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Master Photoshops Selection Tools in Under 30 Minutes

The Selection Tools In Photoshop

In this article I’ll explain some of the different and powerful selection tools that are available in Photoshop. This guide is aimed at beginners, but can hopefully provide a few extra pointers for more advanced users. Personally I find it very easy to get stuck using only one selection tool, when it can be beneficial to experiment with several in your work.

The Marquee Tools:

The Marquee Tools consist of the Rectangle, Elliptical, Single Row and Single Column selection tools. These are the most basic selection tools in Photoshop. The keyboard shortcut for these tools is the letter ‘M’.

The Rectangle Tool

The Rectangle tool allows you to draw rectangles or squares. Click and drag on your page to draw a square. You can hold the key, ‘Shift’ whilst you are dragging out your cursor which will create a perfectly shaped square. You can also hold the key, ‘Alt’ which will enable you to draw from the centre of the square instead of the corner.

If you’d like to move the square’s position when you are dragging it out, hold down ‘Space’, move the square to your desired position and then release ‘Space’.

The Elliptical Tool

This tool allows you to draw circles & ellipses. Like the Rectangle Tool you are able to hold the keys, ‘Shift, Alt and Space’ to edit the circle when you are drawing it.

The Single Row & Single Column Tools

The Single Row Tool and the Single Column Tool allows you to select a single row of pixels across the image. All you do is click on the image and it will automatically draw a line the length of your document.

The Lasso Tools

The Lasso Tools consist of the Lasso, Polygonal and Magnetic selection tools. The shortcut for these tools is the letter, ‘L’.

Lasso Tool

The Lasso Tool is a quick way to select an area but doesn’t allow you to select it precisely. All you do is click, hold and draw to create a selection. After you release your click the selection completes itself.

Polygonal Lasso Tool

This tool lets you create more accurate lines as you create straight lines so you have more control of what you want to select. This tool is much more flexible compared to the Lasso Tool. To start using this Tool all you do is click onto your picture and then start clicking around your area you want to select. With this tool you do not have click and drag. To finish the selection you can click onto the 1st point where you started off or double click anywhere on the picture, as this will draw a straight line to the 1st point.

Magnetic Lasso Tool

This tool is different to the other Lasso Tools as it traces the area for you. I’ll be tracing this image from here

This tool works a lot better with images like this one, as there are only two colours. It isn’t generally that precise when working with more detailed pictures, but it can be more effective when used with the Quick Mask (discussed later in this article) as you’re able to fine-tune the selection.

To start using this tool, click on to your document and start moving your mouse. You’ll notice that the line will start to trace around the image. To finish the selection click onto your 1st point where you clicked or double click and the line will join up to the 1st point automatically.

The Magic Wand

When you click onto your picture the Wand will select similar colours around it. Your Tolerance value at the top of the screen determines the range of colours that are selected. A low Tolerance value of 10 will select 10 darker and 10 lighter luminance levels from where you clicked. A high Tolerance value does the opposite. It will select a large range of colours.

Tolerance value of 10

Tolerance value of 100

Colour Range

The Colour Range method is a great method to use with photographic pieces. I’ve used this picture from to show you how to change the sky’s colour.

Go to ‘Select’ and then click Colour Range and this dialog box will appear.

Here you can add and remove colours you would like to select. The Fuzziness bar is a bit like the Magic Wand’s tolerance setting. The higher you set the value, the amount of colours selected increases and the lower you set the value the amount of colours selected decreases. With the dialog box open you’ll notice that when you hover over your canvas the eyedropper tool will be selected. I clicked onto the sky and then set the fuzziness value to 82. All the sky should be the colour white and the sign and building will be the colour black. The colour white indicates what is going to be selected.

Now you can click OK and the marching ants will be around the sky which will enable you do whatever you want with that selected area.

The Pen Tool

The Pen Tool is my favourite tool for selecting areas of a picture. I find it very useful for selecting tricky areas and just generally selecting anything.

If you’d like the picture I am using you can get it here

To use the Pen Tool as a selection method all you do is click around the area you want to select, right click and click on the option, ‘Make Selection’.

This box will then show.

You’ll notice that there is an option to set the feather radius amount. The lower the value, the sharper the edges and the higher the value, the softer the edges. Try feathering the selection on the value 1 and then go back and enter 30. After clicking OK in this box I copied and pasted the selection and turned off the original layer. This is how mine looks.

Feathered with the value 1

Feathered with the value 30

Quick Mask

This method is quite useful as it gives you quite a bit of control on what you want to select. The shortcut to enter the Quick Mask mode is, ‘Q’ or you can click here to enter this mode.

When you enter Quick Mask mode the colour palette should change automatically. Black should be the foreground colour and white should be the background colour (if for any some reason it isn’t, press ‘D’ on your keyboard to reset the colours). In this mode you use the Brush Tool to produce a selection area. You will notice that when you start using the Brush Tool with the colour black, it will ‘paint’ the colour red. Don’t worry, this is meant to happen! Painting with this colour adds to the selection. If you swap the colours round by clicking the two small arrows next to the colours and start painting with the colour white, this will erase parts of the mask. You can change the sizes and hardness’ of the brushes in the Quick Mask mode. This enables you to select the edges of area neatly and precisely. To exit the Quick Mask mode press ‘Q’ or click on the Quick Mask button.

After exiting Quick Mask mode you will then have the ‘marching ants’ around the area you didn’t paint red. This enables you to edit this area or invert the selection so you can edit the area you painted red.

Layer Mask

A Layer Mask is a useful, non-destructive way of editing. They allow you to go back and edit the selection you made to a layer. It also saves you from being very annoyed if you erase a certain part of a layer and then decide later on that you want it!

To create a layer mask make a selection of what you would like to keep and click the ‘Add Layer Mask’ button.

Your selected area has been converted into a layer mask. A small thumbnail is now linked to your original layer.

To edit the layer mask click on the layer mask’s thumbnail. Now you can either paint in black or white to edit the layer. Painting in the colour black will mask the pixels in the original layer and painting in the colour white will reveal the pixels in the original layer.

About the Author:

is a talented graphic designer from the UK. Feel free to check out his DeviantArt portfolio

Leave a comment


  1. Great short and simple tips thanks it was a nice read.

  2. Marco says:

    Awesome! Well explained, very complete. Overall, just another resource to have.


  3. dollar says:

    Thanks a lot, Tom! We really like basic tuts :)

  4. Tom says:

    Thanks guys, and thanks for a great post Simon!

  5. Yu says:

    Thank you, Simon.
    Great tutorial~~ You shoule really name it “Master Photoshop Selection Tools in under 20 Minutes”

  6. Samar says:

    Thanks Simon, that’s a real good tut ;)

  7. T-Law says:

    Very useful, thanks.

  8. Simon says:

    Thanks everyone, hope it was of use to you all :)

  9. Marisol says:

    Simple, direct, easy to understand. Very useful.Tko.

  10. Guild Invite says:

    Great post, thank you for this.

  11. huwaw69 says:

    Wow very simple tutorial fast and easy…

  12. Gerard Ventosa says:

    Thank’s a lot! Very useful

  13. Olaolu says:

    Thanks for this. It made me want to explore Photoshop some more, and I did. I also like the little things that I learned.

  14. Wayne says:

    I’ve used picture-it for years, but Vista won’t support it. Had to Photo Shop. With your help maybe I can master it at 58.


  15. Noah D. says:

    Amazing tutorial! It helped me so much!

  16. Erin says:

    very good! :)

  17. emroud says:

    amazing! It was a big help!

  18. abdullah says:


  19. Mwanakes says:

    Thanks for the whole explanation. I will do gr8 things now with the tools and the keyboard combination.

  20. sonali sinha says:

    Thanks you did the best work for student & employee

  21. abc says:

    very nice n very easy explanation.thanks a lot

  22. Arun says:

    Very nice information

  23. Gurpreet says:

    good and easy explanation..thanks

  24. valency josh says:

    i really appreciate ur tutorials…is really helping me

  25. patrick says:

    thanks for helping me

  26. ATHIBAN says:

    thanq friend. . well explained . . :)

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