Magic Wand Tool in Photoshop Elements 10 - dummies

Magic Wand Tool in Photoshop Elements 10

By Barbara Obermeier, Ted Padova

The Magic Wand tool is one of the oldest tools in the world of digital imaging. This beloved tool has been around since Photoshop was in its infancy and Elements was not yet a twinkle in Adobe’s eye. It’s extremely easy to use, but a little harder to predict what selection results it will present.

Here’s how it works: You click inside the image, and the Magic Wand tool makes a selection. This selection is based on the color of the pixel you clicked. If other pixels are similar in color to your target pixel, Elements includes them in the selection.

What’s sometimes hard to predict, however, is how to determine how similar the color has to be to get the Magic Wand tool to select it. Fortunately, that’s where the Tolerance setting comes in.

The Tolerance setting determines the range of color that the Magic Wand tool selects. It’s based on brightness levels that range from 0 to 255:

  • Setting the Tolerance to 0 selects one color only.

  • Setting the Tolerance to 255 selects all colors, or the whole image.

The default setting is 32, so whenever you click a pixel, Elements analyzes the value of that base color and then selects all pixels whose brightness levels are between 16 levels lighter and 16 levels darker.

What if an image contains a few shades of the same color? It’s not a huge problem. You can make multiple clicks of the Magic Wand to pick up additional pixels that you want to include in the selection. Or, you can try a higher Tolerance setting. Conversely, if your wand selects too much, you can also lower your Tolerance setting.

So, you can see that the Magic Wand tool works best when you have high-contrast images or images with a limited number of colors. For example, the optimum image for the Wand would be a solid black object on a white background. Skip the wand if the image has a ton of colors and no real definitive contrast between your desired element and the background.