Rectangular Marquee Tool: Making Basic Selections in Photoshop

The rectangular marquee tool counts among the most often tools in Photoshop. Whether it’s making a selection, cropping out an image, or adding a color fill, you’ll frequently find yourself turning to the marquee tool. Fortunately, mastering this tool is dead easy. Even a complete beginner can attain professional grade mastery within a few minutes

This tutorial will teach you how to use the rectangular marquee tool. For more detailed tutorials, check out this course on Photoshop selections and masks.

How to Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool

One of the great things about Photoshop is the number of methods it offers to perform a single task. Take selections, for instance. You can make a selection with the magic wand tool, the lasso tool, or the marquee tool.

marqueetool-image01

The marquee tool itself offers four options:

marqueetool-image02

  • Rectangular marquee tool: Used to create rectangular/square selections
  • Elliptical marquee tool: Used to create elliptical/circular selections
  • Single row marquee tool: Creates a 1 pixel high selection that spans the width of the image
  • Single column marquee tool: Creates a 1 pixel wide selection that spans the height of the image

The rectangular marquee tool finds heaviest use among these. As we will see below, you can use it to make selections, crop out images, add fill layers and more.

Making a Selection with the Rectangular Marquee Tool

This tutorial demonstrates the simplest function of the marquee tool: to create a selection.

Step 1: Start by opening any image in Photoshop. For this tutorial, I used this picture of an otter from Pixabay.

marqueetool-image07

Step 2: Select the rectangular marquee tool. It will be the second icon from the top in the toolbox on the left.

marqueetool-step2

If you click and hold on this icon, you should be able to see the rest of the three selection options (elliptical, single row and single column).

Step 3: With the rectangular marquee tool selected, click and drag a box around any part of the image (in this case, the otter’s head).

marqueetool-step3

The blinking black and white lines indicate that a selection has been made.

We can now modify this selection as per our requirements.

Cropping a Selection

The rectangular marquee tool is frequently used to crop a part of the image. In the above example, we’ve already selected the part we want to crop. All we need to do now is press C or click the ‘Crop Tool’ icon in the toolbox.

marqueetool-cropping

You will see the selected part highlighted against the rest of the image, like this:

marquee-crop-image

If you hit ENTER, Photoshop will crop out the rest of the image.

marquee-crop-image2

Of course, you can achieve the same results by using the Crop Tool directly (remember what we said about multiple methods to do the same thing in Photoshop?). This method just gives you more flexibility since you can do multiple things with the selection.

Cutting a Selection

Suppose instead of cropping, we want to remove the selected part entirely from the image.

Doing this is straightforward as well: just make the selection and press CTRL + V or go to Edit -> Cut.

This should be the result:

marquee-cutting

The selected part is now stored in your clipboard. You can go ahead and paste it into a new document.

marquee-cut

Adding a Color Fill to a Selection

So far, we’ve used the marquee tool for “destructive” processes – cropping and cutting parts of an image. But you can also use this tool for “additive” processes where you add some color or effect to a selection.

Step 1: In a blank document, press CTRL + SHIFT + N to create a new layer (alternatively, go to Layer -> New -> Layer).

marquee-color-step1

Step 2: Make sure that the new layer is selected. Then use the marquee tool to draw a selection box anywhere on the canvas.

marquee-color-step2

Step 3: Press SHIFT + F5 or go to Edit -> Fill. This will open the color fill dialog box.

marquee-color-step3

[Note: if the Fill option is grayed out in the Edit menu, it’s probably because you didn’t create a new layer before making your selection. Create a new layer (CTRL + SHIFT + N) and try this step again]

Step 4: Select any color you want and hit OK. Your selection will now be filled with your color.

marquee-color-step4

Using Photoshop to enhance your photos? This course on Photoshop for photographers might come in handy!

Adding a Stroke to a Selection

Instead of adding a color fill, we can also add a color border to a selection (called stroke in Photoshop parlance). The procedure is the same except for a couple of deviations.

Step 1: Press CTRL + SHIFT + N to create a new layer.

Step 2: Use the rectangular marquee tool to make your selection.

Step 3: Go to Edit -> Stroke. This will bring up the Stroke menu.

marquee-stroke-step3

Select a color and width of your choice. You can also change the location of the stroke to inside, center, or outside.

Hit OK. You should see something like this:

marquee-stroke-step3-2

This way, you can add a number of different effects to a selection. For example, you can make a selection, then add a new gradient or fill layer from the Layers panel to create different effects. You can change the hue/saturation of the selected parts of the image, and so on.

Advanced Rectangular Marquee Selection Options

The rectangular marquee tool offers a number of advanced selection options. You can see them at the top, right below the menu bar.

advancerecmarquee

Let’s consider this option in detail:

  • Feather: Change this option to create boxes with rounded corners.
    You can create an elliptical selection by choosing a feather value of 50px.
  • Style – Normal: This creates a standard rectangular selection with flexible size.
  • Style – Fixed Ratio: This creates a selection with a fixed ratio. For example, to create a selection twice as wide as it is high, enter width: 2, and height: 1.
  • Style – Fixed Size: This creates a rectangular selection of a specific size. If I enter 200px for both the width and height and click anywhere on the canvas, it will automatically create a square selection of 200px.
  • Selection Option – Add to Selection: You’ll see four selection option at the very left. The first of these is a normal selection. The second option is to add to selection. Use this option to expand an existing selection. For example, you can create a shape like this simply by adding to an existing 200x200px selection:

marqueeselection

  • Selection Option – Subtract from Selection: This option allows you to subtract from an existing selection. For example, by subtracting this selection from our existing shape:
  • Subtract from Selection
    We get this:

Subtract from Selection2

  • Selection Option – Intersect with Selection: Use this option to create a selection that intersects with an existing selection. That is, it selects parts that are common to both selection. For example, the square intersecting the shape shown below…
    Intersect with Selection
    …will create a selection of the common parts, like this:

Intersect with Selection2

  • Refine Edge: This option is used to fine tune the selection. Refine Edge is a rather complicated selection option that is beyond the scope of this tutorial. You can learn more about it in this course on advanced Photoshop CS6.

This concludes our tutorial on the rectangular marquee tool in Photoshop. You should now have a basic understanding of how this tool works and how you can use it to create complicated selections.

For further learning, check out this course on the foundations of Photoshop.