How to Use the Magic Wand in Adobe Photoshop

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In Brief...

Photoshop's Magic Wand Tool makes selections based on color similarities.

This feature works the same in all recent versions of Adobe Photoshop: CS5, CS6, and Creative Cloud (CC).

Instructions

To use the Magic Wand Tool Magic Wand Tool:

  1. Go to File > Open and navigate to an image. In this example, we will use an image of an eagle with a blue sky background.

  2. Go to File > Save As and rename the file. This is a practical way to make sure you keep an original copy of the image.
    Image of Eagle

  3. Go to the Toolbar, click and hold on the Quick Selection Tool, and select the Magic Wand Tool.
    Quick Selection and Magic Wand Tools

  4. Click and release on the area you want to select. In this case, we have clicked on the blue sky above the eagle. Most of the sky will be selected, but there may be an area that isn't if there is a gradient in color there.

  5. Hold down the Shift key and then click on any area that was left unselected. Notice that while the Shift key is held down, a small plus sign appears next to the cursor indicating that you will be adding to the selection. The Alt (PC)/Option (Mac) key would produce a minus sign in the cursor, allowing you to subtract from a selection.

  6. Go to the Select menu and choose Inverse to flip-flop the selected area, so now the object in your image (in this case the eagle) is selected. Inversing is a useful technique for isolating an image area that is against a solid, uniform background color.

  7. Zoom in on the object and then go to the Filter > Sharpen menu and select Unsharp Mask.
    Filter Menu to Unsharp Mask

  8. In the Unsharp Mask dialog box, enter 200 in the Amount field, and 20 in the Threshold field. This will increase the detail in the image by accentuating the highlight and shadow. You can adjust these numbers to suit your image. Toggle the Preview on and off to see the difference. Click OK.
    Unsharp Mask Dialog Box

Author: Tracy Berry

Tracy has been a senior graphic designer/programmer, instructor, and consultant since 1993 and has developed hundreds of logos, marketing materials, websites, and multimedia solutions for customers worldwide, including involvement in large corporate software rollouts. She has helped many organizations optimize and streamline data solutions. She teaches both onsite and online courses and has her CTT (Certified Technical Trainer) certification. Tracy specializes in teaching graphics, desktop publishing, web design, reporting/productivity applications, as well as the creation of online courses with software from leading vendors.

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