How To Use The Marquee Tool In Photoshop

The Marquee Tool in Photoshop is an excellent tool to know how to use for simple and quick selections. You can use these selections to copy and paste objects from an image, cut out backgrounds from basic shapes, crop layers, or isolate areas to add adjustments. Using the Marquee Tool is easy once you know a few tricks.

The Marquee Tool is confined to square, rectangle, and circular selections, which limits the tool’s capabilities in removing complex backgrounds. However, the tool is perfect for specific situations, such as cropping a layer without affecting the entire image. If you don’t know much about this versatile tool, here is a complete guide on the Marquee Tool.

Video Tutorial

What Is The Marquee Tool Used For In Photoshop?

The Rectangular and Elliptical Marquee Tools in Photoshop are used to create basic selections in rectangular or circular shapes. These tools can be used to crop layers by applying the selection onto a layer mask, to add selection adjustments, align layers, and more.

The Marquees Tool is a group of tools found in the Toolbar in Photoshop. The group contains the Rectangular Marquee Tool, the Elliptical Marquee Tool, and the Single Row and Single Column Marquees.

All the Marquee Tools create a selection based on a particular shape, as the name suggests. The single column and single row marquees make either a row or column selection one pixel wide.

The Marquee Tools all provide similar functions, and you can use these tools for various helpful functions, such as:

  1. Make a quick selection using one of the available shapes.
  1. Quickly crop an image into a circle for a website “About us page.”
  1. Create a quick selection of an object or area to add a fill or adjustment layer to an isolated area.
  1. Cut and move objects within an image.
  1. You can also create straight lines that are one pixel wide or high across the page and increase the width, if necessary.
  1. Cut and paste sections of a photo onto a new layer.
  1. Make selective adjustments to specific colors isolated by the selection.

These are just a few examples of when you can use the Marquee tools. There are even more uses when you understand the settings of the Marquee Tools. You can feather the selection, add to or subtract from a selection, and modify the selection.

Types Of Marquee Tools In Photoshop

There are four types of Marquee Tools available in Photoshop. While each tool functions similarly, these uses vary between the different shapes.

Rectangular Marquee Tool

The first option in the group is the Rectangular Marquee Tool. As the name suggests, the tool creates a rectangular selection on your picture.

To use the tool, click and drag on your image to create a rectangular selection. 

You can now do anything you’d like with this selection, such as adding a solid color to the shape you created.

Hold the Shift key while dragging the selection to create a square selection.

Elliptical Marquee Tool

The Elliptical Marquee Tool, as the name suggests, creates a selection in an elliptical shape. Select the tool from the Toolbar by holding down on the Rectangular Marquee Tool to open the fly-out menu.

Then, click and drag on the canvas to create an elliptical shape.

You can create a perfect circular selection by holding the Shift key while clicking and dragging to make the selection.

Then, you can use the selections as needed, such as adding a pattern fill to them.

Single Column & Single Row Marquees

The Single Row and Single Column Marquees work slightly differently from the Rectangular and Elliptical Marquees. The column and row marquees add a straight selection of one pixel wide or high across the entire canvas.

Select the orientation you want from the fly-out menu in the Toolbar to use these marquees.

Then click on the canvas where you want to add the selection. You can click and drag to position it correctly. The selection automatically spans the entire canvas and is one pixel wide.

You can add another selection using the Single Column Marquee as well.

Now, you can use the selections as needed. You can do a few things with these two marquees, such as creating custom grid lines on your canvas. You can use the selections as they are at one pixel or modify the selection to make larger grid lines.

To modify the selection, navigate to Select > Modify > Expand. Then add in the number of pixels you want to expand the selection by and select OK.

The selections are automatically expanded by that amount.

Next, you can create the grid lines by filling the selections with color. To do this, right-click (Win) or Control + click (Mac) and select Fill.

In the Fill dialog box, select Color from the Contents drop-down menu, choose your color in the Color Picker and click OK in both windows.

Press Control + D (Win) or Command + D (Mac) to deselect the selection, and you have created custom grid lines on your canvas.

How To Make A Selection With The Marquee Tool

To make a selection with the Marquee Tool, all you need to do is select one of the tools from the Toolbar, click on your canvas, and drag it out to create the selection. However, knowing a few settings and keyboard shortcuts will help you make more precise selections.

If the plan is to change the color of the clock, for example, you can easily accomplish this using the Elliptical Marquee Tool. First, select the tool from the Toolbar.

Now, you can adjust a few settings in the Options bar before creating the selection. Here is how the settings work in order.

The first options to note are the four icons. From left to right, the icons allow you to create a New selection, Add to selection, Subtract from selection, and Intersect with selection. Click on any icon to activate it. 

By default, it’s set to New selection for you to start a selection.

Suppose you already have a selection on your canvas. In that case, you can choose to Add to selection to add another selection without removing your initial selection or add onto the initial selection to create a new shape. You can also hold in Shift and then click to add a new selection.

If you want to remove a selection without affecting the rest, select Subtract from Selection. This option is also helpful in removing a particular part of an existing selection. You can also hold in Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) while clicking to subtract from the selection.

Then, if you want to intersect with the selection, meaning that only the area you initially selected that overlaps with the new selection is selected, choose the Intersect with selection option.

Next in the Options bar is the Feather option. You can add a pixel amount in the box to create a feathered selection. This setting helps add an adjustment to an area on an image with a feathered effect to blend it into the picture.

For instance, if I want to make an image black and white while feathering the original color around the image’s subject, I can set the feather to a high value, such as 200 px.

Then I can create a selection around my subject using the Elliptical Marquee Tool and invert the selection to select the background by pressing Shift + Control + I (Win) or Shift + Command + I (Mac).

Then, I can add a Black and White adjustment layer to the selection using the Add Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.

You can see how the effect is feathered toward the photo’s subject, blending the effect better.

The feathering option works well when you add subtle adjustments or want to blend the effect into the image. Leave the feather at 0px when you need a well-defined selection.

The next option is Anti-aliasing, which is only available for the Elliptical Marquee Tool and works to smooth the selection edges by smoothing the color transition between pixels. Check this option for a smoother blend, and leave it unchecked when you want a defined selection.

Next, you can change the Style of the Marquee Tool between Normal, Fixed Ratio, and Fixed Size. These options let you create custom selections using Normal or choose a fixed ratio or size to create a selection.

Once you select a fixed ratio or size, you can add the amounts into the boxes next to the drop-down menu.

The last option is to open the Select and Mask workspace, which allows you to refine the selection using several tools and settings.

Once you have chosen the settings for your selection, click close to the area you want to select and drag to create the selection. Don’t worry if you don’t get the selection perfect on the first try. You can easily resize or move the selection later. Remember to hold the Shift key if you want to make a perfect circle selection.

Then, you can change the clock color by adding a Solid Color Fill to the selection using the icon in the Layer panel.

Then change the Blend Mode of the new layer to Multiply.

This technique allows you to make a quick selection to adjust sections that fall into the shapes available with the Marquee Tools.

How To Move A Marquee Selection

One downfall of using the Marquee Tools is the rigidness. When you make a selection, it’s not always easy to adjust the selection. Luckily there are a few tricks to solve this problem.

For this example, I have placed an image of a dog on my canvas. The layers underneath the dog photo are a design for a dog shelter. I want to create a selection around the dog to crop so I can have just the dog placed onto my layout. 

Here’s how I can do all this using the Elliptical Marquee or the Rectangular Marquee Tool.

First, choose the Marquee Tool you want to use. In my case, I select the Elliptical Marquee Tool.

Then click and drag around the dog to create a selection. Since the selection shifts away from where you start the selection, it may move to a place you don’t want. Luckily, there are a few ways to move the selection.

Firstly, while dragging out the selection, you can keep your mouse clicked, hold the spacebar and drag the selection to a new spot. This method moves the entire selection, and you can continue dragging out the selection when you let go of the spacebar.

If you want to move the selection after you have created it, you can move it once you let go of the mouse. To move the created selection, hover the mouse over it until the Marquee target icon turns to a white mouse pointer. Then click and drag the selection to a new spot.

How To Resize A Marquee Selection

Once you have placed your selection in the desired spot, you may need to resize it to fit your object better. Instead of redoing the entire selection, you can quickly resize it, and this method also offers another way of moving the selection.

To resize the selection, right-click (Win) or Control + click (Mac) inside the selection and choose Transform Selection.

This action creates a transform box around the selection. You can click on any handle and drag it inwards to make the selection smaller.

Or click and drag the handle outward to make the selection bigger.

While in the transform mode, you can click within the selection and drag it around to move it.

How To Move The Pixels Within A Marquee Selection

If you want to move the content inside the selection, you can use the Free Transform function. Either right-click (Win) or Control + click (Mac) and select Free Transform, or press Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac).

Then, you can click and drag the content anywhere else on the layer.

How To Crop A Layer With Rectangular & Elliptical Marquee Tool

If your goal is to crop the layer using one of the Marquee Tools, then you must place your selection correctly using the guides in the above sections. 

Once you are happy with the positioning of the selection, add a layer mask to the image layer. You can do this by selecting the image layer and clicking on the Add a Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.

The layer mask hides everything outside the selection and keeps the selected area visible. You will notice a layer mask is added to the layer in the Layers panel, and the image layer is now cropped on the canvas.

You can then click the layer, move it around, and rearrange it within the Layers panel to organize it on your artwork.

You can follow the same method using the Rectangular Marquee Tool. If you want to move the image around without moving the mask, you can unlink the image from the layer mask in the Layers panel by clicking on the Link icon.

Then, with the white border still around the image thumbnail, click on the image on your canvas and move it to the new position. 

Use all these tools, and add elements until you have completed your design while using the Marquee Tools to their full potential.

The Marquee Tool is one of the easiest methods of creating selections or cropping layers into basic shapes. Although it’s not the most versatile selection method in Photoshop, it’s a handy tool you’ll find yourself using regularly!

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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