How to Use the Different Types of Lasso Tools in Photoshop

Making selections can be one of the most time-consuming aspects of using Photoshop, and though Photoshop provides many ways to go about it, the lasso tool is certainly one of the most accessible–especially for beginners. In the video below, Photoshop master Aaron Nace takes us through each element of the lasso tool, providing details that might surprise even the advanced user:

The lasso tool group allows you to make free form selections, whether they be “chaotic and random,” angular, or non-linear but traceable. And like most of Photoshop’s tools, the lasso group has a number of options, adjustments, and quick-key shortcuts you can make to help you get things just right.

The Standard Lasso Tool

The standard lasso is totally dependent on movements made by your drawing tool (mouse, trackpad, or pen). As a result, you’ll never get a perfect selection while tracing things. That’s why Nace recommends that it be used exclusively for “chaotic and random selections” (clouds, stains, spills, etc.).

The Polygonal Lasso Tool

The polygonal lasso tool is great for capturing geometric forms with straight lines and corners–in short, polygons. It’s probably the quickest lasso tool for making free form selections (provided your selection consists of straight lines).

The Magnetic Lasso Tool

The magnetic lasso tool is awesome for tracing around objects with clear boundaries. The cool thing with this lasso tool is that you can change the frequency, width and contrast. These allow you to control how often the magnetic points occur, how far away you can stray with your tool and still conform to the boundary, and how well Photoshop sees your border.

Using the Magnetic Lasso Tool

Lasso Tool Tips and Tricks

  • Holding down the alt/option key while drawing with the standard lasso tool will turn it into the polygonal lasso tool and vice versa.
  • Hold down the shift key while drawing to add to your selection.
  • Hold down the option key to subtract from your selection.
  • When using the polygonal or magnetic lasso tool, you don’t have to delete your entire selection if you make a mistake. Just press the Backspace (Win) / Delete (Mac) key on your keyboard to undo the last point you added.
  • Keep the anti-alias box checked if you want to smooth out the jagged edges of your selection. It’s sort of like taking a piece of sandpaper to a rough cut.

If you spend a lot of time making selections, you’re also going to want to learn how to use the “feather” and “refine edge” options of the lasso tool. Another thing that’s important to know is that your selections are only as good as how accurately you can trace around your desired element. If you find yourself challenged by this, you may want to consider getting a digital drawing tablet. Also, if you find yourself needing to make a lot of professional quality, form-based selections, it will be well worth your while to learn to use Photoshop’s pen tool. Still, the lasso tool group will take care of most of the average user’s free form selection needs.

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