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10 Ways to Modify a Selection in Photoshop

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What You'll Be Creating

Learning how to make a selection in Photoshop is an essential skill for any Photoshop user. In this tutorial, we'll show you ten ways to modify a selection in Photoshop.

By watching this video, you will be able to understand the connection between all the selection features Photoshop offers, including Feather, Contract, Expand, Border, Smooth, Refine Edge, Quick Mask, Color Range, Transform Selection and many more.

And if you need professional Photoshop add-ons that will save you a lot of time, don't forget to check out Envato Elements' huge library!

What You'll Learn in This Photoshop Tutorial

  1. How to select in Photoshop: basic modifications
  2. How to save and load selections
  3. How to transform selections
  4. How to Quick Mask in Photoshop
  5. How to use Magic Wand, Quick Selection, Similar & Grow
  6. How to use Feather Selection in Photoshop
  7. How to Refine Edges
  8. How to Contract & Expand
  9. How to make a border
  10. How to select with Color Range

1. How to Select in Photoshop: Basic Modifications

To learn how to make a selection in Photoshop, first we'll go over the basics. The following selection options are considered basic modifications:

  1. Add to selection (hold down Shift while using the following tools: Magic Wand, Lasso tools, Marquee tools)
  2. Subtract from selection (hold down Alt/Option while using the following tools: Magic Wand, Lasso tools, Marquee tools)
  3. Intersect selections (hold down Alt/Option and Shift together to intersect a new selection with a previous one)
  4. Select All (Control-A to select the whole canvas)
  5. Deselect (Control-D to deselect everything)
  6. Reselect (Control-Shift-D to reselect the previous selection)
  7. Invert selection in Photoshop (Control-I to deselect what was previously selected and select what was not selected)
  8. Move selection in Photoshop (hold down Space while still drawing the selection with Marquee tools to move it around)
  9. Perfect circle or Square (hold down Shift with the Elliptical or Rectangular Marquee tools while creating them)
  10. Draw selection from the center (hold down Alt/Option with the Elliptical or Rectangular Marquee tools while creating them)
Add to selectionAdd to selectionAdd to selection
Add to selection
Subtract from selectionSubtract from selectionSubtract from selection
Subtract from selection
Intersect selectionsIntersect selectionsIntersect selections
Intersect selections

2. How to Save & Load Selections

Wondering about saved selections in Photoshop? Saving your selections can be useful if you need to come back to them at a later date. Saved selections in Photoshop are stored as Channels. They are essentially Pixel Masks not assigned to any layer. You can find these options under the Select menu.

Save selectionsSave selectionsSave selections
Photoshop save selections
Naming saved selectionsNaming saved selectionsNaming saved selections
Naming saved selections

3. How to Transform Selections

This feature is essentially the Free Transform tool, which will only transform your selection but not the content of the selected layer(s).

This can be very useful when you need to create perspective distortions to shapes selected with the Marquee tools. This can be achieved by holding down Control while dragging one of the control points of the transform bounding box. You can also use Warp features to bend and reshape your selections with this feature.

Transform selectionsTransform selectionsTransform selections
Transform selections
Warp selectionsWarp selectionsWarp selections
Warp selections

4. How to Quick Mask

This is a very handy feature for making changes to your selections. You need to click on the icon at the bottom of the toolbar to enter Quick Mask mode or press Q. You can use the same keyboard shortcut to exit this special selection editing mode.

Once in Quick Mask mode, you will see your selection normally and everything else outside your selection with a red overlay. This setting can be changed by double-clicking on the icon in the toolbar. In this mode, you should work with the Brush tool and the Gradient tool to make fast and precise changes to your selections. Using black as your foreground color will remove areas from your selection, while using white will increase the area of your selection. Try using custom brushes to achieve special selections.

Quick mask modeQuick mask modeQuick mask mode
Quick mask mode
Quick mask optionsQuick mask optionsQuick mask options
Quick mask options

5. How to Use Magic Wand, Quick Selection, Similar & Grow

First, let's talk about the magic selection tool in Photoshop. The Magic Wand is a classic Photoshop tool. It creates selections based on the similarity of neighbouring pixels. The magic selection tool Photoshop method can be achieved with two features from the Select menu. Similar will extend the selection by including similar coloured areas from around the whole image (not only adjacent pixels), and Grow will extend the selection only using adjacent pixels.

Now, let's see how to use the quick selection tool in Photoshop. The Quick Selection tool uses also the same sampling, but together with a very powerful brush method. With the Quick Selection tool, you can quickly sample several areas with a simple brush stroke, and you can customise the size of your brush to make precise selections.

Adding Similar pixelsAdding Similar pixelsAdding Similar pixels
Adding Similar pixels to a selection
Magic WandMagic WandMagic Wand
Using the Magic Wand to select not only adjacent pixels

6. How to Use Feather Selection in Photoshop

The feather selection Photoshop tool will soften the edges of your selection. The pixel size of Feathering will define the size of the gradual softening around the edges of your selection. You can either assign a Feather to your selection tools (Marquee and Lasso tools) or add it to any selections created from the Select menu.

Adding Feathering from Select menu
Refine Edge FeatherRefine Edge FeatherRefine Edge Feather
Refine Edge Feathering with live preview

7. How to Refine Edges

This is a very powerful set of tools to modify your selections. Here you can use advanced selection modifications like Smart Radius, Decontaminate Colors, and many more. This option is the best way to improve your selections of complicated subjects like hair or fur.

Refine EdgeRefine EdgeRefine Edge
Refine Edge dialog box

8. How to Contract & Expand

When learning how to use Modify in Photoshop, these are two popular options. They're under Select > Modify, and they do exactly what their name says. Contract will remove a set amount of pixels to the edges of your selection, and Expand will expand a selection in Photoshop by adding pixels.

Contract and ExpandContract and ExpandContract and Expand
Contract and adjust a selection in Photoshop

9. How to Make a Border

This is probably one of the least used modifications in Photoshop but nonetheless useful. This will create a selection ring with a specified size around your previous selection.


10. How to Select With Color Range

This is another favourite Photoshop selection feature, which you can use to enhance a selection you've already created. You can find this feature in the Select menu. The way it works is similar to the Magic Wand, but in this case you have better control over the Tolerance, which is called Fuzziness in this case, and you also get better Preview options.

Color RangeColor RangeColor Range
Adding Color Range
Color RangeColor RangeColor Range
Color Range dialog box

5 Top Photoshop Add-Ons to Make Your Work Easier

We covered various methods to learn how to make a selection in Photoshop and how to adjust a selection in Photoshop. Now you know how to invert selection in Photoshop, how to make a selection, how to move a selection in Photoshop, and more.

But did you know there's a library with over 9,000 Photoshop add-ons available with unlimited downloads? That's Envato Elements' offer.

For a flat monthly fee, you can download as many assets as you wish—actions, brushes, and more. Here are just five useful add-ons you can get for your toolkit:

1. Smart Select: Complex Layer Selecting (ZXP)

Smart Select - Complex Layer Selecting (ZXP)Smart Select - Complex Layer Selecting (ZXP)Smart Select - Complex Layer Selecting (ZXP)

Wondering how to select in Photoshop using different criteria in layers? This is the tool you need! Smart Select allows you to define the conditions layers should meet and then automate the process of selecting them.

2. Easy Cut: Layer Splitting Kit (ZXP)

Easy Cut - Layer Splitting Kit (ZXP)Easy Cut - Layer Splitting Kit (ZXP)Easy Cut - Layer Splitting Kit (ZXP)

This plugin helps you when you need to cut a layer into separate layers, especially if you have lots of elements in there. It cuts any type of layer with just a click, using a variety of tools like guidelines, paths, or selections.

3. Image Extend: Clipping & Expansion Kit (ZXP)

Image Extend - Clipping & Expansion Kit (ZXP)Image Extend - Clipping & Expansion Kit (ZXP)Image Extend - Clipping & Expansion Kit (ZXP)

Don't compromise the quality of your images if you need to extend them. This plugin helps you to make your images larger by extending their edges—unlike scaling images up, there is no quality loss or blur, because only new pixel data is added.

4. Layer Batch Processing Kit (ZXP)

Layer Batch - Processing Kit (ZXP)Layer Batch - Processing Kit (ZXP)Layer Batch - Processing Kit (ZXP)

Is there a faster way to edit many layers at once than with this add-on? You'll be able to resize, rotate, color, or rename multiple layers at once. You can also create or unwrap multiple Smart Objects, so it's a great one to have!

5. Shape Rounder Path Editing Kit (ZXP)

Shape Rounder - Path Editing Kit (ZXP)Shape Rounder - Path Editing Kit (ZXP)Shape Rounder - Path Editing Kit (ZXP)

This particular plugin will round the corners of any shape by recalculating the path. This is very useful because Photoshop users without Illustrator can only round rectangles.

Become a Photoshop Expert With This Free Course and Other Resources

And if you're looking for a free course to learn the basics of Photoshop, you're in luck! Visit the Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel to watch this amazing course and more tutorials:

After learning the basics of how to use modify in Photoshop along with some other selection features, maybe you'd like to explore more awesome tutorials. Check out these resources before you leave!

Editorial Note: This post has been updated with contributions from Maria Villanueva. Maria is the Associate Editor of the Tuts+ Design channel.

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