One of my most frequent tasks in Adobe Photoshop has to do with selecting objects. Whether it be to separate them from something else or to add some sort of edge or color alteration, I can tell you that I use the selection tools all the time. One tool that’s especially helpful for things like this is the Quick Selection Tool. This tool is sort of like a brush in that you can either add selection or remove it. It’s pretty wild.
In today’s post, I’m going to be demonstrating which tool the Quick Selection Tool is and a bit about how it works. Then, I’m going to make a selection from the photo above and demonstrate how the Refine Edges portion of this tool can really help define the outer border of the selection. I think you’ll enjoy it.
The Quick Selection Tool
If you look over in the left toolbar, fourth tool down, you’ll see the Quick Selection Tool. You may have to click and drag out with your mouse to expose it. It’s coupled with another tool called the Magic Wand Tool.
Once you click on the tool, you’ll see an options bar appear above the workspace.
I want you to take a look at the four options, beginning with the second one in from the left.
The second one is the New Selection option. This is what you use if you have already begun or are finished selecting something and would like to start over. This will clear any selection previously made.
The next option is Add to Selection. I mentioned above that this tool is sort of like a paintbrush. Well, this is what I mean. Let’s say that you already made some selections and can see the marching ants (selected areas) and would like to continue adding to that current selection. Well, you can do that with this option. You can click your mouse button to make a selection, let go of the mouse and then click it again to make further selections. The original selected areas remain and are added to. Sort of like painting a wall. Just because you stopped painting for a while doesn’t mean you can pick up the brush and continue later on.
After that, we have the Subtract from Selection option. This acts as an eraser. If you selected too much (as I’m sure I will in my example below), you can reduce the selected area. You would simply click and drag your mouse pointer around where you don’t want any selection. It’s quite versatile.
Finally, we have a dropdown that controls the aspects of the tool. When you click the dropdown, you can adjust the size of the selection tool, the hardness of it as well as its spacing. Brush spacing is a post for another day, so for now, leave it at its default setting of 25%. Size is fairly straightforward in that as you increase the size, your selection tool grows and, in turn, selects more with fewer movements. Hardness controls the accuracy of the selection tool edge. The harder the edges, the more precise. The softer the edge, the more fuzzy and inaccurate. Just remember, if you’re working on making selections from large, clean edges, you’ll most likely want a larger selection (brush) size and if you’re into the nitty gritty, you’ll want a smaller one. If the edges are defined, such as a white circle on a black background, you’ll want a harder edge and if you’re selecting some pieces of grass from a meadow, you’ll want a softer edges. It’ll take practice to get used to these settings.
I chose this particular photo as an example because the edges are a mess. There’s no way I’ll be able to quickly make any selections and I’ll have to use various brush sizes to get anywhere. It’s perfect. Currently, the image is a bit over 5000px wide, so it’ll allow me to zoom in to show you some of the details of what I do.
Okay, I’m going to attempt to select the entire pineapple and its related splashing water and isolate it from the black background. Normally, this would take some time to do a nice job. Since this is only a demonstration, I’m going to work quicker to give you a general sense of what I’d like to do.
To select the majority of the area I’m after, I’m going to increase my brush size to 510px and then click and drag the tool around the inside edge of the area I want to select. As I move, I notice that the tool acts sort of like a magnet, clinging to the edges it can decipher. I’ll zoom in so you can see what happened.
If you look closely at the above screenshot, you’ll see the marching ants. They’re not exactly tracing the outer edge of my desired area, but what I have is a good start. The next step is to reduce my brush size so I can sneak into some more detailed areas. I’ll bring it down to 70px.
Now, if you’ll look closely, you can see that all the gaps are filled in with the marching ants. The edge (in this particular area) is fairly well defined. If I wanted to select each of those little bubbles, I can do that. All I’d need to do is reduce the brush size even further and to zoom into the photo so I had more room to work with. I’m not going to do that today.
Refining the Edges
In general, when making selections, the edges of the selected area end up rather ugly. They either aren’t as sharp as you’d like or as soft as you’d like. Something is usually wrong with them. Luckily, there’s a tool within Photoshop that will allow us to analyze the edges and make any changes to them that we see fit.
With the area I want selected and the tool still chosen, I’ll head up to the Refine Edge button and press it.
The moment I do this, a dialog box appears.
As you can see, there are a few options inside this box. The first one you’re going to want to set is the View Mode. Since I’m selecting something that’s on a black background, I want to change the not selected area to something opposite of black. This will give me the clearest picture of what my edge looks like. So, I’ll click the View Mode drop-down and choose On White.
As you can see, by making this selection, my selected area stayed put and everything else was made white. Now, I can really get a good look at the edges. And just as I suspected, the edges are muddled and soft. They’re jagged and aren’t smooth lines as I’d like them to be. I’ll need to make some adjustment.
I’m going to leave the Radius alone. It’s currently set to 0, which is good because I don’t want to add area to my edge. Actually, I want to do the opposite. Next, I’ll increase the Smooth setting to 50. This will reduce the jaggedness I just referred to above. After that, I’ll leave the Feather setting at 0 because, again, I don’t want to increase the softness of the edge, I want to harden it. I’ll increase the Contrast setting to 50% because I want more definition between the selected area and the background and finally, I’ll slide the Shift Edge setting to the left at 50% to actually remove some of the outer material of the selected area. This will really sharpen the edge. Here is the result.
If you look closely at the previous two screenshots, you’ll see a slight difference in the quality of the edges.
Now, the challenging part of a project like this is to apply everything I just discussed to the entire photograph. Before refining any edges, I’d need to be sure my selection was finished. Then, I could go ahead with cleaning up the outer border.
What to do Next?
I wrote a post that talked about what to do with selections a while ago. If you want, you can read it here:
Most of the time, after selecting an object, I’d copy and paste it to a new layer. to do that quickly, I simply push Ctrl+C and then Ctrl+V on my keyboard. This copies the selection and then creates a new layer and pastes it automatically.
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