How To Copy & Paste Selections In Photoshop

There are many ways to make selections in Photoshop using a vast array of selection tools. Once you have something selected, what can you do with it? You can easily copy, paste, cut, or save a selection for use within your other Photoshop projects. 

To copy and paste a selection in Photoshop, create an active selection with your desired selection tool. Then right-click within the selection and choose Layer Via Copy to copy the selection’s contents and paste it to a new layer. Alternatively, press Command or Control + C.

While you may think copying and pasting are simple, you might not have used Photoshop’s layer via cut or save selection options. They’re as helpful as a simple copy and paste and equally as easy to do. Here’s how it all works.

How To Copy & Paste A Selection In Photoshop

You might need to copy and paste a selection if you’re using the same element multiple times within a project. This will copy the contents of the selection and paste them onto a new transparent layer.

Step 1: Create A Selection

If the image you’re using has a stark difference between the subject and its background, you can use the Object Selection Tool (W) and the Subject Select option in the Options bar to select your subject.

But if you’re making a selection from part of an image against a more complex background, it may be easier to use one of the other many selection tools available in Photoshop.

After creating a selection with your tool of choice, marching ants will appear around the selected area to show your active selection. I used the Select Subject button in this case.

Step 2: Copy The Selection

Once you have a selected area, you can easily copy it using one of two different methods. 

The first method is by using a keyboard shortcut. With your subject element selected, press Control + C (Win) or Command + C (Mac) to copy it. Your selection will now be in your copy clipboard. 

The second method is as simple as the first. Again, with your subject selected, right-click in the selection and choose Layer Via Copy in the menu. 

This option automatically pastes your selection as a new layer in the Layers panel.

Step 3: Paste The Selection 

If you copied via the keyboard shortcut, your selection is saved on the clipboard, waiting to be pasted.

To paste your selection, press Control + V (Win) or Command + V (Mac). Your selection’s contents will automatically paste as a new layer with a transparent background around it. 

If you chose the Layer Via Copy option, you don’t need to paste your selection. This option automatically pastes your selection as a new layer with a transparent background, as mentioned previously. 

How To Cut And Duplicate A Selection In Photoshop

Cutting and pasting are similar to copying and pasting. The difference with using cut instead of copy is that cutting the selection deletes it from the original layer so you can paste it somewhere else. 

Step 1: Make A Selection

Whether you use the Subject Select Tool or one of the other selection tools, create a selection around the area you wish to cut. 

Step 2: Right-Click And Choose Layer Via Cut

To cut your active selection from the image, right-click the selected area and choose Layer Via Cut

This removes the selection contents from the selected layer and places them on a new layer.

It also leaves behind an empty space on your original layer.

If your selected layer was the background layer, the empty selection shows as a solid color rather than the typical transparent checkerboard you’d typically see.

Similar to the copy and paste method, you can also use a keyboard shortcut to cut by pressing Control + X (Win) or Command + X (Mac) while your selection is active. This only cuts the selection and doesn’t automatically paste the selection on a new layer.

Using this method, you must paste your cut selection onto a new layer yourself by creating a new layer in the Layers panel.

With the new empty layer selected, paste your cut selection by pressing Control + V (Win) or Command + V (Mac) or by going to Edit > Paste

How To Save A Selection For Later Use

Sometimes you might make and copy a selection, but you don’t have a need for it until later in the project. In this case, you can save a selection as an alpha channel.

Step 1: Create A Selection

Using any of the selection tools, select your chosen subject or area of your image. You’ll see marching ants around the selection to confirm which part is selected. 

Step 2: Right-Click To Save Selection

To save your selection for later, right-click the selection and choose the Save Selection option.

Name your selection in the Save Selection dialog box that appears. Set your selection as a new channel and click OK

This will add your selection as a channel in the Channels panel

The panel should appear on its own, but if it doesn’t, then you can open it by going to Window > Channels.

To reactivate your saved selection, hold Control (Win) or Command (Mac) while clicking the thumbnail of your saved selection in the Channels panel. This reactivates and selects the selection so you can copy, cut, and paste it as you may have done using previous methods.

It doesn’t matter how many other elements your project has; it will always select your saved selection independently. 

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. You can view my photography portfolio here.

These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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