Choosing the Best Selection Tool

selection-toolScenario: Using Adobe Photoshop, you wish to select and copy Aunty Edith from one photograph and paste her into another. Which selection tool do you use?

I have been asked this question so many times. My suggestions are usually rejected followed by ‘Well, I prefer to use the Magnetic Lasso and that’s that! Look, it works by pure magnetic magic!’ – Mmmm.

Preferences toward any given selection method may vary, but I can only draw from my own experience as an Adobe Photoshop specialist and University lecturer in its uses.

If I were to sum up with one word why Adobe Photoshop is the best of the best, I’d put it all down to ‘Control‘. You must be in control of your selection, not your selection in control of you.

Who’s in control then?
If your preferred selection method delivers the highest levels of control to you (the digital De Vinci), continue to use it. However, if you absolutely depend on ‘one-click-wonder’ solutions, you will fall short of becoming a pro.

Sure, taking the odd shortcut here and there doesn’t harm anyone, but having as much control over Adobe Photoshop as you can manage will pay off.

The narrow path
Out of all of the selection tools currently available within Adobe Photoshop, the most useful for general and precise selecting has to be the Polygonal Lasso. It will not fill an area with a selection, nor will it trace the outlines of a shape. What it will do is deliver perfect control.

Cracking the whip over the Polygonal Lasso
In the past, some of my students have expressed some apprehension over using this tool due to the ‘sticky-dart-around-the-screen’ habit it seems to display. Let me make one thing clear – there really is nothing to be afraid of with this tool. If used correctly, the Polygonal Lasso will behave itself and, in the long run, save you masses of time and yield perfect selections.

Guide Points

Just follow these guide points and you will be creating perfect selections in no-time.

Get comfortable (by this I don’t mean fluff up the cushions) – ensure that there are no palettes obscuring your image. Move them aside, minimise them or hit the Tab key (toggle) to hide them.
Zoom in – I tend to go in at a factor of between 100-200%. Use CTRL+ and CTRL -. Do this before you start your selection.

Take you time – Don’t rush, speed will come with practice. Develop a confident rhythm of clicks first before galloping away with yourself.
Don’t become too click-happy – If you click too quickly (constituting a double-click), you’ll will close your selection before time.

Use the Backspace button – to undo (or unpick) any erroneous stitches. What was I telling you about the control!
Use the Spacebar (and left-click and drag) – to navigate. Don’t use your mouse to control your movements around a canvas.
If all goes pear-shaped – hit the Esc key to cancel your selection.
To close your selection – either take your mouse pointer to the very start of the selection (a small circle should appear, signifying a close circuit), or hit the Return/Enter key to close the selection from the position of the mouse pointer to the start of the selection. Give it a go!

If it all goes wrong, you may be able to salvage you selection using the ‘Add to selection’ or ‘Subtract from selection’ button on the contextual bar.

About the Author
Has been using Adobe Photoshop in a professional capacity since 1996.

Currently Lecture in the practical uses of Adobe Photoshop – beginner – intermediate and advanced at a local University in the UK.

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