In this Photoshop Lesson, we’ll learn about ‘Selection tools in Photoshop‘. Selection is an important part of working in Photoshop. So, read it carefully.

If you had been reading all my series then you probably already know, my name is Lalit Adhikari at LTY.


Whenever I teach Photoshop, I always start my Photoshop sessions with an important note:

“Adobe Photoshop is all about making and editing selections in one way or another. If you can’t do that properly, then you will be facing a lot of hardships in Adobe Photoshop.”

It is just to convey the importance of Selection in Adobe Photoshop. In Adobe Photoshop, Selection Tools are important for various purposes whether it is for removing the background, changing the background color, photo manipulation or matte painting.

A well-defined selection is quite essential to make our designs look perfect and professional. And in Adobe Photoshop their many types of Selection Tools by which we can get our desired results.

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What is selection in Photoshop

A selection is an enclosed area in Adobe Photoshop, within which we want to limit the use of our Photoshop Tools and Effects.

It normally denoted with a boundary of the dashed line after creation called ‘Marching Ants‘, as it looks like an army of ants marching around.

They are mainly divided into three main categories:

  • Marquee Tools
  • Lasso Tools
  • Quick Selection Tool & Magic Wand Tool

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Marquee Tools

rectangular marquee tool | elliptical marquee tool | single row marquee tool | single column marquee tool
Marquee Tools

Marquee Tools are a series of Selection Tools which allows you to make Rectangular, Elliptical, Single Row and Single Column selection.

For example: if you want to select an area on your canvas whether it is to apply a mask or a background color, it allows you to work or edit anything within that area.

Now, if you click and hold on to the tool (any tool having a triangle at the bottom right corner) then a fly-out menu will open showing other tools in that specific tool.

Rectangular Marquee Tool

The purpose of the Rectangular Marquee Tool is to make a Rectangular Selection of pixels within the selected layer in Photoshop or simply to select a rectangular part of an image. The shortcut key for selecting the Rectangular Marquee Tool is M.

How it works

Simply by selecting the layer, clicking and dragging you can make a selection; you can see a box appear on your layer. After making a selection you can move the selection by the arrow keys on your keyboard.

You can get rid of any selection by pressing Ctrl + D on your keyboard and it will deselect the image.

Rectangular Marquee Tool has many other options such as “style”. Its default setting is “normal” but you can also change it into “Fixed Ratio” which means the ratio of the selection will always be the same.

And you can change the ratio to any width and any height. There is another option below this called “Fixed Size” in which the selection will be made in a fixed size and you can also change its height and width as well.

So, whenever you will make a selection it will be of that fixed size.

Elliptical Marquee tool

This tool allows us to make a selection of an area that is in a circular shape, to make a perfect circular selection make sure to hold on to shift key while using the tool.

Single row marquee tool

This tool helps us to make a Single Row Selection in our canvas which is one pixel by width. This is generally used to make guides or any selection which is required to have one pixel as its width.

And same with Single Column Marquee Tool, as it is used to make selections of one-pixel width along the horizontal axis.

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Lasso tool

lasso tool | polygonal lasso tool | magnetic lasso tool
Lasso Tools

This is also one of the many Selection Tools in the list of Selection Tools in Photoshop. This tool allows us to draw the specific area which we want to select.

We can freely make the selection by clicking on the mouse or pen digitizer and after we make a complete the closed path selection will happen.

There are two other tools in the lasso tool:

  • Polygonal
  • Magnetic Lasso Tool

Polygonal Lasso tool

This is the same as the lasso tool but the selection will be formed in a polygon shape. To make the selection you have to click on certain points instead of drawing the selection in free hand.

Magnetic Lasso tool

This lasso tool is used for greater accuracy as well as ease of use. When you are making a selection in your image, it attaches little anchor points to the selection. This makes things easier because it doesn’t rely on how you handle your mouse.

There’s a trick on how to use this tool efficiently. While selecting your tool, click on the caps lock button. And after doing that you will see the appearance of your cursor changes.

The cursor will look like a circle with a plus sign inside it; the plus sign in the middle of the circle will be the point where your anchor point will be set.

If you focus your attention on the top panel then you will see an option called Frequency and higher the number, more anchor points will be set automatically.

You can change this by simply clicking the mouse creating another anchor point along the path of selection. By simply clicking on the backspace button in your keyboard you can delete the anchor points that you didn’t want.

If you are having trouble using this selection tool then you might consider changing the contrast of the image which is also located on the top panel. As higher the contrast of your image better will be the accuracy of your selection.

If you are working on a bit washed out the image then I will advise you to set the contrast value lower as this tool works precisely on higher contrast images.

There is another option called Width which is also located on the top panel. This option determines how big the cursor circle will be.

It means, Photoshop will go ahead and look for the edge of the selection you are trying to grab within that circle, therefore if your circle is big then we can go quicker and make the selection.

But one problem arises in doing so; if you have less defined edges it will be harder to grab the edges of your image. So, in this case, use a cursor of small size.

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Quick selection tool

quick selection tool | magic wand tool
Quick Selection Tool & Magic Wand Tool

This tool is quite self-explanatory; it is to make a quick selection. Although we can’t get a well-defined selection out of this it but gives a good base to create a detailed selection.

If we start dragging down the cursor while selecting the quick selection tool we can see that Photoshop automatically starts finding areas that are similar to what we are dragging around.

In some cases, it may not make our desired selection that we want, and in that case, we may need to touch it up with a marquee tool, magic wand or another type of selection.

There are three options in the Quick selection tool in the top panel at the left corner:

  • New Selection: By clicking this option it creates a new selection.
  • Add to selection: It helps to increase the boundaries of the selected area.
  • Subtract Selection: It helps to subtract the boundaries from the selected area.

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Magic wand tool

The magic wand tool will allow you to select an area of similar color without having to go through and hand draws it.

In the top panel, we can see an option called Tolerance, and it means the range of color and tone that Photoshop selects.

This tool is very efficient in those images which have solid areas of colors that you want to remove.

The default setting of tolerance is 32, it means if we click at a point on the image while selecting the magic wand tool, Photoshop will select based on the exact pixels color that will fall within a tone range of 32 pixels lighter and darker shades of that color that we’ve clicked on.

Now, if we reduce the tolerance number to a lower value and then click again in our image, we could see the range of our selection gets narrower or smaller. And in the same way, if we increase the tolerance value then our range of selection increases.

There is an option on the top panel in this tool called Contagious and it means that the pixels have to be touching each other for them to remain in the selection.

This option is checked by default, but if we un-check it we can see that we are able to select the same range of color tone even if it is present in the different area, and the areas don’t need to be in touch.

On the top left of the options panel, you can see four options. And these are:

New SelectionAdd to selectionSubtract Selection and Intersect with the selection. 

  • Add Selection:  It means if we choose to add to the selection, we can see a little plus sign on the magic wand tool and when you will click it will add more area to your selection. These are a shortcut for selecting the add option and it is selecting by holding the shift key on your keyboard.
  • Subtract Selection:  If you choose the subtract Selection option it will subtract that part away based on clicking and tolerance. And the alt key is used to subtract the selection.

The highest number you can use in the tolerance range is 255 because it is the largest range you can select.

If you are following our Free Photoshop Lessons and Tutorial Guide, then next you should read about, ‘How to Crop in Photoshop‘.

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Lalit Adhikari
Lalit Adhikari

Lalit Adhikari is the Main Author and Admin at Learn That Yourself. He has work experience of more than 10 years in the field of Multimedia and teaching experience of more than 5 years.

Articles: 275


  1. My favorite selection tool is newly added Object selection tool. It does lot of work itself.

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