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Representations of Selections

We usually visualize the marquee as a selection in Photoshop, but there are other representations of selections. These are them.

Marquee Selections

Marquee selections are very temporary. They’re not saved in files when they’re closed. You can select all on your canvas with ⌘-A. Deselect everything with ⌘-D. ⌘-clicking on a transparent layer or a channel selects content.


A.K.A. marching ants, the marquee is as old as Photoshop. It’s actually the poorest of all representations of selections because you cannot tell if the selection is feathered or not.

Marquee tools are the ones that display a selection with a marquee. All marquee-based tools in Photoshop are:


Marquee Tool

The Marquee Tool can be either rectangular or elliptical. These are some practical tips for dragging with the tool:

  • Hold Shift to constrain proportions.
  • Hold Option drag a marquee from the center.
  • Hold the Space Bar while dragging it to move it on the canvas.
  • While a marquee-based tool is active, you can drag the current selection around on the canvas.
  • Option-drag within a marquee selection to subtract from the selection.
  • Shift-drag outside of a marquee selection to add to it.


While you have an active marquee, you can right-click, then choose Transform Selection…. This will allow you to transform the selection with a bounding box. You can zoom while it’s active. Once you’re done, hit Return to accept your transformation.

Transform Selections

Once you have a marquee selection on your canvas, you can scale and move it.


The quickest way is to right-click within selection with the Marquee Tool still active. You’ll have the option to Transform Selection…. Just hit Return once you’ve done your transformations.


Lasso Tool

To use the Lasso Tool, you simply drag it around the canvas. When you drop your mouse, the selection closes itself. As with all the marquee tools, Shift adds and Option subtracts from the selection.

Polygon Lasso Tool


This tool is very useful in selecting straight-edged areas on the canvas. You don’t drag with this tool; you just click from one spot to the next. Hitting the delete key removes the last click. Escape deselects while you’re drawing a selection.

Quick Selection

The Quick Selection tool has pretty much replaced the Magic Wand Tool. It pours a selection onto the image like water. The marquee stops when it detects contrast. The keyboard shortcut for the tool is w.


There are few options for this tool. You simply set it to one of three modes: New Selection, Add to Selection or Subtract from Selection. You can set the tool to add to the selection automatically, as shown above. This is the default I use. You can keep it in the default mode, then hold Shift or Option to respectively add or remove from the selection.

You can change the size of the Quick Selection brush with the Options Bar, or with [ or ] keys.

Auto-Enhance is fairly self-explanatory. Photoshop analyses the selection once you drop it and attempts to improve it. Sometimes this works. Sometimes it does more harm than good.

As with other tools in Photoshop, you can save all tool presets with the Presets menu in the Control Bar.


Select Colour Range

Go Select > Colour Range…. You have the choice of sampling colours on the canvas or choosing colours from the dropdown menu.


The Fuzziness slider determines the tolerance of the selection. That’s how little or how much different the colour can be.


Select Focus Area

When you use Select > Focus Area… Photoshop examines the image for sharp and blurry areas. It can output the resulting selection to a mask on a new layer.


The first part of the dialogue is simply the preview. Choose the setting you prefer. Parameters allow you to include more or fewer pixels in your selection. Output is what you get once you click OK. The best choice is New Layer with Layer Mask. It’s most editable.

Quick Mask

Quick Mask mode allows you to paint a selection. By default, what’s red is deselected. You can change this by double-clicking on the Quick Select button in the Tools panel to invert this.


Use a any tool to paint black, white or grey while in Quick Selection Mode to select or deselect to varying degrees.

Masking Tools

Layer Mask

A layer mask is a greyscale image which represents a selection. It’s saved in your file when you save and close, as long as the file format supports a mask. Your best bet is a .psd file.

Whenever there’s an icon in the second column in the layers panel, it’s a layer mask. It’s usually a pixel-based mask, but it could be a vector mask.


The lighter the pixels on your mask, the more the pixels are selected. So on a mask, black pixels are deselected. White pixels are selected. Grey pixels are partially selected, which creates transparency.

You can paint in greyscale on a mask to hide or reveal content. Use as hard or as soft a brush as you want to get a sharp or a blurry edge as you want.

In the example above, you can see how the white on the mask reveals the photo.

Vector Mask

A vector mask is delineated with a vector path rather than pixels. It cannot have a blurry edge. It’s perfect for masking a sharp-edged object on the canvas.


You can add a vector mask with Layer > Vector Mask > Current Path. And there’s an added benefit here.


When you place such an image in InDesign, you can choose to use it as a clipping path to hide all content outside the path.

Reversibility of Selections


If you’re attempting to select a very detailed object on a rather flat background, it would likely be simpler to select the background, then invert the selection. That’s the nature of selections in Photoshop. They’re simple to invert.


No matter the method you use to select, the end-goal is to save our selection so it can be edited. We never want to take a lot of time to select, then deselect and lose our selection for good. If you’ve taken the time to make a selection, you should save it to an Alpha Channel.

Important Keyboard Shortcuts

D: Set foreground & background swatches to default colours, black & white.

X: Switch focus of foreground/background colours.

⌘-Delete: Fill with background colour.

Option-Delete: Fill with foreground colour.

B: Brush Tool. Right-click with Brush tool for controls.

[   or   ] : Make brush smaller or bigger.

Save a Selection

No matter the selection you create, you can use Select > Save Selection… to create an Alpha Channel. This is simply a saved selection. It doesn’t show on the canvas. It only appears in the Channels panel. It’s saved in your document even after it’s closed.

Any mask you create makes an Alpha Channel, which is saved in your Photoshop file. This includes the mask that comes with an Adjustment Layer.

Formative Activity

Marquee Tool

Use the Elliptical Marquee Tool on the clock image to select the clock face. Once you’ve selected it accurately, add a Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer to make the face brighter.


Save an close the image.

Lasso Tool

Use the Polygon Lasso Tool to select each of the device screens. Zoom in to start.


You can use the Hand Tool with the Space Bar to pan around the image. ⌘-plus and ⌘-minus works while you’re selecting. Once you’ve made a selection for one of the screens, add a Layer Mask to the appropriate poster graphic as shown above.

Quick Select

Use the Quick Select Tool to select the clothing (or the background). Once you have a clean, accurate selection, add Gradient Map adjustment layer to add a sepia tone to the photo.


In this photo, use the Quick Selection tool to select the leaf. Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to change it’s colour.


Colour Range

Use Select > Colour Range… to select the orange part of the van. We want to make the orange turn to yellow.


You’re not going to get it all with the Colour Range function. Add your Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer to change the orange to yellow. Paint white or black on the mask to edit it. What’s white on the mask will become yellow.

Select Focus Area

We’re going to mask the guy from the background using Select > Focus Area…. Once the preview looks good enough in the Focus Area dialogue, make sure Output is set to New Layer with Layer Mask.


You can use Select and Mask… to refine the Mask.

Quick Mask

Start by using the Quick Selection Tool to select most of the bag. Once you have most of it done, switch to Quick Mask mode to select the rest.


Use a softer brush to paint where the image is blurry. Once you have a good selection, add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer and increase the saturation. It’ll make the leather look a bit more orange; more vibrant.

Vector Mask

Use the Pen Tool in Path mode. Draw around the perimeter of the screen, making slightly rounded corners. Be accurate.


Once your path is complete, turn on the top layer. Use Layer > Vector Mask > Current Path. This will hide the excess content on the poster to make it fit the device screen. Hide the background layer’s visibility so we can see the masking.