People just starting out with photo editing often want to know how to use the Photoshop Elements Selection Tools.  They just want to edit eyes, for example and think that using a selection tool is the only way to accomplish this. I rarely teach about selection tools in my PSE workshop because I don’t use them very often.  I use a brush and layer mask instead.

But today, I am going to talk about the selection tools in Photoshop Elements and how to use them.  And in my next tutorial, I will cover advanced selection techniques as well as why the brush and layer mask combo is the best. The screenshots in this tutorial come from PSE 15.  You will find most of the same tools in all recent versions of Elements, however.

If you are having trouble finding a tool I’m referring to, read through this tutorial on navigating the tool box in prior versions of PSE.

What Are the Photoshop Elements Selection Tools?

PSE has 3 primary selection tools: the Marquee, the Lasso, and the Quick Selection Tools.

Photoshop Elements Selection Tools

  • The Marquee selects rectangle and oval shaped areas.
  • The Lasso comes in 3 variations.  You can use the Basic Lasso to draw a freehand selection.  The Magnetic Lasso tries to read along the edges of the area you select.  And the Polygonal Lasso makes an angle each time you click, so that you can add a new line segment to your selection.
  • In the Quick Section, the Quick Selection tool attempts to guess the area that you are selecting.  It works best when you have colors in your image with good contrast.  The Selection Brush creates a selection wherever you paint.  And the Magic Wand tool creates a selection based on one click – it needs good contrast and color differentiation also.

As far as the options you can tweak for each tool, there are two that are common to most of them:

Photoshop Elements Selection Tools Options

Feathering controls how precise or gradual the edges of a selection are.  You can read more about it here.

The icons you see in the screen shot below govern what type of selection you are making – a brand new one vs. one that adds on to a prior selection, for example.

Photoshop Elements Selection Tools Add To, Subtract From

Using the Add To and Subtract From options can be helpful, or at least fun!  I created the selection below drawing an oval marquee around her face, adding a rectangular marque to her forehead and subtracting a rectangular marquee from her neck.

What Does Each of the Photoshop Elements Selection Tools Do?

Ready to see examples of how these various tools work? I use the marquee tools when creating vignettes.  A marquee selection looks like this:

I don’t use the lasso tool in most cases. It works like this:


Next, let’s move on to the Quick Tools. 

We’re going to cover the Refine Selection tool in another tutorial – the others are below.


In the next photo, I used the Quick Selection tool to try to select just her jacket.  There isn’t enough contrast between the shirt and the coat, so Quick Selection didn’t work well.  To make the selection in the shot below, I clicked and dragged up her arm, across the lower part of her shoulder, and down her lapel.


I created the selection below using the Selection Brush.  This tool isn’t very efficient – the selection is only made over areas where you click and drag the brush.

Finally, I used the Magic Wand to make the selections below.  Tolerance governs how close colors should in order to select them together.  The lower the tolerance, the less is selected.  There wasn’t a Tolerance that selected only the jacket without her shirt or hair.

You can see the difference between Tolerances of 17 and 20 in the shot below.

The Magic Wand and Quick Selection tools are most useful to me when creating graphics – not when editing photos.  I can use them to select just one color, for example, to remove or change it.  Using Magic Wand, turn on the Contiguous box if you want all pixels of the same color to be selected. Turn it off if you only want to select pixels of the same color that are also touching each other.


So, this covers the basics of using the Photoshop Elements Selection Tools.  I don’t use them, but that’s just my personal preference.  Lots of folks use them quite well to select and edit isolated objects in their photos.  Click here for the next article in this series about  advanced features of using these tools, along with using layer masks to perfect these local edits.

This tutorial originally appeared in 2013. I updated it in 2016 to reflect updates to Photoshop Elements and the latest best practices for the software.