Random thoughts on art, technology, stuff, and occasionally Real Estate: Photoshop Elements Selection Tools: The Magnetic Lasso

Photoshop Elements Selection Tools: The Magnetic Lasso

Merry Christmas, Photoshoppers.  Here's a little gift for you.  :-)

I confess.  I don't even try to use the standard Lasso.  It's beyond my limited skills.

The Magnetic Lasso is a different story.  The Magnetic Lasso senses the edge of the object you are outlining, and snaps itself to that edge.

To try it out, first open the image file containing the object you want to select.


Click on the Magnetic Lasso Tool.  If you only see the standard Lasso, click on the tiny arrow in the lower left corner by the Lasso icon.  That will bring up the Lasso sub-menu.


Click on a starting point in your image, at an edge of the object you want to select.  Slowly and gently guide the cursor along the edge of the object.  Resist the temptation to click every couple millimeters.  As long as there is some contrast between the object and the background, the Magnetic Lasso will find the edge, and it will set "points" along the way as you guide it.

I find I like to hold the cursor just a teensy weensy tiny bit above the outline of the image, and let it fall to the edge. 

Note that you do not need to hold the mouse button down as you guide the cursor along the edge.


Note that you can adjust the settings for the Magnetic Lasso. 

Width tells the magnetic lasso just how far away in pixels to search for the edge. 

Edge Contrast tells the lasso just how sharp a contrast to use in finding the edge.  Use a low number for soft, low contrast images.  Use a higher number for higher contrast images.

Frequency tells the Magnetic Lasso how often to mark a point.


Just keep gently guiding the cursor along the edge of the object.  Think easy, relaxed, don't even hold the mouse button down; just let the Magnetic Lasso find the edge on its own.

If you come to a really tricky edge - like the fish's fins, you can go ahead and click to manually mark the point, but for the most part, clicking isn't necessary. 

If you make an error, stop and click the Backspace key.  Clicking Backspace will remove the most recent marked point, but note that it does not move the cursor backwards.  Gently guide the cursor back towards the edge, at this point you may want to click to manually set a point, then continue moving along the object's edge.

Your selection isn't finished until you come all the way back to your starting point.  When you get back to the starting point, click on that first point to close the selection.


After closing the selection, you might notice an area that needs a slight adjustment.  Here's a little trick to make adjustments:

With the object still selected with the border of marching ants, click on the Selection Brush Tool:


Be sure to choose the Selection Brush Tool, not the Magic Selection Brush Tool.  Why?  Because the Selection Brush Tool is the gateway to Masking mode. 

After you click on the Selection Brush Tool, look up at the Options bar.   Click the drop-arrow menu arrow at Mode, and choose Mask. 


Choosing Mask will place a red overlay over everything in the image except the object you selected.  (Trivia note:  The red overlay in Photoshop was designed to resemble the red acetate "rubylith" used by print shops when masking images the old school way.)



To add to the red overlay area, just click and drag the cursor over the area.  Note:  adding to the overlay subtracts the area from the selection.

To subtract from the red overlay, hold down the ALT key, then click and drag the cursor over the area.  Note:  subtracting from the overlay adds the area to the selection.

Does that sound odd?  Don't worry.  Just try it a few times, and it will soon make sense.

Note that you can adjust the brush size as you add and subtract to your selection


Once you have tweaked the selection to your satisfaction, back in the Options menu, click the drop down menu at Mode: and choose Selection to remove the red overlay.


The red overlay will disappear, but your edits to the selection outline will remain.  There, now you have a completed selection ready to stylize, or drag onto a new background.


Many Thanks to Barbara-Jo and Bill of Exit Realty in Florida, for the fish mailbox image!!!








Cheryl Johnson // Bob Tayor Properties, Inc.


Bob Taylor Properties, is a progressive, independent, full service real estate brokerage located in Northeast Los Angeles. We have a small staff of experienced, veteran real estate agents who love what they do and work tirelessly for their clients.


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Comment balloon 6 commentsCheryl Johnson • December 25 2007 10:01AM


Merry Christmas Cheryl, I finally have photoshop 6 on my laptop and I will go back and check out your post I have bookmarked and practice.

Have agreat day and Happy New Year... 

Posted by Jay McGillicuddy, Real Estate Broker (Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Verani Realty) over 10 years ago

Cheryl - just downloaded Photoshop Elements and am anxious start playing with it - yes, I know I am behind the times. This is a great tutorial. Thanks.

Have a wonderful holiday and Happy New Year.


Posted by Jeff Dowler, CRS, The Southern California Relocation Dude - Carlsbad (Solutions Real Estate ) over 10 years ago

Cheryl, Your tutorials always amaze me. I am going to try this  ASAP. Thank you,

Merry Christmas


Posted by Ginger Sala, Wilmington NC Real Estate & Relocation~ (Wilkinson & Associates, Wilmington NC) over 10 years ago

Cheryl, you do such a great job of show and tell. I have this program and love it, but need more hours in the day to spend refining my skills. I shall bookmark this - and you - for those times that I can spend working on this program. Thanks,

Posted by Mesa, Arizona Real Estate Mesa Arizona Realtor, AzLadyInRed (Homes Arizona Real Estate LLC) over 10 years ago
Cheryl I just got Photoshop Elements and downloaded to my computer.  Got a new computer and downloaded it from my Adobe account and enter the serial # and it doesn't work.  They are closed today. Ugh.  Your posts are a wealth of information that I access regularly to learn the software, thank you.
Posted by Miriam Bernstein, CRS, New Orleans and Surrounding Suburbs Real Estate (New Orleans Property Lady, LLC) over 10 years ago

We can all look at Cheryl as our Christmas present - our very own adviser, teacher, colleague, friend ...

Thanks, Cheryl, for yet another wonderful learning session. and Merry Christmas! 

Posted by Sharon Simms, St. Petersburg FL - CRS CIPS CLHMS RSPS (Coastal Properties Group International - Christie's International) over 10 years ago