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How To Use The Magic Wand Tool In Photoshop

Make selections quickly with the Magic Wand tool.

|  Adobe Photoshop
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In Photoshop there are various ways to make a selection and also various reasons why you'd want to make a selection. You may want to remove something from its background, replace a sky or simply apply an edit to one part of a shot but not the other. Some of the selection tools are better suited for certain tasks than others are, however what tool you use can also be down to personal taste. In this series of tutorials we'll give a brief overview of all the selection tools on offer, showing you what they can be used for and how to adjust them.

This is part four of our series where we'll be looking at the Magic Wand tool. You can read the previous parts here:

Magic Wand Tool

Magic Wand Tool

How it works

The Magic Wand tool looks for pixels which are of the same colour and tone. This means it's great for selecting large, solid blocks of colour but when working on images where the difference between colours and tone isn't as obvious it can seem, to start with, that the Magic Wand tool isn't a great tool. However, by making a few minor adjustments, you'll see it can be a useful tool to know how to use.

How to use it

The tool simply works by you clicking in the area you want selecting. For example, in the example with the selection around the black rectangle, we clicked in the middle of the black part of the shape.

Magic Wand Selection

How to adjust it

To make the tool more useful, adjust the Tolerance which you can find in the option bar towards the top of the screen.

Magic Wand Tool Bar

The tolerance tells Photoshop how many pixels it needs to select that are the same colour as what you have clicked on and the shades which are darker or lighter by whatever number you've typed in the Tolerance box. So if you type 100 Photoshop will select any pixels which are up to 100 shades lighter and down to pixels which are 100 shades darker.

Above: 'Broken' selection before any adjustments made.
Above: The same image with the selection complete. (Tolerance adjusted)

Contiguous is automatically selected by Photoshop but this option stops any pixels that fall into the tolerance range you've chosen getting selected if they have a pixel in between them that doesn't fall in to the range.

To explain this, take a look at our shape. There are two black sections separated by a white line. We want to select both black areas so we select the Magic Wand tool and click on the one on the left but as Contiguous is ticked, Photoshop only selects the shape on the left as the white pixels in the centre are stopping the right black shape becoming part of the selection. Untick Contiguous and both shapes now become part of the selection when we click on the left shape.


Anti-alias helps smooth out the selection and by ticking Sample All Layers you are telling Photoshop you want it to include all of the layers in your document within the selection. Leave it unticked and it will just make the selection on the layer you have selected.

The four shapes found to the left of the same option bar allow you to adjust your selection but after you've used the first option (New Selection) Photoshop will automatically select the second (Add To Selection) as you'll want to keep adding parts of the image until all you want selected has running ants around it.
Selection Options

So, looking left to right at the shapes: the first option lets you create a New Selection and the second option, Add To Selection, lets you expand / add the selection you've just created. The third option, Subtract From Selection, lets you remove some of the selection and the final option, Intersect With Selection, will look at your original selection then at the new selection you've just made and only keep the selection where both adjustments overlap or intersect.

Finally there's Refine Edge which will give you a menu of options that you can further adjust your selection's boundary with. It also allows you to view the selection against various masks and backgrounds.

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JackAllTog Plus
11 6.1k 58 United Kingdom
22 Feb 2012 5:43PM
Contiguous is a button i need to go look for - i think this will help loads.
3 Sep 2016 7:37AM
It is also a great tool to achieve specific color or pixel. I'm surprised to get this facility through this tool. Smile

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