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

Home > Articles > Design > Adobe Creative Suite

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

This chapter is from the book

Magic Wand Tool Magic

The Magic Wand tool is a great selection tool for selecting areas that contain similar colors. You need to know a few things about this tool to produce the best results. This section helps you figure out how the tool works and then do some cool stuff with it.

The first fact about the Magic Wand tool is that it's not magic (surprised?). Until now, all the selection tools have involved either closed shapes or lassos that surround the area to be selected. The Magic Wand tool acts more like dropping a stone in a calm pool of water. The selection ripples outward from the starting point and continues radiating outward, selecting similar (and adjacent) colored pixels until it reaches pixels whose color or shade is noticeably different from the starting point. These pixels are not included in the selection. The next exercise helps you understand how the Magic Wand tool works.

In this exercise, you use the Magic Wand tool and a few other Photoshop features to create a photo composite from two photographs. In this case, I have an excellent exterior photo taken on a bright summer day in a rural Texas town, but I cannot see inside the building. I also have a great photo taken of a stairway in Ybor City, Florida. Our job will be to combine the two into a photo that can be used in a brochure for the purpose of increasing awareness of the problem of urban decay in the inner city.


Using the Magic Wand One of the first problems you may discover with the Magic Wand tool is that clicking in an area doesn't always produce a uniform selection. Instead, you may get many little selection "islands" that pop up randomly within the initial selection. This happens because of a difference in color value from the starting point pixels and the pixels that make up these "islands."

You can resolve this issue several ways. You could Shift+click all of the individual "islands" with the Magic Wand tool until they are all included in the selection, but this is not the most efficient way to resolve the problem (although I'm embarrassed to admit that I am guilty of using this practice on occasion myself). Instead, try choosing Select, Similar; or try increasing the Tolerance setting, and reselect the same area again. The Contiguous option on the Options bar also acts in the same manner as Select, Similar when Contiguous is checked. The selection will stop when it bumps up against pixels of different colors. When Contiguous is unchecked, the selection will include all similar colors within the image or within the layer (which brings us to another option to consider). When the Use All Layers option is checked, the selection is based on the entire image. When Use All Layers is unchecked, the selection is based on the image information of the active layer only.

Keep in mind that sometimes the selection "islands" are a result of areas that are vastly different in color. In this case, (if you still want these "islands" to be included in the selection), choose a Marquee or Lasso tool, and hold down the Shift key (Add to selection) while making a selection shape over the "islands." That should resolve the issue.

Something else worth mentioning: when you use Select, Similar to add to a selection, another problem could arise. If the selection goes too far into the part of the image that you don't want selected (especially at the edge of an object), there is another trick to consider. Did you know that when you use the Similar command, Photoshop uses the current Tolerance setting to determine which pixels can be included in the selection? This means that after you do an initial selection with the Magic Wand tool (at a Tolerance level of 32, for example), you can set the Tolerance option to a lower value (perhaps somewhere between 4–8) before going to the Select, Similar menu option. Then colors that are much closer to the original starting point will be the only ones added to the original selection.

An Exercise in Pane (Windowpane, That Is)

  1. Open the OldWindows.tif file from the Examples/Chap03 folder on the Companion CD. From the toolbox, choose the Magic Wand tool.

  2. On the Options bar, check the Contiguous option and set Tolerance to 30. Click in the center of a windowpane as shown in Figure 3.16. The selection instantly expands to select all of the black pixels in the pane. Because the Contiguous checkbox was checked, the selection stopped at the edge of the windowpane.

  3. Figure 3.16Figure 3.16 The Magic Wand tool quickly selects all the black pixels in the windowpane.

  4. To select the rest of the windowpanes, go to the Select menu and choose Similar. Now Photoshop selects all the pixels in the image that are within the Tolerance setting. Because there are no other black pixels in the image, all of the pixels in the windowpanes are selected (see Figure 3.17).

  5. Open the OldStairs.tif image from the Examples/Chap03 folder on the Companion CD. Press Ctrl(„)+A to select the entire image. Press Ctrl(„)+C to copy the image to the clipboard. Close the file without saving any changes.

  6. With the OldWindows.tif image as the active document, choose Edit, Paste Into (or press Ctrl(„)+Shift+V). The photograph of the stairs now appears to be the view through the windowpanes, as shown in Figure 3.18. The Paste Into command created a new layer containing the new background image of the stairs, along with a layer mask that reveals only the areas that initially were selected. With the Move tool, you can move the stairs photograph around (this is slightly different from the method used to move a new background into the TuxedoJon exercise, earlier in this chapter). Now let's get even more creative.

  7. Figure 3.17Figure 3.17 Use the Select, Similar command to add the remaining black windowpanes to the selection.


    Figure 3.18Figure 3.18 Using the Paste Into command, you are able to put stairs into the windows.

    You have one pane of glass left, and, even though it is dirty, it should be at least a little transparent. To accomplish this, you need to create another selection.

  8. On the Layers palette, click the Background layer to make it the active layer. If the Magic Wand tool is not active, press W to make it active. Change the Tolerance setting to 15 so that the selection will be limited to the pixels only in the dirty window pane. Click in the center of the dirty window pane.

  9. To make the glass transparent, you'll modify the layer mask (on Layer 1). On the Layers palette, click the thumbnail of the layer mask on Layer 1. Click the foreground color of the toolbox, and change the color to a medium gray (R:129, G:129, B:129). Click OK. Press Alt(Opt)+Delete(Backspace) to fill the selection on the layer mask with this medium gray color. You learn more about layer masks after the exercise.

  10. Dirty windows are never uniformly dirty, so for a touch of realism, press B to switch to the Brush tool. On the Options bar, choose an irregularly shaped brush, such as the Spatter 46-pixel brush. Set the Opacity to 35%. Press D for the default colors, and make sure black is the foreground color (if not, press X to switch black to the foreground). Click once or twice in the window pane to make it appear as though there are smudged areas that are dirtier than other areas (thus less transparent). Or maybe you would like to drag across the window pane with the brush. Experiment and use the History palette to undo any brush strokes you don't like. When you are satisfied with your results, press Ctrl(„)+D to deselect. The resulting image is shown in Figure 3.19.

  11. As a finishing touch, you should make some tonal adjustments so both photographs look like they belong together. On the Layers palette, click the Background layer to make it the active layer. Click the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette and choose Levels. In the Levels dialog box, change the middle Input level from 1.00 to 0.45 (as shown in Figure 3.20) and click OK. If you would like, you can save this file to your hard drive as a .psd file to maintain the layers or flatten and save in a file format of your choice.

  12. Figure 3.19Figure 3.19 The dirty—but still transparent—window adds a realistic touch.


    Figure 3.20Figure 3.20 Use a Levels Adjustment layer to make a tonal adjustment to the background image. When you use an adjustment layer, you have the flexibility of changing or tweaking the settings for the Levels command at any time.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020