Without a doubt, making clean, accurate selections will enhance your Photoshop Elements results and bad ones will make you crazy.  

The first rule to follow?  

Get yourself a pen and tablet like the Bamboo because it is so much easier isolating part of an image with a pen and tablet than it is with a mouse - it's an unfair comparison because the pen always wins!

The Photoshop Elements tool bar contains 8 different selection tools and there they are (in the right hand column) from the top of the tool bar to the bottom.

There are also some options in the Option Bar that are common to most of the tools.  Let's find out about them first ...

Option Bar

selections option bar

These are the common options for most of the selection tools - some will have more and the special ones (Magic Wand, Quick Selection and Selection Brush) will have slightly different options.

From left to right on the option bar ...

The four little squares are  (1) New Selection, (2) Add to Selection, (3) Subtract from Selection, and (4) Intersect with Selection.  

Feathering will blur sharp edges of a selection by creating a transition between the selection and the adjacent pixels.  These are a couple of elliptical selections ...

selections no feathering selections feathering
No Feathering Feathering 25 Pixels

Anti-aliasing smooths the jagged edges of a selection by softening the color transition between edge pixels and background pixels.  I just leave it checked for pretty much everything.

Marquee Tools

These come in two models - rectangular and elliptical.

The Rectangular Marquee tool will create selections with 90 degree angles.  The shape can be either a rectangular or a perfect square with the Shift key pressed - and  ...

If you already have a selection and press the Shift key the new selection will add to the selection that has already been created

It is a little point but one worth noting.

The Elliptical Marquee tool works the same way.  If Shift is pressed for initial point is chosen then the selection is constrained to a perfect circle.

Lasso Tools

The Lasso Tools are the ones that can drive you crazy if you are using a mouse.  It is far easier to create an accurate selection with a pen and tablet so if you are going to be doing a lot of Lasso Tool work - go get one.

There are three Lasso Tools ,,,

  • The Lasso Tool
  • The Magnetic Lasso Tool
  • The Polygonal Lasso Tool
The Lasso Tool

The Lasso Tool is used for freehand selecting.  Just choose the feathering and then draw a selection around an object.

selections lasso tool ants

This is the edge detail of the flower showing the marching ants.

selections flower selections flower
Original Image Flower Selected

Getting all the way around an object can often be difficult (no one said the lasso tool selecting is easy or fun - its just necessary).  If you try to outline the object when it is all visible (like the flower on the left) it is easy to miss parts or drift into the object.

The solution is to zoom in nice and tight (like on the first image with the marching ants).but that creates another problem - you soon run out of real estate.  When the Lasso Tool gets close to the edge of the image keep the left mouse button pressed or keep your pen on the tablet and press the space bar.  

This will bring up the hand tool meaning you can pan the image to the next part of the image to select.  It is possible to go completely around an object this way and zooming in means the selection will be much more accurate.

That is how I did the flower and it is a good, tight selection.

The Magnetic Lasso Tool

The Magnetic Lasso tool is good for selecting complex edges against a high contrast background and there are additional options available.

selections magnetic options

Width - the area the Magnetic Lasso is sampling.  In this option bar the tool is only sampling an area 10 pixels wide.

Edge Contrast  - a high number is used for a very contrasty image and a smaller number for less contrasty images.

Frequency - how often the tool will place an anchor point along the edge.

The last thing on the right will make the Magnetic Lasso pressure sensitive if a tablet is installed. The advantage of this as you press harder on the pen the width will become smaller so the sampling area is smaller.

Pressing the Caps Lock key will turn the magnetic Lasso to a circle with a cross in the middle and the circle is the size set in the width box.  As you press harder the circle will get smaller which samples a smaller area.

The Polygonal Lasso Tool

The Polygonal Lasso tool draws only straight segments and you can create as many segments as you like.

The advantage of the Polygonal Lasso Tool is that the segments can be really, really short so it is easy to get around curvy areas.  It may sound counter-intuitive but I find this one the easiest one to use of the three Lasso Tools.

The options for this Lasso are the same as for the regular Lasso Tool.

Magic Wand

The Magic Wand selects areas of similar colors with just one click.  It is useful for selecting things like a sky, for instance.

Complex areas are not suitable for the Magic Wand.

Quick Selection Tool

The Quick Selection tool makes a selection based on color and texture similarity when you click or click-drag the area you want to select. The mark you make doesn’t need to be precise, because the Quick Selection tool automatically and intuitively creates a border.

If the area you are selecting meets the criteria (similar color and texture) then this tool will do a reasonably good job.  The Quick Selection Tool took less than a minute (the Lasso Tool took much longer to make the same selection).

The Quick Selection Tool made one minor error.  It was easy to fix by choosing the Subtract from Selection option and running it over the minor error.

selections quick selection selections quick selection
Selection Error Selection Error Fixed

And here is the flower after selecting with the Quick Selection Tool ...

selections quick selection

This selection is as good as the Lasso Tool selection and it took a whole lot less time and remember - the area has to be of the similar color and texture.

Selection Brush Tool

The Selection Brush tool makes selections two ways: you can paint over the area you want to select in Selection mode, or you can paint over areas you don’t want to select using a semiopaque overlay in Mask mode.

You can first make a rough selection with a marquee tool, Quick Selection tool, or other selection tool, and then fine-tune your selection with the Selection Brush tool. You can add to the selection using the Selection Brush tool in Selection mode, or subtract from it in Mask mode.

selections selct brush tool options

Brush Shape - you can select any brush from the brush window.

Brush Size - select the size suitable to the area being selected.

Mode - the default is Selection and the menu can be dropped down for the Mask Mode.

Hardness - select either a soft or hard edge brush.

With the Selection Brush Tool set in Selection Mode - this is what the initial selection looks like ...

selections select brush tool

When the tool is in the Mask Mode - this is how the selection looks ...

selections mask

When any other tool is selected in Mask Mode the red overlay is replaced by the marching ants selection.  With this selection tool the red overlay (it can be changed to any color) is the area that will be eliminated.

The nice thing about these two selection options is that you can stop, get up, walk around, crack your knuckles, get a cup of your favorite beverage, watch your favorite TV show and then go back to continue the selection process.

The Selection Brush is explained in more detail on this page ...

Refine Edges

The Refine Edges dialogue that appears in the Options bar with selections.  It is useful for modifying a selection.

This is the dialogue that appears when Refine Edges is selected ...

selections refine edges

Smooth - will remove jagged edges - the jaggies.

Feather - will blur sharp edges of a selection by creating a transition between the selection and the adjacent pixels.

Contract/Expand - will remove from or add to the selection.

Preview - either as a normal selection or in mask mode.

Page Links

Options Bar

Marquee Tools

Lasso Tools

Magic Wand

Quick Selection Tool

Selection Brush

Refine Edges

The Tools

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