Make Selections with the Photoshop Elements Magic Wand Tool

The Magic Wand tool in Photoshop Elements 11 works best when you have high-contrast images or images with a limited number of colors. For example, the optimum image for the Wand is a solid-colored object on a white background. Skip the Wand if the image has a ton of colors and no real definitive contrast between your element and the background.

To make a selection with the Magic Wand tool, follow these steps:

  1. Select the Magic Wand tool in the Tools panel.

    It looks like, well, a wand. You can also press the A key. If the Magic Wand isn’t visible, press A again to cycle through the tools. Or simply choose the Magic Wand in the Tool Options.

  2. Click the portion of the image you want to select, using the default Tolerance setting of 32.

    The pixel you click (the target pixel) determines the base color. Remember that the default value of 32 means that the Magic Wand tool selects all colors 16 levels lighter and 16 levels darker than the base color.

    If you selected everything you wanted the first time you used the Magic Wand tool, give yourself a pat on the back. If you didn’t (which is probably the case), go to Step 3.

  3. Enter a new Tolerance setting in the Tool Options.

    If the Magic Wand tool selected more than you wanted it to, lower the Tolerance setting. If it didn’t select enough, raise the setting.

    Here are a few other options to specify:

    • Anti-aliasing: This option subtly softens the edge of the selection.

    • Contiguous: When this option is selected, the Magic Wand tool selects only pixels that are adjacent to each other. When this option is deselected, the Magic Wand tool selects all pixels within the range of tolerance, regardless of whether they’re adjacent to each other.

    • Sample All Layers: If you have multiple layers and enable this option, the Magic Wand selects pixels from all visible layers. If it's deselected, the tool selects pixels from the active layer only.

    • Refine Edge: This option enables you to clean up the selection edges.

  4. Click the portion of the image that you want to select.

    Changing the tolerance level doesn’t adjust the current selection, so you must start again by clicking your image. The Magic Wand tool then deselects the current selection and makes a new selection — based on the new Tolerance setting. If it still isn’t right, you can adjust the Tolerance setting again. Unfortunately, it’s all about trial and error.

    [Credit: ©istockphoto.com/clintscholz Image #2556066]
    Credit: ©istockphoto.com/clintscholz Image #2556066
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