Making selections is an essential skill in Photoshop since nearly every change made to an image starts with a selection. There are lots of tools and options to make, save and change selections and there are always several ways to make a selection. The most effective selections are always made with a combination of tools and saved as an alpha channel (Select / Save selection) or as a layer mask. It is easier to first make a quick and rough selection and then refine that selection. In this section we will discuss the most useful tools to make selections.

Parts of this series:
1. Digital Image Theory
2. Working with Bridge
3. User Interface
4. Making Selections
5. Tonal and Colour Adjustments
6. Working with Layers
7. Retouching Images

Quick selection tool and Magic Wand

These tools are great for quick and rough selections. 90% of the time you can start making your selections with them and then refine them with other tools.

Both tools are making selections by neighbouring colour information. The difference is that with the Magic Wand tool you need to click every time you would like to add to or subtract from your selection, while with the Quick selection tool you’re able to draw around the part you would like to select and it expands the selection automatically on the way.

For refining my selections I like to use Quick Mask mode, where you can use your brush and paint with black and white to change your selection. After the refinement of the edges I always save my selection as a layer mask with the layer itself or into an adjustment layer’s mask. Most selections can be made quickly and efficiently with this workflow so it’s highly recommended to learn it and practice it.

Colour Range

Colour Range is a another way to make selections based on colour information. It works very similarly to Magic Wand or Quick selection tool, but in some cases you can be more precise with it.

Whenever Quick selection tool fails to help me quickly select what I want I turn to Colour Range. This is not a not a tool but a option you find in the Select menu.

In the Colour Range dialog box you will see a mask, which indicates the selected parts in white and the deselected parts in black. You can add parts to your selection by Shift clicking on the image or on the mask in the dialog box.

You can refine your selection by changing the Fuzziness level, which works like a tolerance.

Eraser tools

The most difficult selections are when you have hair, fur, grass or something similarly complicated around the edges. In these cases you can use the special eraser tools called Background and Magic Eraser tools. These tools are destructive if you don’t make a duplicate layer first before starting using them and then turn the outlines of the modified layer into a layer mask on the untouched original layer.

They work very similarly to the legacy Photoshop plug-in called Extract, but it is much easier to use them. Extract is only available as an optional plug-in for later versions than Photoshop CS3, which you can download from Adobe’s website. There is no available download for Photoshop CS5 Mac version. In Photoshop CS5 there is a new feature under the Refine Mask/Edge called Smart Radius, which somewhat makes similarly precise selections around complicated edges.

Pen tool

There are images where none of the previous selection techniques will work properly. Mainly when you have nearly the same colours in the foreground element and the background. What makes it even worse when you have small details in the background (pattern or noise).

In these cases you will need to use the Pen tool to make your selection. In the Theory section we already discussed how to use it so in this example we are going to focus on making selections with it. The selections of the Pen tool can also be nondestructive if you save your selection as a layer mask.

Refining selections

There are several ways to refine your selections but the best way to make the enhancements in the layer mask.

You can use your brush tool and paint with black and white to refine your saved selection or you can even switch to mask view if you Alt click on your mask’s thumbnail.

The other option is to use Refine Mask from the Mask panel. If you need to subtract pixels from the edges you can use Contract and if you need ti smoothen out the contour of your selection you can use Feather, Radius or Smooth.

You can always return to Refine Mask to change the values that you used before.

To be continued soon…

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About the author 

Martin Perhiniak

Martin Perhiniak is a Certified Adobe Design Master and Instructor. He was voted to be one of the top 10 Adobe instructors in the world by student feedback in 2015. In his online courses besides the technical knowledge you need, Martin will also teach you a lot about design principles, compositional techniques and plenty of best practices that he picked up and developed while working as a designer and retoucher on projects such as Pixar’s Cars and Toy Story, BBC’s Dr Who or Mattel’s Team Hot Wheels. He feels it his mission to share his insights of the design industry and its latest trends with beginners and creative professionals around the World.

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