Creating Precise Oval Selections


Today’s Question: If I want to select an exact rectangle [in Photoshop], I can easily use the Rectangular Marquee tool and drag from one corner to the opposite one. But if I want to select an exact oval [with the Elliptical Marquee tool], there’s no obvious exact starting point. Is there a trick I’m missing?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To better align an elliptical selection in Photoshop you can either move the selection while you’re in the process of creating it or create an initial selection and then use the Transform Selection command to fine-tune the overall shape and position of the selection.

More Detail: The Elliptical Marquee tool is basically the exact same as the Rectangular Marquee tool, except that with the Elliptical Marquee tool when you draw a rectangle the selection will be an ellipse that fills that rectangle. That means in theory you could drag from one corner of the intended selection to the opposite corner to create an elliptical selection for the desired area of the image, but in practice this isn’t easy to get precise.

One of the best tricks for both the Rectangular Marquee and Elliptical Marquee tools is the ability to move the selection while you’re in the process of creating a selection. Start by clicking at one corner of the intended selection area and keep the mouse button held down until you’re finished defining the selection. When you realize the selection wasn’t started in quite the right spot, while still holding the mouse button down press and hold the Spacebar key on the keyboard.

While holding the Spacebar key you can drag the mouse (with the mouse button still pressed) to move the selection. If you release the Spacebar key (while still holding the mouse button down) you can continue refining the size and shape of the selection. Switching back and forth between holding the Spacebar key versus releasing it enables you to switch between moving the selection and adjusting the size and shape of the selection. When you’re happy with the shape of the selection you can then release the mouse button.

You can also just draw a basic elliptical selection quickly without worrying about being too precise, and then chose the Select > Transform Selection command from the menu to modify the selection. After choosing this command there will be a bounding box around the image. Hold the Shift key while dragging each edge of that bounding box to the refine the overall size and shape of the selection. The Shift key is necessary so you can drag each edge individually without maintaining the existing aspect ratio.

If you want to adjust the size of the overall selection while using the Transform Selection command, you can start dragging one of the corners of the bounding box and then press and hold the Alt/Option key so that the size adjustment is relative to the center of the selection rather than the edge.

After transforming the selection, you can press Enter/Return on the keyboard (or click the checkmark button on the Options bar) to apply the change.