How To Use The Quick Selection Tool In Photoshop

The Quick Selection Tool in Photoshop is an excellent solution for when you need to quickly select simple objects, subjects, or areas of an image. This tool lets you draw a rough selection, and Photoshop automatically snaps the selection to the edges of the area or object you paint over.

You can use the tool for rough selections or a quick method to get a general selection before refining it further. Use this tool as the first step of cutting out images from the background or completing spot adjustments on the image. This tool should be your go-to selection tool when the selection is relatively basic.

In this tutorial, you’ll learn all the use cases for this tool, an explanation of all its settings, as well as how to cut out objects and apply selective adjustments with it, too!

What Is The Quick Selection Tool For?

The Quick Selection Tool is primarily used to create a selection around an object, subject, or region of an image. Once you paint over an area, Photoshop detects edges and refines the selection to select the area as best as possible.

The tool is best used on images with well-defined edges and contrasting areas. Once you make a selection using the Quick Selection Tool, you can add to the selection or subtract from the selection. You can go even further using the Select and Mask workspace to refine the selection.

Once a selection is created, you can use it in various ways. The most common reason for using a selection is to cut out an object, whether it is taking the object out of the image, covering the object, or removing the background of an image. However, this is not the only use for this tool.

How To Use The Quick Selection Tool in Photoshop

To use the Quick Selection tool in Photoshop, click and drag over the area you wish to select. Photoshop will automatically snap the selection to the edge of your subject. Continue until the entire subject is selected. To remove part of a selection, hold Alt or Option and paint over unwanted areas.

Now, let’s break that down more in-depth.

There are many selection tools in Photoshop, but the Quick Selection Tool is designed to offer a quick method of making a selection. However, it is still an in-depth tool that gives you a lot of control over the process. This control enables you to create precise selections even when looking for a quick solution.

Step 1: Activate The Quick Selection Tool (W)

To create a selection using the Quick Selection Tool, open your image and select the tool from the toolbar (W). If you don’t see it, click and hold on the Object Selection Tool or the Magic Wand Tool, as they are lumped together in the same tool panel.

Step 2: Adjust The Settings In The Options Bar

The Quick Selection Tool will already be set to make a New Selection. Adjust the other settings as follows:

  • Choose the right Brush Size for your image
  • Check the box next to Sample All Layers
  • Check the box next to Enhance Edge

Step 3: Brush Over The Subject To Select It

Then, start brushing over the subject you want to be selected. Click and drag over the subject to create the selection. Every time you let go of the mouse, it will show you the selection after Photoshop snaps the selection to the edges.

Once you let go, the tool will switch to Add to Selection, so you can keep brushing until you have selected the entire subject. In some cases, the tool may select parts of the background if the colors are similar. 

Step 4: Subtract Areas From The Selection (Optional)

To remove areas that were incorrectly selected, select the Subtract from Selection setting in the Options Bar.

Then, paint over the area you want to remove from the selection. You can also simply hold in Alt/Option to activate the subtraction option, and once you let go, the tool will revert to Add to Selection.

Step 5: Open The Select And Mask Panel (Optional)

Even after all this, there may still be some areas that aren’t selected correctly. The selection isn’t correct in the image above around the woman’s hand or the stray bits of hair. To refine the selection further, press the Select and Mask button in the Options Bar or press Control + Alt + R (Win) or Command + Option + R (Mac).

Once this button is selected, it will open the Select and Mask workspace, where you have multiple options to refine the selection. 

– Select The View Mode For The Selection

You can decide how the selection shows by choosing between the overlay, marching ants, on a white or black background, or others. You can also adjust the opacity and color of the overlay in the Properties Panel.

– Adjust The Selection Using The Global Refinements Tab

Under the Global Refinements tab in the Properties Panel, you can clean up the selection with the options displayed.

  • Move the Smooth slider to reduce irregular shapes. The smooth option is usually used on horizon lines
  • The Feather slider blurs the edges of your selection
  • Adjust the Contrast slider if you want to create a harsh edge in the selection or correct the feather
  • Use the Shift Edge slider to adjust the edge of the selection inwards or outwards

– Adjust The Selection Using The Toolbar

Another important use of this workspace is the toolbar on the left. You can use the following tools to refine the selection better.

  • The first tool is the Quick Selection Tool, which you can use to create a new selection or add to your selection
  • The Refine Edge Brush Tool lets you clean up edges in certain areas around the subject
  • Then it’s the Brush Tool, which you can use to brush more areas into the selection or subtract areas from the selection in the same manner as when working with the Quick Selection Tool in the Photoshop workspace
  • Next are the Object Selection Tool and Lasso Tool, offering more tools to create selections with
  • The last two icons are the Hand Tool to move the image around and the Zoom Tool to magnify specific areas of the image

– Change The Output Setting

Once you have refined the selection enough, you can choose the Output To option at the bottom of the Properties Panel. In this case, choose Selection and then press OK.

You will now have a more precise selection of your subject, which you can go on to cut out of the background, edit separately from the rest of the image, or use in a different project.

Step 6: Add The Selection To A Layer Mask

Once you have selected the area or subject, you can use the selection however you’d like, such as adding selective edits, or you can add the selection to a layer mask to remove the background.

Add a layer mask by clicking on the Add Layer Mask icon in the Layers Panel. You will see a layer mask thumbnail added next to the layer. The selected areas will show as white in the mask, and the rest will show as black.

The layer mask will hide the areas that weren’t selected, leaving the selection visible on the canvas. Which, in my case, removed the background from the image.

How To Remove Backgrounds With The Quick Selection Tool In Photoshop

The Quick Selection Tool is commonly used to cut subjects or objects out of an image, which essentially removes the image’s background.

Step 1: Activate The Quick Selection Tool

To cut a subject out of an image, start by opening your image and selecting the Quick Selection Tool (W) from the toolbar.

Step 2: Use The Select Subject Button

If your image has a clear subject, you can press the Select Subject button in the Options Bar. If the subject is slightly more complex, click and drag the brush over the subject to make the selection. In my case, I chose Select Subject because the model stands out from the background.

Refine the selection to ensure that the subject is correctly selected before cutting it out of the image.

Step 3: Duplicate The Image Layer

Next, duplicate the background layer by dragging it to the new layer icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel or press Control + J (Win) or Command + J (Mac). Then, hide the background layer by unchecking the eye icon next to the thumbnail.

Step 4: Add The Selection To A Layer Mask

Working on the duplicated layer, select the layer mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel.

Once the mask icon is selected, everything included in your selection will remain visible, while everything excluded from the selection will disappear.

You will also notice the layer mask is added to the layer, allowing you to go back and change the edit at a later stage.

Step 5: Add A New Background (Optional)

You can then add any type of background to the image or use the cut-out for another project. Here, I added a gradient fill layer to the image’s background.

Using The Quick Selection Tool For Spot Adjustments In Photoshop

The Quick Selection Tool is used for more than just cutting out images. You can also add spot adjustments to some regions of the image using a selection and any of the adjustment layers in Photoshop to prevent the rest of the image from being affected.

To add a spot adjustment to an image, select the Quick Selection Tool (W) and make a selection of the area you want to edit, as you learned in the first section. Use any of the refining techniques to clean up the selection.

Next, choose the adjustment you want to use to edit the selected area. In this case, I will use the Curves Adjustment Layer to increase the intensity of the sky by darkening it slightly. I will choose the Curves icon in the Adjustments Panel to do this.

Once the Curves adjustment is selected, it will add a new Curves layer to the Layers Panel with your selection applied to the mask.

In the Properties Panel, adjust the line on the graph by clicking to create points and dragging them around to change the image’s tonality. Dragging a point down will darken while dragging upwards will lighten. 

Once you have the adjustment to your liking, your edits will only be visible in the white sections of your layer mask (the sky, in this case). That’s because white is 100% visible, while black is 100% transparent in the world of masks.

You can select this layer mask at a later stage to re-edit the adjustment if needed by accessing the Properties panel and re-adjusting the points on the curve.

On the image, you will see that the sky (or the area you selected) has changed according to the adjustment layer, and the rest of the image is unaffected.

Additional Quick Selection Tool Settings Explained

Once you choose the Quick Selection Tool from the toolbar (W), you can adjust specific settings in the Options Bar to better navigate the tool.

The tool is automatically set to create a New Selection, the first brush icon in the row of three icons. Select the second icon to Add to a Selection that is already made.

Then, select the last icon to Subtract from a Selection if you have selected too much. You can also hold in Option (Mac) or Alt (Win) while brushing over areas to subtract from the selection.

The Brush pop-up menu allows you to adjust the size of the brush. Click on the arrow to open the menu and use the slider to resize the brush. A different size brush enables you to select larger areas quicker or refine your selection better with a smaller brush. You can also use [ to decrease the size of the brush or ] to increase the size.

Check Sample All Layers if you want the selection to factor in information from all layers in your project and not only the active layer. 

Then, check Enhance Edge to reduce the roughness of the selection boundary. This button automatically applies edge refinement to the selection, which will help when cutting an object out of the background to produce a cleaner look.

To skip painting over the subject you want to select, you can also press the Select Subject button. Photoshop will automatically detect the image’s subject and create a selection around it. You can then refine the selection further if needed. 

Press Select and Mask to access tools that allow you to refine the selection more precisely.

Discover 6 Tricks To Help You Master Photoshop

Now that you know how to use the Quick Selection Tool in Photoshop, keep your progress going with my free Photoshop Blueprint ebook. This free ebook shares six effective techniques to transform your editing and workflow, regardless of your experience in the program. Click here to learn more or click the button below!

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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