Apologies to those who have been waiting for my new tutorial which never seemed to be published. I know, and am deeply honoured, that there are many who look forward to it, and I humbly thank them, and you, for all the support that all of you have given me.

That said, let’s get on with today’s tutorial! 😀

This time around, I will show you how to do a precise selection in Photoshop, and then some of the cool things that you can achieve, once you’ve mastered it. Precise selection? That isn’t very descriptive, is it? Doesn’t sound cool, but here are 2 teaser images to encourage you to read on. 🙂

Precise Selection

Precise Selection

To do a precise selection in Photoshop is not all that difficult. It might be tedious, but it’s not difficult at all. There are several ways to achieve this, and in this tutorial, I will guide you through two methods. I will be using the photograph below for examples. Feel free to use your own, or, if you like, use the same image.

Precise Selection

  1. First Method : Mask & Brush

    The basics of precise selection, for both methods, lie with using Layer Masks. The first method, you may already be familiar with, if you had gone through my previous tutorials. This is the more tedious method of the two that I’m going to show you, but it’s necessary for me to include this for the tutorial. Here are the steps :

    1. Step 1 :

      Step 1 is the same for both methods. Open up your image in Photoshop, in a new document, and Add layer mask to the image layer.

    2. Step 2 :

      Make sure your foreground colour is black, and that the layer mask is selected, then use the Brush tool (shortcut button B), a solid – non-feathered – brush, to paint the section you want selected. If you have no Background layer, painting the section with black will show you a square grid, Photoshop’s default “transparent” background. If you do, your background layer will be shown instead. Zoom in so that the item you want selected fills up a big percentage of your screen, to make it easier for you. Zoom in to 600% even, if you prefer it so. I know I do.

      Precise Selection

      Control + / Command + to zoom in, Control – / Command –to zoom out.

    3. Step 3 :

      Alternate with different sized brushes. Use smaller sized brushes to paint over the smaller parts of the image. This is the part where it gets tedious. If the item that you want to select has many small parts, or if it is complex, then you might have a more difficult time painting all of it in properly.

      Precise Selection

      This is what it should remotely look like when you’re done painting all the details in. If you managed to brush in everything perfectly, I applaud you! It’s not that easy! Normally I would paint in the reflection as well, but since using this method is not the focus of this tutorial, I didn’t.

    4. Step 4 :

      Now, press the Control (Command for Mac users) button, and click on the Layer mask thumbnail. This will grab your selection. By default, the parts painted in white is the selection. You want the one in black to be selected, so go to Select > Inverse. This grabs the item you painted in, and you can now disable your Layer Mask.

      Precise Selection

      Note : You can also use the Quick Mask method, by pressing Q to enter Quick Mask mode, in place of Step 1. Then brush in the item you want, and then press Q again to exit the Quick Mask mode which will automatically select your brushed area.

      End of First Method of precise selection using a Brush tool.

  2. Second Method : Mask & Pen

    This second method is what I would recommend you to learn and master. This enables you to quickly do superbly precise selections that would otherwise take a very long time to do using the First Method.

    1. Step 1 :

      Step 1 is the same for both methods. Open up your image in Photoshop, in a new document, and Add layer mask to the image layer.

    2. Step 2 :

      This method requires you to play around and familiarise yourself with the Pen tool (shortcut button, P). Let me show you my recommended settings first :

      Precise Selection

      I suggest reading a bit on the Pen tool from the Help section, or just playing with the tool for a while. If you want to skip doing that, you can still follow this tutorial.

    3. Step 3 :

      If you’re familiar with using the Pen tool to follow an image’s outline, you can just continue on to the next step.

      Otherwise, use the Pen tool and click on the edge of the item you want to select to create what is called an Anchor Point. Trace out the item’s outline using the Pen tool using as many Anchor Points as you want/need. Every single click creates a new Anchor Point.

      Precise Selection

      As with the previous method, feel free to zoom in as much as you need. It will make the tracing out easier.

      Note : Should you click on a wrong place, press the Delete button to clear the last Anchor Point you created. Be careful, though. Pressing the Delete button a second time will delete the rest of the path (the lines and Anchor Points that are created are called Paths) that is left, which you might want. If you want to delete off the next Anchor Point, click on it first before pressing the Delete button.

    4. Step 4 :

      When you’re almost done tracing out the item using the Pen tool, click on the first Anchor Point that you created to close the path. When you hover over the first Anchor Point, you will see the Pen cursor change to have a circle beside it. When you close the path, all the Anchor Points you’ve created will become one solid path line.

      Precise Selection

      To save the path that you have worked so hard to create, go to the Paths tab (Windows > Paths, if you don’t see it), and double-click on the Work Path layer. Enter a name for it, if you like, and click Ok to save it. Now that path is accessible via Paths tab everytime you open the document you’re working on. Each newly-created path needs to be saved like this.

    5. Step 5 :

      Once you’re done with tracing out the whole item’s outline, with the Pen tool still in use, right-click and click on Make Selection. Give one or two pixels Feather Radius if you want a blurry edge. For this tutorial, I’m using 0 as I want a smooth nice edge instead.

      Precise Selection

      Click Ok and you will get your selection. Click on the Layer Mask and click on Edit > Fill > Use > Black (shortcut : Alt Backspace if black is your Foreground colour, Control Backspace if black is your Background colour) to mask the selection.

      Note : An easier tool to try that is somewhat similar to the Pen tool is the Magnetic Lasso tool (right-click the Lasso tool button). It gives less control compared to the Pen tool, but it is quite good for beginners. If you feel like the Pen tool is a bit too frustrating for you, try the Magnetic Lasso tool instead, and forge on!

      End of Second Method of precise selection using a Pen tool.

So, now that you know both methods, the best way to get a really precise selection is to use a mixture of both. I would start with the Pen tool (method 2) first, and then clean up any stray edges with the Brush tool (method 1). Alright, let’s see what you can do with this new trick! 😀

Example 1

Precise Selection

This is what came out of this tutorial example, of course. 🙂 To do this :

  1. Step 1 :

    Follow the Second Method, and edit any stray edges with the First Method above.

  2. Step 2 :

    A major difference though : Make sure your Path has been saved (see Step 4 of the Second Method : Mask & Pen above), fill the whole Layer Mask with black instead of white (that is, there will be no selection yet at this point). Click on your saved Path, and Make Selection (see Step 5 of the Second Method : Mask & Pen above). Fill the selection with white instead of black.

  3. Step 3 :

    Right-click on the layer (eg. Layer 1), and click on Duplicate Layer. Drag this layer so that it’s below Layer 1. Right-click on the Layer Mask of the duplicated layer and delete it. Desaturate the image by going to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

  4. Step 4 :

    You’re done! I added some gradients to the image above to make a faux-vignette. 🙂

Example 2

Precise Selection

If you’ve visited my blog before, you’ve seen this image! It was done using the steps in this tutorial! 😀

Example 3

Precise Selection

You can also completely remove an aspect of an image, and replace it with something else entirely.

Example 4

Precise Selection

And of course, this will help you create slightly more advanced clones!

To “cut out” the object you have selected, right-click on your selection and click on “Layer via Copy” or “Layer via Cut” (I recommend using “Layer via Copy”). This will create a new layer out of just that selected bit. From there, you can duplicate that layer (right-click on that new layer and click on “Duplicate Layer…”) to other documents.

Alternatively, you can just add a Layer Mask to the layer with the selection. I prefer doing this as it is less destructive, and you can still clean up your selection in the future, using the First Method in this tutorial.

Alright, that’s the end of this tutorial! And what a long tutorial this is! I hope this makes up for its absence for the past months! I look forward to seeing what you come up with. Till the next tutorial! 😀

This entry was published by mr malique’s co-author, Zul. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect mr malique’s opinions.
Zul is a hobbyist-photographer, an engineer by education, but a web designer by profession. He can be found roaming the streets begging people to accept HTML into their hearts. Other times, he can be found not making much sense at zuldevil.com
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