By Jennifer Farley

Selections In Photoshop, Part 2: Freehand Tools

By Jennifer Farley

Continuing our Selections In Photoshop series, today let’s take a look at the freehand selection tools. These tools allow you to make much more intricate and precise selections than the basic geometric tools that we covered in the previous post of this series, Selections In Photoshop, Part 1: Geometric Tools.

Freehand Selection Tools

The Lasso Tool

The Lasso tool is truly a freehand tool, and is great when making fast, loose selections. If you have a very steady hand, you can also use it to make more intricate selections. You can drag the Lasso tool (Lasso Tool) around an area to trace a freehand selection, just like drawing with a pencil.

  1. Select the Lasso tool in the toolbox or press L on the keyboard.
  2. Click and drag the pointer around the object you want to select as if you were drawing a line with a pencil.
  3. Finish the line where you started and let go of the mouse. Your selection will kick in.


The Polygonal Lasso Tool

The Polygonal Lasso tool ( Polygonal Lasso Tool), sets anchor points and creates straight-edge selections.

  1. Click on the tool in the toolbar or hit Shift L to cycle through each of the Lasso tools until you come to the Polygonal Lasso.
  2. To draw a straight segment, click once where you want to start, then move the pointer to where you want the first straight segment to end, and click. Keep on clicking and moving your way around the object in this fashion until you reach your starting point.

Tool Combinations

The advantage of the Polygonal Lasso tool is that you get some lovely straight segments. The disadvantage is that you only get straight segments! You can improve your selections by using a shortcut key to jump between the two. This technique takes a bit of practice to master, but it’s worthwhile learning how to do it in order to speed up your workflow and improve your selections.

Note: Don’t forget to zoom in when you’re making selections so you can clearly see what you’re doing. Hold down the Ctrl key (Windows) or the Cmd key (Mac) and press + or – to zoom in and out of your document.

  1. Select the Lasso tool (Lasso Tool). Starting on the yellow part of the flower, I’m going to drag the lasso, freehand, around the curve, tracing the edge as closely as possible. Do not release the mouse button.


  2. Hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac), and then release the mouse button so that the Lasso pointer changes to the Polygonal Lasso shape (Polygonal Lasso Tool). Do not release the Alt or Option key.
  3. Clicking along the right side of the flower to place anchor points, follow the contours of the flower. Be sure to keep the Alt or Option key held down as long as you want the Polygonal Lasso.

    The selection border stretches out like a rubber band between anchor points.

  4. When you reach the curved edge of the flower, keep the mouse button held down and then release the Alt or Option key. The pointer again appears as the lasso icon.
  5. Continue to trace around the flower until you arrive back at the starting point, alternating between the lasso and the polygonal lasso.

The Magnetic Lasso Tool

The Magnetic Lasso tool (Magnetic Lasso Tool ) is almost like a combination of the other two lasso tools, and works best when there is good contrast between the area you want to select and its surroundings.

When you draw with the Magnetic Lasso tool, the border automatically snaps to the borders between areas of contrast. You can also control the selection path by occasionally clicking the mouse to place anchor points in the selection border.

  1. Select the Magnetic Lasso tool (Magnetic Lasso Tool ), hidden under the Lasso tool (Lasso Tool ).
  2. Click once along the edge of the object, and begin tracing the outline by moving the magnetic lasso pointer around the edge, staying fairly close to the edge as you move. Do not hold down the mouse button.

    Here comes the really cool part. Although you may not be tracing 100% accurately, the magnetic tool snaps to the edge of the object and automatically adds fastening points.


  3. If you think that the tool is not following the edge closely enough, you can add your own fastening points in the border by clicking the mouse button. You can add as many extra fastening points as you feel are necessary. You can also remove the most recent fastening points by pressing Delete for each anchor point you want to remove. Then, move the mouse back to the last remaining fastening point and continue selecting.
  4. When you reach your starting point again, double-click the mouse button to make the Magnetic Lasso tool close the selection. Or, move the Magnetic Lasso over the starting point and click once.

That’s an overview of the Lasso tools in Photoshop. As you can see, they each have their uses, and can also be used effectively in combination.

Have you tried the Lasso and Polygonal tools combo before? Do you use the Lasso tools for much of your selection work or do you prefer other tools for selecting in Photoshop? Next up we’ll be looking at the Magic Wand and its friends.

Related Reading:

  • My favorite selection tool is the pen too, because you can draw a path along a complex curve with a simple 3step process;
    1. set begin point
    2. set endpoint
    3. drag curvature from endpoint

  • JR

    I mostly use the rectangular marquee tool, to be honest. Either that or the tools that are likely to be featured in your next post – the color-based selection tools.

    Great posts so far, though. They’ve been a solid overview of selection tools, and I didn’t know you could alternate between the lasso and the polygonal lasso. I can see myself using that in the future.

    Also, I had never thought of using the single row or single column tools for backgrounds; I had always just used the rectangular marquee.

  • I like the polygonal lasso tool better, more control (much like the pen tool). Especially with deep edging objects that have busy backgrounds. I remember posting something about it on my graphic design blog – about 4 years ago. Thanx for the tips! Maybe we should link up :-)

  • Ketira

    Will this work in CS? This is what I have, and I don’t have the cash to upgrade right now.

  • developar

    Thanks, great post.

    Keep it up & welcome to SitePoint ;)

  • agentolivia

    Thank you SO much for the bit about the magnetic lasso. I watched someone use that years ago (maybe it was called something different then, no idea) and it’s been one of those curious mysteries floating in the back of my head that comes out to taunt me every time I’d really like to use it. Loving these tutorials. Thank you!

  • williamb

    Please keep these tutorials coming, they are exactly what I have been looking for. Short and to the point with an explaination of the function of the tool. A lot of tutorials assume a certain level of knowledge and don’t even go into explaining what each tool does, so this is nice. Thanks.

  • Hi guys, thanks for taking the time to comment. Really pleased you’re enjoying the tutorials.

    @Peach – yes the pen tool is superb. I’m going to do a series on it in a few weeks time and will start from scratch for people who haven’t used it before.

  • Hi Ketira,
    You should be able to do all of the stuff I’m covering on Selections using CS, EXCEPT for the Quick Selection, which only came about in CS3.

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