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How to Make Selections With Pixelmator

This post is part of a series called Introduction to Pixelmator.
How to Work With the Clone Stamp and Healing Tool in Pixelmator
How to Apply Filters and Effects in Pixelmator

Pixelmator is an easy-to-use, fast, and powerful image editing app for the Mac. In this tutorial, we will dive deeper into a very important part of image editing; making selections. Selections tell Pixelmator what part of the image you want to edit. Everything that is outside the selection will be ignored. There are a wide range of selection tools available, this tutorial will take a close look at each of them. Let's get started!

1. Using Marquee Tools

The rectangular and elliptical marquee tools are ideal for making quick selections of areas in our image. To make a selection with one of these tools we have to select them from the Tools Palette first. Then we click inside the document window where we want our selection to start, hold the mouse button and drag the mouse to draw our selection. Releasing the mouse button will finish the selection.

Marquee Tools

For each selection tool there are similar options in the tool options bar that let us:

  1. Create a completely new selection
  2. Add to the existing selection
  3. Subtract from an existing selection
  4. Intersect with an existing selection

Selection options

Step 1

Open an image that looks similar to the image we use in this tutorial. An image of an apple on a white background is perfect for this exercise.

Step 2

Select the Elliptical Marquee Tool, activate New Selection Mode from the Tool Options bar and make a selection around the apple. While dragging with mouse you can hold the Shift-key in order to constrain the shape of the selection to a circle. If you prefer to start your selection in the middle of the apple, then you can hold the Option-key to start drawing from the centre of the selection. Holding both keys at the same time will create a circular and centred selection. Make sure not to include the whole stem into the selection.

Circular Selection

Step 3

Activate Add to Selection Mode and draw an elliptical selection around the parts of the stem that weren't selected yet. We can also hold the Option-key before starting the selection to switch to add mode temporarily.

Circular Selection in Add Mode

2. Paint Selection Tool

The Paint Selection Tool is a great tool for detailed selections of parts of images with different color shades. With this tool we can make a selection by painting over the area we want to select. The Paint Selection Tool then tries to intelligently select more of the image based on the color shades we are painting over.

Paint Selection Tool

Step 1

Select the Paint Selection Tool from the Tools Palette and set the selection mode to subtract The mouse pointer changes into a circle representing our brush size.

Step 2

In the Tool Options bar we see a diameter slider. This controls the diameter of our brush. Adjust the slider so the diameter of the mouse pointer is slightly less than the width of the stem of the apple.

Step 3

This will be a detailed selection and therefore we want to zoom in on our image to see as much of the stem as possible. Use the key combination Command and + to zoom in.

Step 4

Paint with the mouse pointer over the stem by clicking and dragging. While painting you'll notice that an overlay appears over the stem. The overlay shows the parts of the image the Paint Selection Tool wants to select for us. When we release the mouse button we see that a hole appears inside our selection. This is because we used the Paint Selection Tool in subtract mode.

Subtracted Stem

3. Changing the Color of the Apple

We have now told Pixelmator that every edit we want to do to our image, should only be applied to the parts of the image that are selected. We can now change for example the color of the apple without changing the color of the stem or the hands around it.

Step 1

Go to the Effects Browser and choose the Color Adjustments effects. Double-click on the Colorize effect.

Effects Browser

Step 2

Adjust the color wheel to change the color of the apple. Adjust the Saturation slider if needed. You'll see that only the color of the apple changes.

Colorize Effect

4. Magic Wand Tool

Another selection tool that has a lot in common with the Paint Selection Tool is the Magic Wand Tool. With the Magic Wand Tool we can also select areas of our image based on their color shade.

Magic Want Tool

Step 1

Deselect our existing selection by using the key combination Command-D. Then activate the Magic Wand Tool from the Tools Palette. Make sure the selection mode is set to New Selection.

Step 2

Click on a part of the apple, hold the mouse button and drag the mouse. You'll see an overlay appear, telling us which parts of our image are going to be selected. We can increase the tolerance by dragging the mouse further away. This will include more of the apple in our selection. Make sure to increase the tolerance in such away that we select all of the apple including the stem. Release the mouse button to complete the selection.

Depending on where you started your selection and the tolerance you used, you'll either have selected the whole apple or just a part of the apple. If you have selected only a part of the apple you can put the selection tool on Add mode and select the remaining parts with the Magic Wand Tool. If you have selected too much, you can put the selection tool on Subtract mode to remove parts of the selection. You might also want to use one of the other selection tools to refine your selection further.

Magic Want Tool selection

4. Select Color

The last selection tool we are going to take a look at is a tool that is not available in the Tools Palette. We can find it under the Edit Menu and is called Select Color…. This tool behaves more like an effect than a selection tool as we will see now.

Step 1

Make sure our previous selection is still active. And select Select Color… from the Edit Menu.

Select Color

Step 2

Our mouse pointer changes into a large circle, acting like a magnifying glass. Click with the magnifying glass on the stem of the apple to select the color of the stem.

Step 3

The color box will change its color to the color of the stem. Adjust the radius slider in order to determine how much of the stem we want to select.

Color Select Progress

You'll notice that when you increase the radius too much, also other parts of the apple will get selected. You'll also see that non of the areas outside of the apple get selected. This is because we have applied the Select Color tool on an already existing selection. We already had selected all of the apple. And the Select Color tool will therefore only work on what's already selected.

When we click on the OK button we'll end up with a completely new selection where only the stem of the apple is included.

Color Select Progress


We've taken a look at the selection tools available in Pixelmator and how they work. You should now have a much better insight into making selections in Pixelmator. Stay tuned for the next part of this series, explaining how to use the Effects Browser.

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