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

Home > Articles > Adobe Photoshop > Technique

  • 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