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Using Photoshop Selection Tools

Part 1: Selecting with Photoshop's Magic Wand Tool

by Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns

Published 1999. Updated March, 2006. Copyright © 2001-2016, Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns. All rights reserved. Published at 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.

What is the Magic Wand Tool?

Photoshop's Magic Wand tool Photoshop CS2 Magic Wand tool is designed to select pixels based on their color similarities.

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

  1. Open a new, blank window with a transparent background, at least 200 pixels wide and 100 pixels high.
  2. Type the text of your choice, sized around 40-50 pixels for this tutorial.
  3. 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.

    Click on the image to view the full version.magicwandtoolbox1crop Example 1.2a Magic Wand on Toolbox
    Photoshop CS2

    Click on the image to view the full version.Photoshop 5.5 Toolbox Example 1.2b Magic Wand on Toolbox
    Photoshop 5.5

  4. 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.

    Tolerance: 0
    Anti-aliasing: Checked
    Contiguous: Not checked
    Use all layers: Not checked

  5. 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, screen shot of selecting text with Magic Wand 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 Example 1.4: Magic Wand Selected Text

  6. 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:

To adjust the Magic Wand selection:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

    Click on the image to view the full version.
    Photoshop CS2 Screenshot - Magic Wand - Select, Similar
    Example 1.5a: Select, Similar, Magic Wand
    Photoshop CS2

    Click on the image to view the full version.
    Example 1.5b: Select, Similar, Magic Wand
    Photoshop 5.5

    Selected text with magic wand Example 1.6: Text selected

  3. 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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