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Using Photoshop Selection Tools

Part 2: Selecting with Photoshop Channels

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

Published 1999. Updated March, 2006. Copyright © 2001-2021, Shirley E. Kaiser, M.A., SKDesigns. All rights reserved. Published at with permission.

This Photoshop tutorial will introduce you to the very basics of channels by making text selections for Web graphics. 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 are Channels?

Very simply, channels store the color information of an image. They can also store selections, which can help with manipulating graphics in some powerful ways.

When you open an image or create a new one in RGB mode, Photoshop automatically creates channels. The default channels are blue, green, red, and RGB (a composite channel), as shown in Example 1.1a (Photoshop CS2) and Example 1.1b (Photoshop 5.5).

Photoshop CS2 Channels palette screenshot Example 1.1a: Channels palette
Photoshop CS2

Photoshop 5.5 Channels palette screenshot Example 1.1b: Channels palette
Photoshop 5.5

Now let's try it out!

Using Channels 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 40-50pt. for this tutorial. I used Garamond Bold, 40pt. for this example.

    Screenshot of text typed with Photoshop CS2 Example 1.2: Text typed in a new Photoshop window

  3. From the drop-down menu, select Window, then Channels. Or click on the Channels palette tab to bring it to view.

    In Photoshop CS2, Channels, Layers, and Paths are grouped in the same floating palette box by default configuration.

    In Photoshop 5.5, Channels, Layers, Paths, Actions, and History are grouped in the same floating palette box by default.

    Within the Channels palette, you'll see each of the channels listed - RGB (composite), Red, Green, Blue - with a thumbnail image of your text in each one.

    Photoshop CS2 Channels palette screenshot Example 1.2a: Channels palette
    Photoshop CS2

    Photoshop 5.5 Channels palette screenshot Example 1.2b: Channels palette
    Photoshop 5.5

  4. We're now ready to select the text using channels.

    From the drop-down menu, click on Select, then Load Selection. A pop-up box will appear, as shown in Example 1.3 below:

    Click on the image to view the full version.Screenshot - CS2 Load Selection Pop-up box Example 1.3: Load Selection Pop-Up Box

    The pop-up box indicates 2 boxes for the source, the name of your document (textexample.psd in the example) and the channel (Photoshop Transparency in the example). Below that, make sure the radio button is clicked on New Selection. Then click OK.

    As you can see in Example 1.4 below, the text is automatically selected for you.

    Screenshot - Text selected via Channels with CS2 Example 1.4: Selected Text (via Channels)

  5. Now let's save this channel setting. From the drop-down menu, click on Select, then Save Selection. The Save Selection pop-up box will open, as shown in Example 1.5.

    Click on the image to view the full version.Photoshop Screenshot - Save Selection Pop-Up Box Example 1.5: Save Selection Pop-Up Box

    The name of your current document appears within Destination > Document drop-down menu. The Channel name shows New (default), and you can provide a name for your saved selection. For the example, I named mine Example Text. Then click OK.

  6. Now you will see that the saved selection has been added to the Channels palette, as shown below in Example 1.6:

    Channels palette with new saved 'Example Text' channel - Photoshop CS2 Screenshot Example 1.6: Channels palette showing new saved channel.

  7. You can click on the small eye icons to reveal or hide any of the channels.

Now that you've selected the text, you're ready to try adding some of Photoshop's built-in effects or creating some of your own. Check out the Related Resources section below for plenty more on Photoshop Channels.

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