How To Use The Object Selection Tool In Photoshop

The Object Selection Tool is a relatively new addition to Photoshop, perfect for creating accurate selections against simple backgrounds. Coming available in Photoshop CC 2020, it’s one of the best beginner-friendly selection methods available in the program. From cutting out people, objects, and more, the Object Selection Tool is a powerhouse for removing backgrounds.

To cut out objects with the Object Selection Tool, press W and set the Mode to Rectangle. Now click and drag to create a selection around the object you wish to select. After letting go, the selection will snap to the edge of the object. To remove the background, add the selection to a layer mask.

There are many lesser-known features of the Object Selection Tool that are crucial for making perfect cutouts. Throughout this tutorial, you’ll not only learn how to use this tool at the most basic level but also understand each of the settings within the tool. This way, you’ll always end up with the perfect cut-out for your images!

What Is The Object Selection Tool In Photoshop?

The Object Selection Tool serves as a basic selection tool in Photoshop that automatically selects objects within a defined region. This tool works best to remove backgrounds from an image or select the edges of a person or object in a photo.

You can find the Object Selection Tool in the toolbar to the left of your window. Not only that, but you can also activate it by pressing the shortcut key, W. If you don’t see it, it may be hidden under the Quick Selection or the Magic Wand Tool. In that case, simply click and hold on the Quick Selection or Magic Wand tool icons to access the Object Selection Tool.

How Does The Object Selection Tool Work?

The simplicity of the Object Selection Tool is what makes it beloved by so many users. It has both a rectangle and lasso mode that you can use to draw a selection around your subject. Using either of these modes, you can draw around your subject to set a defined area for Photoshop to look for edges within. Then, after letting go of the mouse, the selection area will snap to any defined edges and select your subject.

Since the Object Selection Tool automatically selects the object inside this defined region, it makes selecting objects much easier. The only caveat to this is that it may struggle if your subject is against a complex background. For example, a subject against a solid-colored background will be easier to select than one against a busy background.

So, in short, this tool works best with well-defined edges that have a good amount of contrast. Luckily if the selection needs tweaking, there are many ways to edit your selection, as you’ll learn later in this post.

How To Cut Out An Image With The Object Selection Tool

Step 1: Select The Object Selection Tool

Select the Object Selection Tool (W) in the toolbar to the left of your screen.  

Step 2: Choose Your Desired Tool Settings

The Object Selection Tool has different settings that you can customize in the Options Menu. It looks like this:

One of the first things you can choose is the Object Selection Tool’s mode. You can either select the Rectangle or the Lasso as the way you want to select an object. 

The Rectangle mode allows you to draw a rectangle around your object. The Lasso, on the other hand, allows you to draw a free-form selection around your object. The Rectangle mode is best used when your background is simple, and the edges are clearly defined. If you have a more complex background to remove, the Lasso Mode gives better results since you can set the defining area closer to the edge of your subject. 

To the left of the selection mode, you’ll see four icons with squares in different positions. These are the Selection Options, and they are: New selection, Add to Selection, Subtract from Selection, or Intersect with selection.

The New Selection option is the default option. This is the one you’d use to make your initial selection of an object.

The Add to Selection option is the option that you’d use to add to an existing selection.

The Subtract from Selection option will remove parts from an active selection.

The Intersect with Selection option would allow you to create an intersection between two selections. 

Further down the Options Bar, you’ll see a couple of other settings, which are: Sample All Layers, Enhance Edge, Object Subtract, Select Subject, and Select and Mask. 

The Object Selection Tool’s default setting is to look for an object on the active layer alone. However, if you want to create a selection based on all the layers in your document, then you can turn on Sample All Layers. In most cases, this isn’t necessary, so you can leave it off. This way, the tool will only focus on your selected layer and not get thrown off by edges in other layers.

The Enhance Edge option slightly smooths the edges of your selection for a refined look. However, the difference is minimal in most cases, so it is okay to leave it off. 

The Object Subtract option allows Photoshop to use its Artificial Intelligence (AI) to subtract areas from your initial selection. If the Object Subtract option is turned off, the Object Selection Tool behaves like the Lasso Tool or the Marquee Tool. This means it will only affect the pixels you manually create a selection around. The Object Subtract tool should always be left on. 

The Select Subject option is like a shortcut for selecting an object. Photoshop’s AI automatically detects the most prominent object in an image; then, it creates an active selection of that object. So rather than having to click and drag to create a defined area, Photoshop will automatically do this for you.

The Select and Mask option simplifies the process of cutting your subject out of an image. It is used to help refine the edges of a selection or even make hair look more realistic. This is available for all selection methods or can be accessed by double-clicking on a layer mask. Since this is a tool separate from the Object Selection Tool, I won’t get too in the weeds with it here.

Now that you know what each option for the Object Selection tool does. Select the New Selection option if it wasn’t already set. Next, check to make sure Sample All layers and Enhance Edge are turned off, and Object Subtract is turned on.

Step 3: Create A Selection Around Your Subject

Once you’ve chosen your desired settings, it’s time to create the selection around your subject. You can either draw the selection around your subject or use the Select Subject button to create the selection around your subject automatically. 

If you choose to draw your selection around your subject, you’ll see that it starts as a standard selection, then Photoshop’s AI will conform the selection to your subject. 

Step 4: Refine Your Selection As Needed

After selecting your subject, check to make sure that you are satisfied with the selection. While Photoshop’s AI is great, some photos can be trickier than others due to their contrast level, like the example we have here. Usually, photos with simple backgrounds are easier to work with. If your selection is not done properly, you can refine the selection by adding or subtracting from the active selection.

In my example, some areas need the selection to be enlarged to cover more of the subject. While other areas need the selection to be reduced to provide a more accurate cutout. 

To begin adding to the selection, select the Add to Selection option in the Options Bar. You can also hold down the Shift key to activate the Add to Selection option. Then go to your image and refine it by drawing a rectangle or lasso mode selection around the unselected area. This will allow you to expand the selection to cover the area of your subject that was not initially selected. 

For the areas of your selection that need to be reduced, you need to use the Subtract from Selection option. For example, sometimes the background has a similar color/tone to the subject, and Photoshop’s AI can include it in the selection. 

Using the Subtract from Selection option will allow you to bring the selection closer to the subject and leave out the background that was initially in the selection. 

You can do this by clicking Subtract from Selection or holding down Alt (on Windows) or Option key (on Mac) on your keyboard. This will allow you to draw over the necessary areas to subtract from the selection. 

As you can see, the selection included some parts of the background due to the similarity in tone to the subject. The Subtract from Selection option was used to reduce the selection, bringing it closer to the subject for a clean cutout. You can repeat this process until your selection is perfect, or you can use the Brush Tool method that I’ll detail below.

Step 5: Add The Selection To A Layer Mask

Once you’ve refined your selection, now it’s time to use a layer mask to remove the background. First, go to the Layers Panel and select the layer mask icon. It will then add a layer mask to your image, which hides your background and leaves only your subject. 

This is a great non-destructive way to cut out images in Photoshop.

Step 6: Refine Your Cutout

If you’ve removed your background and you’re still not satisfied with the cutout, you can refine it on the layer mask. This is the beauty of layer masks since you can go back and refine your cutouts at any time!

Click the layer mask in the Layers Panel and select the Brush tool (shortcut – B). The brush tool will allow you to hide or reveal parts of your image, depending on if you use black or white. 

Black hides while white reveals. So, zoom in on your image and the areas that are not right and correct them using the brush tool on the layer mask. 

In my example, a few parts of the background are still showing that I need to remove. So, after selecting the brush tool, I’ll set the foreground color black and begin painting over the unwanted areas to mask them out. This will leave the cutout looking clean and professional. Be sure to use a brush hardness of around 75%-90% for the most realistic-looking edge!

The Final Cutout

When you’re finished getting rid of your background. You can continue to edit your image or save it. If you want to export your image with a transparent background, you’ll need to export it to a PNG file. I outline exactly how to do that in this post.

The Difference Between Rectangle And Lasso Mode

Both the Rectangle and Lasso Mode are used to make selections. However, the main difference between the two is the shape of the selections they create.

As the name suggests, the Rectangle mode allows you to create a rectangular selection around an object in an image. The Lasso mode, on the other hand, is used to create free form around your image. 

The Rectangle Mode works well if you have a simple background but doesn’t work well with complex backgrounds since the defining area is much larger. The Lasso Mode is great for both simple and complex backgrounds since the defining area can be closer to the edge of the subject. This makes it easier for Photoshop to know exactly what you want selected.

Here’s how a selection looks when you use the Rectangle mode:

Here’s an example of a selection created using Lasso mode:

Both modes work well for cutting out objects in your images, but switching up the mode may be the solution if you have trouble getting the perfect selection.

So now you know how the Object Selection tool works, how to adjust its settings, and how to use it in Photoshop! This helpful tool is one of the easiest ways to cut out images in Photoshop and will save you a ton of time. Now to help improve your selection skills in Photoshop, check out these 5 best tools for removing backgrounds in Photoshop!

Happy Editing!

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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