I know this is a super basic post, but just the fact that both the Rectangular and Elliptical Marquee Tools are so popular justifies it. Almost everyone I know who has done any amount of work in Photoshop has used either of these tools and the fact that the tools behave so similarly makes this post all that much easier to write. Don’t worry, it won’t be a long one.
In today’s post, I’d like to discuss a few aspects of what these two selection tools can do. Basically, I’d like to cover how you can draw the selection you want to draw, how you can move that selection around and how to can transform the selection. As I said, it’s a beginner post, but a worthy one.
Accessing the Marquee Tools
Both of the tools I’ll be referring to in this post can be accessed via the left vertical toolbar. If you click on the second tool from the top and drag out to the right, you’ll see four tools in all. For now, we’ll focus on the top two.
From here, if I click on either one of these, that tool will become active.
Drawing a Selection with a Marquee Tool
After I click a tool, I can begin to draw with it. That’s really no big deal and I’m sure everyone already knows this. Here’s what it looks like when I click and drag freehand with the Rectangular Marquee Tool from the top left corner of the square to the bottom right corner.
Again, no big deal. You can clearly see the marching ants surrounding the edge of the square.
I can do that with the Elliptical Marquee Tool as well and I’d get nearly the same result.
Constraining the Proportions
While working freehand is fun, it’s oftentimes more accurate to constrain the proportions of a marquee tool to achieve a better result. In this case, since both the square and the circle are perfectly proportional, I can use the Shift key on my keyboard to lock in either a perfect square or a perfect circle as I’m dragging. Here I am holding the Shift key down as I drag both a square and a circle.
If you look closely, you can see two shapes of marching ants. One is a square and one is a circle. Again, by holding down the Shift key on my keyboard, I lock in the fact that both shapes should stay equally proportioned and not get stretched one way or the other.
Starting From the Center
If I were to press the Alt (Opt on Mac) key and draw the same selections, instead of the shapes starting from the corner or the edge, they’d grow from the direct center. This is helpful if you know where the center of an object you want to select is. Sometimes, it’s a challenge to accurately select a shape in its entirety.
Starting From the Center & Keeping Proportion
If I held down the Alt key and the Shift keys on my keyboard at the same time, each new selection would originate from the center and stay perfectly square or circle. Give this a try yourself and I’m sure you’ll come up with a few cases when this might be helpful.
Using Guides to Save the Day
Have you ever tried to select a circle with the Elliptical Marquee Tool? If so, were you successful the first try? If I had to guess, I’d say you probably weren’t. It’s very difficult to select a circle because you really never know where to begin drawing from. Well, I’m here today to give you a really nice tip. Use guides.
If I head up to the View > Rulers menu item and click that item so it’s checked, I’ll see rulers appear on the left side and the top of the workspace.
After the rulers appear, I can click inside of the top one and drag down to create a horizontal guide and the left one and drag to the right to create a vertical guide.
Now, here’s the cool part. If I drag a guide so it’s just touching the top edge of the circle and another one so it just touches the left edge, I’ll have created an intersection point that I could use to begin drawing my selection from. Let me show you how I set the guides up first.
If I now use the Elliptical Marquee Tool and begin drawing from the intersection point (circled in red), I could hold down the Shift key to accurately trace the edge of the circle as I drag down and to the right.
The reason I would only need to use this for a circle is because squares and rectangles already have a corner to begin drawing from. Circles are much more difficult to deal with.
So, the moral of this story is to use guides as tools to help out with a variety of things. I use guides all the time, so I generally keep the rulers exposed.
How to Move a Selection
This is actually true with all types of selections, not only the ones created from the Rectangular and Elliptical Marquee Tools. Once you draw a selection, you can use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move it around the screen. It doesn’t need to stay glued to whatever it is you selected. Using the arrow keys is a great option for only slightly inching a selection in tight quarters.
If you would like to move a selection a further distance than you would with the arrow keys, move your mouse inside of the selection and click and drag. Be sure not to click and drag outside of the selection because if you do that, you’ll actually deselect the selection and begin drawing a new one. This isn’t very difficult to keep track of because your cursor will change when it goes inside and outside of a selection.
Drawing Additional Selections on the Same Layer
At any time, you can easily make many selections on the same layer. Once you create one selection, hold down the Shift key on your keyboard to begin drawing another one. Once you hold the Shift key, you’ll see a small + symbol appear next to your mouse pointer. That + sign means you’re going to add a new selection. If you don’t hold the Shift key and try to draw outside of the original selection, again, you’ll end up deselecting the first selection.
Regarding creating selections on the same layer, sure, you can do that. Personally, I like to, and usually end up, making my selections on different layers. Oftentimes, I mask the selections and move them around independently, so having them sit in their own layers gives me that flexibility.
If you’d like to constrain the proportions of an additional selection, first hold down the Shift key and begin drawing. Then, once you do that, let go of the Shift key and then hold it down again. You’ll see the selection snap to either a perfect square or circle.
How to Transform a Selection
Sometimes, it’s easier to transform a selection after it’s already drawn than it is to try to draw the perfect selection in the first place. That’s fine. I know a lot of folks who use this method.
To transform a selection in Photoshop, first draw the selection. Then, once that’s done, you can use the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl+T to free transform the marching ants.
If you have a particular type of transformation in mind, you could always go up to the Edit > Transform menu and click one of the options there.
Remember, if you have multiple selections and want to transform something, after you choose your method of transformation, all the selections will be grouped together.
Keep this in mind. If you’d like to transform an individual selection, do so before drawing the other selections or make your selections on their own layers.
I hope you got something out of this post. I tried to effectively explain how to create selections using the Rectangular and Elliptical Marquee Tools in Adobe Photoshop. I also discussed how to move selections and finally, how to transform them. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this post, please let me know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading!