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Make a better and easier selection when you use the right method

Added on Sunday 22nd of June 2008 07:21 am EST
Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3
Operating Systems:
Microsoft Windows, Macintosh

When you need to make a Photoshop selection, your options are plentiful. But with so many selection tools to choose from, how do you know which one is right for your image? We’ll explore the different selection options and help you decide!

To choose the best selection method for your particular image, we’ll:

  • Explain the different selection tools available in the Tools panel, and tell you which image conditions each tool serves best.
  • Tell you why the Pen tool can be your best selection tool and how to go about drawing your selections.
  • Show you how to make quick and easy selections in Quick Mask Mode.
  • Describe how to make channel-based selections to serve your advanced selection needs.

Making accurate selections in Photoshop is tedious work that many Photoshop users simply dread. But the truth is, the more selections you make, the better you’ll get at it. Not only that, but the way you choose to capture your selection can make all the difference! We’ll explore the different selection methods, point out which one works best for what kind of image, and help you make a more informed decision.

Select with the right tool
There are a number of tools to choose from in the Tools panel, and Photoshop groups them together by kind: Marquee tools, lassoing tools, and pixel-based selection tools. Let’s look at each tool set and see what it handles best.

The marquee tools
The marquee tools enable you to make shape-based selections. As shown in Figure A, there are four marquee tools to choose from: Rectangular Marquee tool, Elliptical Marquee tool, Single Row Marquee tool, and Single Column Marquee tool.
  • Rectangular and Elliptical Marquee tools. To use the Rectangular or Elliptical Marquee tool, select the tool from the Tools panel, then click and drag on your image to make a selection. Tip: Press and hold [shift] and then marquee the selection to constrain proportions and make a perfectly shaped square or circle. Press and hold [option] ([Alt] in Windows) and then marquee the selection to designate the selection’s center as the anchor point.
  • Single Row and Single Column Marquee tools. To use the Single Row or Single Column Marquee tool, select the tool from the Tools panel and simply click on your image to create a fixed, one-pixel high row selection or a fixed, one-pixel wide column selection that spans your entire image.


These tools are best suited for selections with simple rectangular or elliptical shapes, such as the selected fruit shown in Figure B.


Tip: If you don’t get the perfect shape on the first try, you can transform your selection as well. To find out how, check out the companion article “3 easy ways to refine your selections” in this issue of Inside Photoshop.

The lasso tools
As shown in Figure C, there are three lasso tools to choose from: Lasso tool, Polygonal Lasso tool, and Magnetic Lasso tool. The lasso tools allow you to make freeform selections.


  • Lasso tool. Use the Lasso tool to make total free-form selections. The Lasso tool is very sensitive, responding to every mouse nudge and hiccup. While you wouldn’t use this tool for intricate selections, this tool will come in handy when you need to make quick, loosely defined selections.
  • Polygonal Lasso tool. Use the Polygonal Lasso tool to create a more controlled, straight-edged selection. With a series of clicks relatively close together, you can even draw a rounded selection edge, as shown in Figure D.
  • Magnetic Lasso tool. Use the Magnetic Lasso tool to trace an object’s edge. The Magnetic Lasso tool differentiates between pixel values and “sticks” the selection edge to the area with the highest contrast where you’re navigating the tool. One caveat: The tool can get off track if your image object doesn’t have clearly defined edges.

Other selection articles of interest
Want to know more about alpha channels as selections, or maybe you need a refresher on the Pen tool? Perhaps you missed our article on CS3’s new Quick Selection tool! Here are a few companion articles to help you on your quest to become a selection master:
  • “Make selecting a snap with CS3’s new Quick Selection tool,” November 2007,
  • “Simplify alpha channels and unmask their potential,” September 2007,