Quick Selection versus Magic Wand


Today’s Question: What’s the difference between the Quick Selection vs Magic Wand tools in Photoshop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The key differences between the Quick Selection tool and the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop relate to how areas are sampled and the “intelligence” happening behind the scenes to create the actual selection.

More Detail: The Quick Selection tool can be thought of as an updated version of the Magic Wand tool. Both of these tools enable you to sample areas of an image in order to create a selection of areas that match in terms of overall tone and color.

One of the differences between these tools relates to how you sample pixels in the area of the photo you want to select. With the Magic Wand tool you can only click on one pixel at a time. The Sample Size and Tolerance settings then determine how the pixel you clicked on will be evaluated, and how close other pixels have to match in order to be included in the selection.

With the Quick Selection tool you paint across the area you want to select, which means you’re sampling a larger area more efficiently than would be possible with the Magic Wand tool. That sampling is then used to attempt to create a selection of the subject you are trying to select, based on the textures that are sampled.

In addition, the Quick Selection tool has some additional “intelligence” through the “Enhance Edge” checkbox found on the Options bar. With this checkbox turned on, after you sample an area of the image Photoshop will further evaluate the image in an effort to improve the accuracy of the selection. I recommend leaving this checkbox turned on almost without exception.

The one drawback of the Quick Selection tool compared to the Magic Wand tool is that the Quick Selection tool by its nature is creating selections of contiguous areas. So, if you were, for example, trying to create a selection of a sky with trees extending up into the sky, the Quick Selection tool would not be a good option because it would not do a good job of selecting all of the little areas of sky showing through between the leaves and branches of the trees. Instead you would want to use the Magic Wand tool in a situation like this, with the Contiguous checkbox on the Options bar turned off.

As a general rule I recommend using the Quick Selection tool in most cases when either the Quick Selection or Magic Wand tool might provide a good option. The only time I would generally favor the Magic Wand tool over the Quick Selection tool is for situations where you need to create a somewhat complex selection comprised of many areas that are not contiguous to each other.