Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Design > Adobe Photoshop

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Creating Selections

In order to work with something in Photoshop, the item must be selected. The human eye can differentiate between objects in a photo, but software isn’t as advanced. You have to tell Photoshop what you want selected and what should happen to those selected pixels.

This process involves making a selection and is often done using the Marquee, Wand, or Lasso tool. These tools are fairly intuitive and can often produce acceptable results with little work. Once you have a selection, you can copy it to a new layer or use the selection to generate a layer mask or alpha channel.

Marquee Tools

The Marquee tools allow you to click and drag to define a selection. These tools are very basic, but they do allow the selection of geometric-shaped objects with ease. (The keyboard shortcut for each tool is in parentheses.)

  • Rectangular Marquee tool (M): Use this tool to make a rectangular selection. Press the Shift key to draw a square.

  • Elliptical Marquee tool (M): Use this tool to make an elliptical selection. Press the Shift key to draw a circle.

  • Single Row or Single Column Marquee tool: This creates a selection that’s 1-pixel wide in the shape of a row or column. These two tools aren’t used often, which is why Adobe didn’t assign the keyboard shortcut M to trigger them.

Lasso Tools

The Lasso is a freehand selection tool. Draw around the area you want, and it’s selected. Think of it like a football sportscaster drawing on the screen with a telestrator. The better you are with the mouse or pen and tablet, the better you’ll be at making a selection.

  • Lasso tool (L): The regular Lasso tool has only two options: Feathering and Antialias. A feathered edge will generate a soft edge. You can feather up to 250 pixels, but you’ll rarely need to use that much on a low-resolution source. The Anti-alias option will smooth out your line to cut down on jaggies that will produce poor results onscreen.

  • Polygonal Lasso tool (L): This tool is a favorite among broadcast designers. It’s frequently used as a quick way to extract a headshot for producing on-air graphics. The advantage of the Polygonal Lasso is that you can release the mouse button as you draw. You simply click to add the first anchor point and then move the mouse to the next anchor and click again. Continue drawing around the subject until you return to your starting point. If you make a mistake, press the Delete or Backspace key to delete one point back (you can delete multiple points). At any time, you can double-click, and Photoshop will close the loop for you. The Polygonal Lasso tool works well for areas with large amounts of straight lines. Smoothing and feathering are particularly useful in avoiding an X-ACTO blade look.

  • Magnetic Lasso tool (L): The Magnetic Lasso tool contains many options. By adjusting parameters based on your source image, Photoshop can use edge detection to help you in making a selection.

  1. Open the file Ch04_Magnetic_Lasso.tif from the DVD.
  2. Select the Magnetic Lasso tool, and specify the width that Photoshop will look for edges. For this image, try a value of 10 pixels.

    The Magnetic Lasso tool will detect edges only a specified distance from the pointer. You can adjust the size of the brush by using the left and right bracket keys: [ for smaller and ] for larger.

  3. Next, specify the Edge Contrast to determine sensitivity to edges in the composition.

    You can choose a value between 1% and 100%. High values sense sharply contrasting edges; low values detect lower-contrast edges.

  4. The final option is Frequency, which specifies how often Photoshop sets fastening points. You can enter a value between 0 and 100.

    Higher values draw the selection quicker, with greater accuracy, but may cause aliasing problems (because the tool is now acting more like the Magic Wand tool). Make sure to smooth or feather your edge before using the selection.

For images with soft edges, use a lower width and edge contrast, and take your time when tracing the border. Images with well-defined borders can be traced more quickly. You can use higher width and edge contrast settings to generate good results.

Magic Wand Tool

You can use the Magic Wand tool (W) to select areas of color. The sensitivity is driven by the Tolerance control. The larger the number, the more Photoshop will accept similar pixels (based on brightness and color level). Select the sample size setting in the Eyedropper tool. You can choose various averaging settings including Point Sample, 3 × 3 average, 5 × 5 average, or higher. If the wand is acting oddly, adjust the tolerance settings in the Eyedropper options.

For more accurate control, most users select the Contiguous option from the options bar. This forces the Magic Wand tool to make selections of adjacent pixels only. This option is particularly useful when trying to select background objects, such as the sky. This way, only adjacent pixels would be chosen, not similar blues in the clothes or foreground. With this option deselected, Photoshop chooses all the similar pixels throughout the entire document.

Magic Wand selections tend to be very fragmented, with rough edges. This happens because selections are based on pixels and tolerance settings. Essentially, the Magic Wand is a bitmap tool; pixels are either on or off. This is the primary disadvantage of this tool: It leads to pixelated edges. To minimize pixelation, choose the Anti-aliased option.

You can further smooth out the selection’s edges to generate a usable selection. The first step is to grow the selection to fill in gaps. You can choose to add to the selection by Shift+clicking in adjacent areas, which adds to the primary selection based on the Magic Wand’s setting. It’s better to use a lower tolerance and click multiple times than it is to use a high-tolerance setting. This is because more control is possible. Think of it as the difference between a hatchet and a pocketknife. If you want detail, you’re better off taking several shorter strokes to maintain finer control.

Quick Selection Tool

Think of the Quick Selection tool (W) as Magic Wand 2.0. It builds upon the functionality of the Magic Wand tool and produces better results with fewer clicks. In fact, the Quick Selection tool takes priority over the Magic Wand in the Tools panel. The Quick Selection tool allows you to create a selection that quickly forms based on color and contrast.

  1. Open the file Ch04_Quick_Selection.jpg from the Chapter 4 folder.
  2. Select the Quick Selection tool (W).
  3. Press the right bracket key (]) to make the selection brush larger, and press the left bracket key ([) to make it smaller.
  4. Click and drag in the flower to make an initial selection.
  5. To make another selection, click and drag again. If too much of a selection is made, hold down the Option (Alt) key to subtract from the selection.

Pen Tool

The Pen tool (P) is well suited for images that contain curved shapes. Many users swear by the Pen tool, but keep in mind that it’s not the easiest tool to use. The Pen tool creates a path when you click around the image and add anchor points. Photoshop connects those points with vector lines, which can be adjusted or repositioned. If you use Adobe Illustrator or After Effects, you may find the Pen tool relatively easy to use. Let’s give the Pen tool a try:

  1. Open the file Ch04_Pen_Tool.tiff from the chapter’s folder on the DVD.
  2. Choose the Pen tool from the Toolbox or press P.
  3. Choose the following options from the options bar.
    • Choose Paths from the first three buttons. This will create a new path in the Paths panel.
    • Select Auto Add/Delete. Anchor points will automatically be added when you click a line segment. Likewise, Photoshop will automatically delete an anchor point when you click it with the Pen tool.
    • Click the inverted arrow next to the shape buttons in the options bar to access the submenu. Choose the Rubber Band option, which will make it easier to preview path segments while drawing.
  4. Position the Pen tool in the top-left corner of the cockpit and click. An initial anchor point is added.
  5. You’ll now need to draw curved paths. When you click to add a new point, keep the mouse button pressed. You can drag to create the curve.
    • Drag toward the curve for the first point. Drag the opposite direction for the second point.
    • Hold down the Cmd (Ctrl) key to modify handles while drawing.
    • Hold down the Option (Alt) key to change a handle’s direction while drawing.
    • Dragging both direction points in the same direction will create an S-shaped curve.
    • Try to minimize the number of anchor points added. Move forward along the object and pull to form the curve.
  6. When you reach the end of your path, you can click to close the shape. Just like with the Polygonal Lasso tool, you must click your starting point to close the path. To end an open path, Cmd+click (Ctrl+click) away from the path.
  7. The path can be adjusted by using the Direct Selection tool (A). This will allow you to click an anchor point or handle and adjust the position or shape.
  8. When satisfied, you can Cmd+click (Ctrl+click) the path’s thumbnail in the Layers panel. You’ll see the “marching ants,” which indicate that an active selection has been made.

Keep in mind that the Pen tool and paths are not for the meek. You’ll likely have strong feelings that will either draw you to the Pen tool all the time or send you seeking alternatives. With practice, the Pen Tool becomes easier.

Color Range Command

A very powerful but overlooked tool can be found under the Select menu. The Color Range command makes it easy to select large areas of color or color ranges. To begin, use the Eyedropper on the desired color or area. To add to the selection, use the Plus Eyedropper; to subtract, the Minus Eyedropper. The Fuzziness control will soften your selection by increasing tolerance for stray pixels. You can preview the selection as a mask by using the Selection Preview pull-down menu. The Color Range command can also be accessed with the contextual menu when a selection tool is active.

  1. Open the file Ch04_Color_Range.tif from the Chapter 4 folder.
  2. Choose Select > Color Range. Set the Fuzziness to 25 to start, and uncheck Localized Color Clusters.
  3. With the Eyedropper, click the yellow rocket.

    You’ll see an initial selection created in the dialog. A black-and-white matte is shown to preview the selection. The white areas indicate the selection you’re creating.

  4. Hold down the Shift key and click more of the yellow rocket to build a larger selection.
  5. Adjust the Fuzziness slider to your preference.
  6. If too much of the image is selected, you can hold down the Option (Alt) key to subtract from the selection. You can also enable the Localized Color Clusters option to require similar pixels to be closer together.
  7. When you’re satisfied, click OK.
  8. Soften the selection further by choosing Select > Modify > Feather, and enter a value of 5 pixels.
  9. Let’s use the selection to make an isolated image adjustment. One way to do this nondestructively is with an adjustment layer. Click the Hue/Saturation button in the Adjustments panel.
  10. Adjust the Hue, Saturation, and Lightness sliders to change the colors of the rocket to your preference.
  11. Click OK.
  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account