Making Selections in Photoshop

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Selecting elements using Photoshop can be a chief source of frustration “Making Selections in Photoshop” — until you use a pen tablet and the features discussed in this article.

Making selections is one of the toughest things to master in Photoshop, mostly because there are so many tools to use, and so many features to take advantage of. Using a Wacom Pen Tablet, pressure sensitivity, and a few lesser known tricks can turn frustration into fun.

Step 1: Understanding Pixel Picture Precision

Photoshop is a pixel-based application. That means every image is made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny pixels. Selecting elements is a process of determining which pixels you want to keep, and which you want to leave out. You can use the Quick Selection tool to quickly draw a general outline of your selection. But now all you have to indicate the selected area is a jagged or “Marching Ants.” That is your only visual reference to the selection. Wouldn’t it be great if you could visually paint your selection on your image? Using a Wacom Pen Tablet and pressure sensitivity gives you more control over each pixel.

Step 2: Using Quick Mask and Painting with your Pen

There’s a great feature in Photoshop called “Quick Mask.” Pressing “q” on your keyboard during selection, Photoshop changes those Marching Ants indicating a selection into a color overlay of your selected area. You aren’t filling the image, or adding pixels, it’s merely a color overlay that lets you see what is selected and what isn’t.

  • Edit the Quick Mask Properties: You can edit the Quick Mask properties by double-clicking the Quick Mask icon on the left hand toolbar. It’s the second to the last icon from the bottom.
  • Selecting the Area: Double-click on the Quick Mask icon, and you can choose the mask area or the selected area of your image. You can also change the color; that’s important because you’ll want to choose a contrasting color so you can really see the mask over the image. You can change the opacity, but leaving it at 50% let’s you see the image beneath the mask.
  • Getting back into Quick Mask Mode: Photoshop will toggle between Quick Mask mode and Marching Ants by simply pressing “q” again.

Step 2: Pressure Sensitivity and Elements

In Photoshop you can use the brush tools to control each pixel.

  • Choose the Brush Tool and go into the brush panel.
  • Set the Size Jitter: When controlling selections, you will want to use pressure sensitivity to adjust the size of your brush so set the size jitter to pen pressure.
  • Control your Pressure: Now if you touch very lightly on the tablet you’re going to see a thin line. Use that when you’re very close to the edge of your image. In broader areas, you can press a little harder and select the area in a quicker fashion.

Step 3: Enable the Touch Features of Your Pen Tablet

If you come from a background in art, you’re used to using traditional tools like brushes and pens. You’ll also find that sometimes you’re working on an image and your hand tends to move around the perimeter of the image. Or your hand wants to naturally move at a certain angle. You can certainly move the tablet around, but you can also enable the touch features of your pen tablet to move your image.

  • Enable Touch by pressing the tablet’s very top button, and then use your fingers on the tablet — just like using a touch-enabled phone or tablet PC.
  • Control the Touch: Spreading two or more fingers zooms out, and pinching the fingers together zooms in.
  • Turn Your Image: Use two fingers to rotate the canvas. Take two fingers, put them on the tablet and turn your image in real time. Now you have a better angle, for better control.

Step 4: Understanding the Benefits of Pressure-Sensitive Tablets and Pens

Ultimately, making selections in Photoshop with a pressure-sensitive pen gives you the control you need to separate those tiny pixels. You have more control to paint your selection much more accurately. Using the touch features of the tablet to move the image around, you can create a natural feel of drawing directly on the image. It’s simply another feature of Photoshop you’ve got to experiment with to master. Once you see the advantages, you’re going to wonder, “How did I ever live without this?”

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