Quick Selection Tool: How to Make Highly Accurate Selections in Photoshop

It does not matter whether you are a Photoshop wizard with years of experience under your belt or a complete newbie just testing out the waters, you will turn to the Quick Selection Tool time and again to make selections in a jiffy. This tutorial will give you a brief primer on this tool and the different ways of using it.

Check out this course for more detailed tutorials on making selections and creating masks in Photoshop.

Note: This tutorial assumes that you have Photoshop CS3 or higher, since this tool is not available in earlier versions of Photoshop.

How to Use the Quick Selection Tool

The Quick Selection Tool was first introduced in Photoshop CS3. It quickly became a designer favorite, thanks to its combination of the “magic” of the Magic Wand and the ease of use of a paintbrush. This tool is unlike other selection tools, in that it selects not just colors but also textures. When you use this tool, Photoshop continuously analyzes the image and selects similar pixels (i.e. textures, colors and patterns) automatically. The result is a highly precise selection with just a few clicks.

For the purpose of this tutorial, we will work with this image:

step1

We will carefully select and remove the background, such that we are left with just the flower.

Go ahead and download a copy from Pixabay here.

Step 1: Open up Photoshop and load the image you just downloaded.

Step 2: Locate the Quick Selection Tool. It is the fourth tool from the top in the left toolbox. You may have to click and hold on the Magic Wand tool to show the other options.

step2

Take some time to acquaint yourself with the tool. Look at the options at the top, right below the menu bar:

menubar

Let us take a closer look at these:

1. Brush Presets Menu

1

Photoshop treats the Quick Selection Tool as a brush. This means you can have presets, just like any standard brush. This menu should be empty right now. If you save your existing settings, it will show up here as a preset.

2. Brush Mode

2

You have three options here:

  • New Selection: Quite obvious – this creates a new selection.
  • Add to Selection: This adds to the existing selection, equivalent to holding the SHIFT key. Interestingly, unlike other selection tools, you do not need to select Add to Selection manually after creating a new selection. Photoshop selects this mode automatically after you make the first selection.
  • Subtract from Selection: This removes pixels from the existing selection, equivalent to holding the ALT key.

3. Brush Options

3

Since Photoshop treats this tool as a brush, you have the standard options for changing the hardness, size, spacing, angle and roundness of the brush. This can come very handy when working with very fine details in images, such as hair or fur.

We do not need to meddle with this for now. Once you are familiar with this tool, you can check out this comprehensive course on Photoshop to learn how to work with different brush options.

4. Sample All Layers

Choosing this option means that Photoshop will create a selection from all existing layers, not just the currently selected one.

5. Auto-Enhance

Auto-Enhance creates selections with smoother edges. Keep in mind that the Quick Selection Tool is used primarily for making quick selections. This gives the selections slightly rough edges. Choosing this option remedies that.

6. Refine Edge

This option should be available after you have made your first selection. The chief purpose of Refine Edge is to help you make more accurate selections with softer, smoother edges. This is very powerful tool can create incredibly detailed selections, as we will see later.

Now that we know a bit more about all the Quick Selection Tool options, we can proceed with the tutorial.

Step 3: With the Quick Selection Tool selected (make sure the brush mode is set to “New Selection”), click on the top left corner of the image. Photoshop will automatically select the background, minus the flower.

step3

Click on the pixels adjacent to the selection. Photoshop will “magically” keep selecting the pixels around the flower. If you make a mistake, you can press CTRL + Z to undo, or hold ALT to deselect parts of the selection. For better control, try zooming in and reducing the brush size.

With just a few clicks, you should have a selection like this:

step3.2

Step 4: Click on “Refine Edge” in the top options bar. This will bring up the Refine Edge menu where we can fine-tune the selection to create smoother edges.

step4

Your selection should now be covered in white.

Refine Edge is a powerful tool that can create some incredibly accurate selections. Try dragging the different options around and see how it affects your selection. You can always see the original selection by pressing P or clicking on ‘Show Original’.

These are the options I chose for our existing selection:

step4.2

You can see the changes on the selection below:

step4.3

Step 5: With our selection now complete, hit DELETE to remove the background completely. You should see a prompt asking you to choose the fill color for the new background.

step5

For now, choose a simple White background.

This is what your final image should look like:

finalimage

Congratulations, you have just used the Quick Selection Tool to create a highly accurate selection!

The best way to learn Photoshop is by doing it. This course on learning Photoshop by example is a great place to get started!

As you can see, this tool is not only incredibly powerful, but also very easy to use. You can pick up the basics in just a few minutes and master the tool within a couple of hours.

The interesting thing about this tool is that it samples colors and textures similar to the first selection. In the above example, we could have very well started our selection not from the background, but from the flower itself.

In the example shown below, we can select out the background (by making the background our first selection):

background

We can make the background black and white by going to Image -> Adjustments -> Black & White.

black&white

We can also select just the post box by making that our first selection.

crop1

We can change the color of the post box to anything we like by going to Image -> Adjustments -> Hue/Saturation:

crop2

In either case, Photoshop will sample pixels similar to the first selection.

Tips for Using the Quick Selection Tool

Before we end this tutorial, here are some handy tips on using the Quick Selection Tool:

  • Use the brush options to make more accurate selections. Try changing the brush size (press [ to decrease size, ] to increase), hardness and roundness to get the best possible selection.
  • Zoom-in when working on hard to select edges to get a better selection.
  • Master the Refine Edge tool. It will come in very handy when you want to get a smooth selection, particularly when working with fine details such as hair, fur and grass.
  • If you like a particular brush setting, save it as a preset to save time.
  • Enable ‘Auto-Enhance’ to automatically smooth the edges of your selection.
  • Practice adding/subtracting (SHIFT/ALT) to get the best possible selection.

The Quick Selection Tool is extremely handy and you will turn to it often in your journey towards Photoshop mastery. This course on Photoshop for beginners will guide you through more advanced concepts, including layers, selections, masks, effects and more.