Part 1: Selecting with Photoshop's Magic Wand Tool
by Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns
Published 1999. Updated March, 2006. Copyright © 2001-2017, Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns. All rights reserved. Published at websitetips.com with permission.
This Photoshop tutorial will help show you the basics of using the Magic Wand tool, one of Adobe Photoshop's helpful selecting tools. You'll find instructions for Photoshop CS2 and also for Photoshop 5.5.
Originally written when Photoshop 5.5 was new, updated March 2006 for Photoshop CS2 - so you'll find screenshots for both versions where Photoshop's interface differs between these versions.
On this page:
What is the Magic Wand Tool?
Photoshop's Magic Wand tool is designed to select pixels based on their color similarities.
- For Photoshop CS2: There is a Magic Wand Options bar for specifying the Magic Wand tool settings. For the Tolerance option, a lower value selects fewer colors similar to the pixel you click with the Magic Wand tool. A higher value selects a broader range of colors. When checked, Contiguous selects only adjacent areas of the same colors.
- For Photoshop 5.5: There is a Magic Wand Options palette that allows adjustments to the Magic Wand settings, as shown below in Example 1.1b. For example, the default Tolerance value is set at 32, meaning that 32 similar lighter tones and 32 similar darker tones will be selected using the Magic Wand. When working with an image, you may need to adjust these values to gain the best accuracy for your selection.
Photoshop 5.5 Magic Wand Options palette
New with version 5.5: When the Contiguous setting checkbox is checked, the selection is then restricted to areas connected to the area clicked. By unchecking the checkbox, the Magic Wand will then select all pixels within its Tolerance setting.
The Anti-aliased setting will generally be checked for Web graphics, but this depends, of course, on the needs of the image.
If you check the Use All Layers box, then all layers will be selected within the Tolerance, Contiguous, and Anti-aliased settings.
Now let's try it out.
Using the Magic Wand Tool to Select Text
- Open a new, blank window with a transparent background, at least 200 pixels wide and 100 pixels high.
- Type the text of your choice, sized around 40-50 pixels for this tutorial.
- To activate the Magic Wand tool, click on the Magic Wand tool in the toolbox, as shown in Example 1.2a (CS2) and Example 1.2b (5.5) below.
- After reviewing the Options palette and adjusting any of the settings, we're ready to select the text with the Magic Wand. For purposes of this tutorial, you can try the settings below and as shown in Example 1.1a (CS2) and Example 1.1b (5.5) above.
Contiguous: Not checked
Use all layers: Not checked
- Next step is to select the text. Move the Magic Wand over the text area, as shown in Example 1.3 below, and click your mouse.
Example 1.3: Magic Wand Being Used To Select Text
That will select the similar colors, and most likely will select all the text, as shown in Example 1.4 below.
Example 1.4: Magic Wand Selected Text
- If the Magic Wand selected all your text, then that's it. You're ready to add effects or anything else you may wish to try. You can also save your selection as a channel if you wish. From the drop-down menu, click Select, then Save Selection. The popup box will ask for a name for your channel, and then save it.
Here is what to do if the Magic Wand did NOT select all of the text:
- If the text was selected but didn't select the edges cleanly and completely, check the Magic Wand Options settings, as discussed in 1. below.
- If not all of the letters are selected, then jump to 2. below.
To adjust the Magic Wand selection:
- Review the Magic Wand Options settings:
If the Contiguous box was checked, then only the particular letter of your text may be selected, unless your letters connect to each other. You can uncheck the Contiguous checkbox and then try selecting the text again.
If the Tolerance setting was too low (or too high), the Magic Wand tool may not have selected all of the pixels for the text or selected too much. You can adjust the Tolerance setting and try selecting the text again.
One of the alternatives to the Magic Wand tool is using channels to select the text. See the next tutorial in this series, Part 2: Selecting with Channels.
- If the Magic Wand did not select all the letters in the text:
From the Drop-down menu click on Select, then Similar, as shown in Example 1.5a (CS2) and Example 1.5b (5.5) below.
Example 1.6: Text selected
- If the Magic Wand selected all your text, then that's it. You're ready to add effects or anything else you may wish to try.
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