Magic Wand Vs. Quick Selection


Today’s Question: You addressed a question [in yesterday’s Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter] about the Sample Size setting for the Magic Wand tool. My question is, with the Quick Selection tool now included in Photoshop, isn’t the Magic Wand tool obsolete?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I don’t consider the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop to be obsolete, though I do use the Quick Selection tool more often than the Magic Wand tool. However, when I need to create a selection that consists of a relatively large number of non-contiguous areas, the Magic Wand tool often provides the best solution.

More Detail: To create a selection consisting of a variety of non-contiguous areas using the Quick Selection tool in Photoshop, you would need to paint individually on each of the non-contiguous areas. This can obviously be a very inefficient approach when the selection you need to create consists of a relatively large number of non-contiguous areas.

If you are creating a selection of one large area in an image, or of an area that is comprised of a small number of non-contiguous areas, the Quick Selection tool can most certainly be perfect for the job. But when numerous non-contiguous areas need to be included in the same selection, the Magic Wand tool is generally a better solution.

With the Magic Wand tool selected, I will generally set the Tolerance value to a relatively low number (generally somewhere between 8 and 16, depending on the image), and I will set the Sample Size to “3 by 3 Average” (as noted in yesterday’s edition of the Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter). I will also turn off the Contiguous checkbox, and then create the selection.

For example, if I am creating a selection of the sky (which is a common scenario for using the Magic Wand tool) I will initially click on an open area of sky. I will then hold the Shift key and click on additional areas to sample other pixel values, expanding the range of the selection. Because the Contiguous checkbox is turned off, that selection will include non-contiguous areas of the sky. Therefore, it does not require very many clicks of the mouse (holding the Shift key for the “Add to Selection” option) to create a complete selection.

The key thing to be careful of when the Contiguous checkbox is turned off for the Magic Wand tool is that the selection might include unwanted areas. For example, if there is a lake in the foreground that reflects the sky, that area may be selected even though you don’t want it selected. These issues can generally be resolve rather easily, however, using the Lasso tool, for example, with the “Subtract from Selection” option enabled to remove unwanted areas from the selection.

So yes, I most certainly make use of the Magic Wand tool on a regular basis in Photoshop. I don’t use the Magic Wand nearly as often as I use the Quick Selection tool, but the Magic Wand tool still proves invaluable in certain situations.