How to Use the Photoshop Marquee Tool

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The Photoshop marquee tool, a relatively simple feature, is essential for several tasks. At the most basic level, the tool is used to select areas of an image, which can then be copied, cut or cropped. Specific sections of a graphic can be selected to apply a filter or effect to a particular area. Strokes and fills can also be applied to a marquee selection to create shapes and lines. There are four options within the tool to select different types of areas: rectangular, elliptical, a single row or a single column.

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Select the Marquee Tool

Select a Marquee Tool
The marquee tool options.

To use the marquee tool, select it in the Photoshop toolbar. It is the second tool down, below the “move” tool. To access the four options of the marquee, hold the left mouse key down on the tool, and select one of the additional options from the pop-up menu.

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Select an Area of the Image

Select an area of the image.

Once you have selected the marquee tool of your choice, you can select an area of the image to work with. Position the mouse where you want to begin the selection and click the left mouse button, holding it down while you drag the selection to the desired size, and then release the mouse button. For the “single row” and “single column” marquees, click and drag the marquee to select the one-pixel line of your choice.

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More Selection Options

With the “rectangular” and “elliptical” marquee tool, you can hold down the “shift” key while dragging the selection to create a perfect square or circle. Notice you can still change the size, but the proportion remains the same. Another useful trick is to move the entire selection as you create it. Often, you will find your marquee starting point isn’t at the exact intended spot on the canvas. To move the selection, hold down the spacebar and drag the mouse; the selection will move instead of resizing. To continue to resize, release the space bar.

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Modify the Selection

Adding to the selection.

After you have created a selection, you can modify it by adding or subtracting from it. Start by creating a selection on the canvas. To add to the selection, hold down the shift key and create a second selection. This new marquee will add to the first, as long as you continue to hold the shift key before each selection, you will add to it. To subtract from a selection, follow the same process but hold down the alt/option key. You can use these two methods to create countless figures, which can then be used to apply filters to a custom area or create shapes.

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Putting the Selections to Use

Once you have selected an area, you can apply different uses to that area. Use a Photoshop filter and it will only apply to the selected area. Cut, copy and paste the area to use it elsewhere or alter your image. You can also use many of the functions within the "edit" menu, such as fill, stroke, or transform, to only change the selected area. Remember you can create a new layer and then fill a selection to build shapes. Once you learn the marquee tools and use them with ease, you will be able to manipulate not just the whole, but parts, of your images.