Using the Quick Selection and Magic Wand Tools

Discover how to make fast selections with Photoshop's Quick Selection and Magic Wand tools.

The Quick Selection tool

This tool is new in Photoshop CS3, and it's a fantastic way to select an object quickly. Using this tool, you "paint" your selection using a brush. You can even adjust the size, hardness, spacing and angle of the brush, just like you can with the Healing Brush and other tools.

As you paint, the selection automatically expands to hug the contours of the object you're selecting. While it doesn't always get it 100% right, with a bit of tweaking and judicious use of CS3's Refine Edge command you can get an excellent result in a very short space of time.

To select this tool, click the Selection Tool icon in the Tools palette. Hold the mouse button down, then choose Quick Selection Tool from the menu that pops up:

The Quick Selection tool in the Tools palette

Now choose a brush size from the Brush option in the options bar, and start painting around the inside edge of the object you want to select. As you paint, Photoshop fills out the selection to follow the high-contrast edge around the object:

Dragging out a selection with the Quick Selection tool

Switch to a smaller brush diameter when working in tight corners:

Using a smaller brush in a tight corner

Press the ] (right bracket) key to make the brush bigger, and [ (left bracket) to make the brush smaller.

If the tool accidentally selects an area outside your object, hold down Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) while you drag over the accidentally selected area. This subtracts from the selection:

Subtracting from a selection with the Quick Selection tool

Quick Selection tool options

As well as being able to control the brush diameter, hardness, spacing, angle and roundness using the Brush option in the options bar, you can also choose from the following options:

Sample All Layers
Check this option to make a selection based on the combined pixels in all visible layers. Uncheck this option to make a selection based only on the active layer's pixels.
Check this option to reduce blockiness in the selection edge (see below). It's similar to using the Refine Edge command, but the effect is automatic and subtler.
Using the Auto-Enhance option
The selected bottle with the Auto-Enhance option disabled (left) and enabled (right)

The Magic Wand tool

The Magic Wand tool is a great way to select irregular-shaped objects that are just one colour (for example, a red rose, or a person's hand). To activate the tool, click on the Magic Wand icon in the Tools palette:

Dragging out a selection with the Quick Selection tool

To use the tool, click inside the object you would like to select. You'll see that the tool selects all the pixels that are similar in colour to the pixel you clicked on:

Using the The Magic Wand tool

Often, your object will contain a couple of colours; in the above example, the flower has a green centre as well as the red petals. To select the centre as well, Shift-click in the centre to add to the selection:

Adding to a Magic Wand selection

"Tolerance" setting

The Tolerance setting lets you to control the sensitivity of the Magic Wand tool:

Magic Wand tolerence

If the Tolerance value is high, a wider range of colours will be selected. For example, if you click on a red pixel when the Tolerance is set very high, the Magic Wand tool might also select pixels that are pink and orange. If you set the Tolerance to a lower value, then only pixels that are very similar to the shade of red you clicked on will be selected. Experiment with different Tolerance values so that most or all of your object gets selected, without selecting the background as well.

"Contiguous" option

If you check the Contiguous box next to Tolerance, then only adjacent areas of the same colour will be selected. If you deselect Contiguous, all pixels of the same colour will be selected.

As with the Quick Selection tool, you can also check the Sample All Layers option to base the selection on pixels from all layers.

For more on the Quick Selection and Magic Wand tool options, see Modifying selections in Photoshop.

Further reading

As well as using the Quick Selection and Magic Wand tools, there are many other ways you can select pixels in Photoshop. Take a look at:

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