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This chapter is from the book

Getting the Best Selections (in the Least Amount of Time)

Whether I'm doing art layout for work or for community projects (read: free), I have spent the past 10 years making selections. In that time, I have come up with a short list of dos and don'ts that might save you some time and trouble. Ready? Read on.

Do Make a First Rough Cut Selection

If the object you want to select is large and has a lot of meandering edges, make a ballpark selection first. You can take two routes with this possible solution:

  • You can make a general selection just outside the object (precision is not necessary at this point). Then put the selection on a separate layer and use a layer mask to paint away what you don't need. Layer masks are very forgiving. What I mean by this is that when you are working in Layer Mask mode, mistakes are easily fixed. You paint with black to remove unwanted parts of the selection, and if you make a mistake, paint with white to correct it.

  • The other choice is to make a general selection just inside the object (again precision is not crucial), and then go into Quick Mask mode. Pressing Q toggles you in and out of Quick Mask mode. You create a selection by painting. You will see a tinted color (the default is red) appear where ever your selection is being made. Don't worry, you are not really painting tint on your object; the tint appears to let you see where your selection will be. Similar to the Layer Mask, you paint with black to apply the tinted color, and paint with white to correct mistakes. Your goal is to add the tinted paint to finish the selection you started. This is a good place to try combining selection tools. When you press Q again to toggle out of Quick Mask mode, you will see your tinted paint change to a selection (or marching ants).

Zoom and Move

Set the Zoom to Actual Pixels to get an up-close-and-personal look at your image and do the fine-point editing you need to do. Use either Ctrl(„)+Alt(Opt)+0 (zero) or double-click the Zoom tool in the toolbox. Yeah, I know, if the image is large; it no longer fits on the screen, but that doesn't matter. There are several ways to move around when this close, but probably the best way I know is to press the spacebar, and the currently selected tool toggles to the Hand tool (as long as you keep the spacebar pressed). This is really a lifesaver.

You've magnified your view of an area to see it better. You are drawing a selection and you find that you have come to an edge of the document window. You need to move past the edge of the document window, but don't want to lose the selection you've started (you're still in the middle of making this selection). When that happens, press the spacebar, drag the image to expose more of the subject on the screen and let go of the spacebar to pop back to your selection tool. Then simply finish where you left off.

Adding Some and Taking Some

Using the Add to selection and Subtract from selection modes, you can begin to shape the selection to fit the subject you are trying to isolate. Here is a trick that will save you time when you are doing this part. First, instead of clicking the buttons on the Options bar, use the key modifiers to change between modes. Pressing Shift changes to the Add to selection mode and pressing Alt(Opt) changes to the Subtract from selection mode.

Just remember that these modifier keys must be pressed before you click the mouse. If you use these modifier keys often, you will find that using them becomes second nature. You'll be surprised by how quickly you will be able to work with one hand on the keyboard and the other on the mouse. You'll soon know instinctively which key to press without even looking—kind of like touch-typing.

Also, if you know you'll be using the Add to selection and Subtract from selections frequently, you can choose one of these options on the Options bar. This way you need to use only the modifier key for the mode that you didn't pick to switch to the other mode.

Get in Close

On some areas, you may need to zoom in at levels even greater than 100%. Photoshop enables you to zoom up to 1600%, which must be for selecting microbes and stray electrons. Try to remember two more shortcuts: Ctrl(„)+plus and Ctrl(„)+minus. These shortcuts allow you to zoom in and out of the document quickly. The only problem is that these shortcuts have become so instinctive for me—I've become so used to using them—that it never fails to disappoint and frustrate me when I press Ctrl(„)+plus while in Microsoft Word, and it doesn't zoom in on the document.

Now and again return to Fit to Screen just to keep a perspective on the whole image. Speaking of keeping a perspective—when taking the time to refine your selection, keep in mind some questions to ask yourself to gauge how much time to invest in this selection. Here are some examples of real situations that should help you gauge the degree of exactness you want in making your selection:

  • Are the edge colors of the object you are selecting almost identical to the background colors? If they are roughly the same color, investing a lot of time producing a detailed selection doesn't make much sense because a feathered edge will work just fine.

  • Will you be resizing the final image? If you are going to be making the current image larger, every detail will stick out like the proverbial sore thumb. This means that any extra time you spend to make the selection as exact as possible will pay big benefits. If you are going to reduce the size of the subject, a lot of tiny detail will be lost when it is resized so you don't need to invest a lot of time in the selection.

  • Is this a paid job or a freebee? Creating a complex selection is a time-consuming process. I once spent nearly half a day on a single selection. You may not want to let the payment issue be the sole determining factor, but keep in mind that free, complicated jobs and paying, complicated jobs both can take the same amount of invested time.

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