to load a previously saved selection, head up to the Application Bar and ‘Select > Load Selection’. A pop-up window then displays any selections you have previously saved, for you to choose from.

Cookie Consent with Real Cookie Banner