Whenever you paint something in your house, be it a wall or a door, you want to avoid getting paint on everything. So you use masking tape. Masking, or Selecting, in Photoshop Elements, is the same thing. The only difference is that there’s so much more you can do with it. Masking is a way of selecting certain parts of your image to paint on or apply effects and filters to. In this article, I’ll show you which selection methods are the best and how you can use them to isolate any part of your image.
Creating Selections Video
Prefer to watch me show you? Watch the video! Or read about creating selections below.
A Simple Rectangular Mask
If you are at all familiar with cropping, there’s a good chance you have used the rectangular selection tool before. You can find the rectangular selection tool on the far left toolbar. It looks like a rectangle with dashes.
Select the rectangle tool and draw a rectangle over your image. This is the masked area. Any effect you apply will only work inside of the mask. Here’s an example.
So, if we were to go to Filter --> Distort --> Twirl and apply the effect, only the middle of the photo would be twirled. Let’s give it a try.
There you have it. The rest of the photo remains unaffected while the twirl distorts the middle.
Rectangular masks are often used to crop an image. You can select the part you want to keep, copy it, and then paste the image into a new file.
The lasso and magnetic lasso masks
Just underneath the rectangular mask, you’ll find the ordinary lasso tool. It creates a selection just like the rectangular mask, but you get to draw the selection instead. With the lasso tool, I can create a selection that looks like this.
It’s kind of random and not exactly useful for the purposes of editing the image, but it’s something you can do. The magnetic lasso is much better. It allows you to draw a selection that sticks to the sides of things, making it easy for you to select peoples faces and other subjects.
In the above photo, I used the magnetic lasso to select the dog’s eyes. Because it sticks to the edges, I’ve just reduced by workload substantially!
The color wand selection tool
Another useful one is the color wand selection tool. It allows you to mask off a certain part of your image based on the colors nearby. It has a certain tolerance to it as well. If you increase the tolerance, it allows more similar colors. Decrease it, and the tool is more strict about which colors it allows into its selection.
Here’s an example:
The magic wand selection tool only selects the narrow band of orange on the hot dog. If I increase the tolerance, it will gradually select more and more of the hot dog.
Different types of masking
There are four types of masking in Adobe Photoshop Elements. You can either go with a single selection, additive selection, subtractive selection, or intersect with selection. Let’s discuss each of these options briefly.
The four options, from left to right, can be found in the top toolbar:
Single selection: This is the basic and default selection tool. You select one part of the image, and each time you make a new selection, that part of the image gets selected.
Additive selection: This tool keeps the old selection you used, and it adds the new selection to it. If I wanted to use the magnetic lasso to select both of the hot dogs, I would use this mode.
Subtractive selection mode: I would use this if I wanted to deselect just one of the hot dogs. Any mask you draw with this mode gets rid of the mask that was there.
Intersecting selection mode: This one is interesting. If you draw your first selection, and then draw another selection over it, this will select only the area where the two selections intersected.
Here’s an example. Let’s say I start out by selecting the sun I just twirled with the circular selection. It looks like this.
Now I draw another selection over the top of the circle, going into the center of it. If I have the intersect with selection tool activated, only the area where my new selection intersects with the old selection will be masked off.
It’s not immediately clear to me what this is useful for, and you can admittedly do this by combining all of the other tools, but that’s the explanation in case you were curious.
Commands from the “Select” menu
On top of all these different tools for masking off a part of the image, you can also use commands to get even more. When you go to the “select” menu in the top bar, you can pick from select all, deselect, reselect, and inverse. We’re going to talk about inverse selections (the others are self-explanatory).
When you choose Select --> Inverse from the select menu, you get back the exact opposite of your original selection. So, if I were to mask off a circle in the middle of the canvas and then select the inverse of it, everything but the circle would be selected.
Oftentimes, when you select the inverse of something, it will appear as though nothing has changed. But one thing will tip you off. The edges of your image will have the moving dashes all around it. This is Photoshop telling you that the edge of your mask is the edge of the image itself. Good to know.
As you can see, there are all kinds of masks and selection tools in Adobe Photoshop Elements. Whatever you’ve got in your image, there is most assuredly a way to select it and only it. This is one of those areas where Photoshop truly excels.
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