lasso tool in adobe photoshop

Lasso Tool in Photoshop

Daniel Scott


Hi, everyone!

It’s cowboy time in Photoshop! In this post we’re going to learn how to use the quick and easy Lasso Tool to wrangle up some awesome selections and edit our images like a Pro! We’ll go through the Lasso Tool’s three variations, see how they work by themselves and how to combine them together to speed up our work – and as a bonus, I’ll be sharing some cool shortcuts to get the most out of this feature.

This post is based on one of my Photoshop Essentials classes, available at Bring Your Own Laptop, make sure to check them out after this – or you can do it right now and then come back. Either way is fun!

For those who stayed and those who came back a little while later, are you ready?

Let’s rodeo!

(No animals were harmed in the making of this post)

The Lasso Trio

From the top! The Lasso tool is a selection tool that favors speed over precision. If you are working with hair, low contrast colors or look for surgically defined selections, you will find other options in your Photoshop toolbox. If you want to act fast and a rough selection will do, the Lasso Trio are your new best friends!

You can find the Lasso tool in your left Toolbar; it’s identified with an easy to remember… lasso icon. You know I love shortcuts, so I usually go for the “L” key on my keyboard to activate it.

You’ll find three different features in this Tool:

  1. Lasso
  2. Polygonal Lasso
  3. Magnetic Lasso
Image with infographic artwork elements and the basic, polygonal and magnetic lasso tools highlighted in the toolbar in adobe photoshop

The Lasso Tool and its variations can be found on the left toolbar.

You can click and hold with your mouse over the lasso icon to pick these one by one. You can also use the shortcut Shift + L (on both Mac and PC) to cycle through them. As a tip, the shortcut “Shift +” works for all tools that have the same keyboard shortcut, such as the Marquee (M), Selection (W) or Brush (B). Try them out, it’s great!

Let’s have a look at them one by one in the following step-by-step guides.

Lasso Tool – Quick selecting image elements

Quick and easy. The Lasso tool basic feature allows you to draw freehand shapes to create your selection. You can use it to pick an element from an image, over basic shapes, or when you’re working with Generative Fill and you simply want to show Photoshop the part of the image you want to modify. You can check out my blog post on Generative Fill to know more about this game changing technology.

Let’s have a look at this example below. We want to select one of these graphics and duplicate it on our canvas super-fast, there’s a deadline coming up and we need to finish this in less than a minute.

Let’s hit the “L” on our keyboards or pick the Lasso tool from our left Toolbar.

As a footnote, be sure to have “New selection” active when you start ) it’s that first filled square on your tool options bar. Keeping or setting the “Feather” value to zero, will make your selection sharp and accurate. “Anti-alias” should be active to avoid jagged edges. We won’t look at “Select and Mask”, it’s best for perfecting selections down to the detail and that’s not our context, right now.

highlighted tool options bar for the lasso tool in adobe photoshop

Your Tool Options bar displays additional settings for your Lasso tool.

All we must do is draw a shape around our graphic, it doesn’t have to be perfect, remember we are working on Turbo mode. You don’t even have to do it all the way, Photoshop will know how to close the selection.

highlighted freehand selection with basic lasso tool around a chat icon in adobe photoshop

Draw your freehand selection with the Lasso tool around the object.

Now we simply copy and paste our selection, adjust its position until it’s all nice and balanced and it’s done!

highlighted duplicated chat icons in adobe photoshop

The graphic is now duplicated, featuring in its own layer.

Now here’s a cool thing: let’s say that our hands slipped and we missed some bits of our graphic while drawing the selection. How do we fix it? Do it all over again? Of course not! Photoshop allows us to expand or reduce parts of our selection area to better fit our elements. And there are cool keyboard shortcuts for that.

arrows pointing to inaccurate lasso tool freehand selections around a chat icon in adobe photoshop

The object selection with the Lasso Tool isn’t accurate, some parts were left outside the selection area.

With our Lasso Tool selected, we can hold the Shift key to expand our selection and include those bits left out. Once again, draw a rough shape starting and finishing inside the selection area, you don’t have to close that shape.

highlighted expanding of a selection area around a chat icon in adobe photoshop

The Lasso Tool makes it possible for you to expand your selection area.

We can also hold the Alt key on a PC, Option on a Mac, to reduce our selection and remove that empty gap on the right. In this one, we must close our freehand shape or Photoshop will split the selection area and won’t make the unwanted part disappear.

highlighted removal of part of a freehand selection area around a chat icon in adobe photoshop

The Lasso Tool also allows you to remove unwanted parts from your selection.

Timeout #1

Right now you are probably thinking: “why are these selection tools so important in Photoshop?” and “how can I use these skills other than copying and pasting stuff”? Well. check out this photography article on compositing and get ready to be amazed!

Polygonal Lasso Tool – Straight and sharp.

This one is great for straight and sharp edges; it won’t do curves and smooth waves. Let’s select that arrow shaped graphic and duplicate it. Let’s pick the Polygonal Lasso Tool from our left toolbar or hit the shortcut Shift + L.

highlighted polygonal lasso tool and iconography arrow shaped artwork in adobe photoshop

The Polygonal Lasso Tool is featured on your left toolbar and is perfect for straight edges.

We won’t be drawing our selection, this time. We’ll click our left mouse button to set anchor points and straight lines all around our graphic. We can draw over the graphic’s edges or leave a small gap with the background color, choosing what is best for your project. I’ve left that small gap on the image below for you to have a better feel on how the selection works.

highlighted geometric path around iconography arrow shaped element in adobe photoshop

The Polygonal Lasso Tool delivers a straight selection with a few simple clicks.

With your selection area defined you can copy and duplicate your graphic in less than 60 seconds. This is a great workflow!

highlighted selection area around iconography arrow shaped artwork in adobe photoshop

With your selection complete you can now edit your graphic.

Magnetic Lasso Tool – We stick together like glue.

The last variation of the Lasso Tool is perfect for more complex selections. You must use it when freehand drawing isn’t an option and you have more than straight lines and edges to work with. Oh, and it sticks to the object or subject you are selecting. Awesome! Let’s have a look at how it works, once again with one of our graphics.

Let’s pick the Magnetic Lasso Tool from the left toolbar or smash that Shift + L shortcut. This variation has additional settings we can explore in the tool options bar.

highlighted magnetic lasso tool in toolbar and selection path around camera lens artwork in adobe photoshop

Adjusting your Tool Options settings will adapt the Magnetic Lasso to the object and allow for best results.

As before, make sure that the “New selection” square is active at the start, if “Feather” is set to zero you’ll have a sharp selection from what you define with the tool, Anti-aliasing should always be active as well and here’s what’s different:

Width: this option defines the tool’s brush size. Its center will guide our selection, there’s something like a target sign, a “+” sign, that helps us keep it in contact with the object. Adjust the width to the edge’s size for better accuracy – if it’s too small or too big we lose precision.

Contrast: Photoshop reads lightness and hue in pixels, right? By adjusting contrast, we are telling Photoshop how light and color variations identify an object’s edge. This is very helpful when your source image doesn’t have good color or exposure contrast to begin with and your subject doesn’t stand out from the background.

Frequency: This setting defines how many anchor points will be created in the selection’s path. A higher value of anchor points will help if we’re working with uneven shapes with lots of irregular corners (something like clockwork gears or a jagged leaf).

I’m afraid we can’t tackle all these settings and skills in this post, but you can always sign up for my Photoshop Advanced Course at Bring Your Own Laptop and find all the tutorials and projects to satisfy all your learning desires! Don’t miss it!

Let’s select this Camera Lens graphic by clicking and dragging. See how the path sticks to the object and all the anchor points defining its shape. It’s incredible and it delivers pretty accurate selections in seconds!

highlighted path lines and anchor points around camera lens artwork in adobe photoshop

The Magnetic Lasso Tool sticks to the graphics edges as you draw your selection.

If along the way we let the mouse (or digital pen) slip and the anchor points get placed outside the object’s edges we won’t have to start all over again. Simply hit the delete key until we are back at the last anchor point correctly placed and then continue our selection.

highlighted selection path around camera lens artwork in adobe photoshop

With the delete key we can go back to previous anchor points and restart drawing the selection from there.

Our selection is done, we can now copy and paste it and we have a new later to work with. And it happened in no time!

Timeout #2

Struggling to come up with awesome compositions and layouts? Take a few minutes to learn more about the Elements of a Photograph. Being aware of how lines, shapes, forms, textures, colors, size, or depth come together inside an image will absolutely transform your composition skills. Check them out, grab your notebook for this one!

All for one and one for all!

Another cool thing you can do with the Lasso Tool and its siblings:

Let’s say you have an object with a few irregular shapes and a few sharp corners and straight lines, you can combine the Basic, Polygonal and Magnetic Lassos to come up with the most perfect – and still fast – selection.

Let’s check it out below and learn some more cool shortcuts! We’ll duplicate that vest with some awesome Photoshop teamwork! We begin with the Magnetic Lasso and start creating our selection.

highlighted anchor point on artwork edge in adobe photoshop

Begin your selections with the Magnetic Lasso for a quick and easy process.

Now we have a straight line ahead, so we’ll hold the Option key on a Mac, or Alt on a PC, click with on the edge and drag all the way down to the point where it begins to curve again. Click again to fix another anchor point and Photoshop will automatically switch back to the Magnetic Lasso.

highlighted selection line dragged around artwork edge in adobe photoshop

You can switch from the Magnetic Lasso to the Polygonal Lasso with a quick shortcut.

Now that we have some more smooth edges and we are feeling confident, we’ll continue our selection with the basic lasso tool. To do this, we press and hold the Alt key on a PC or Option key on a Mac, click and hold the left mouse button and drag to freehand draw your selection.

highlighted curved selection detail around artwork edge in adobe photoshop

Combining all the Lasso tool variations while drawing a selection is perfect for elements with different edge styles.

Isn’t this great?

So, remember, even though Photoshop has other selection tools, the Lasso tool can be very helpful when you are working with complex textures, lots of different elements on a single canvas or when resolution isn’t the best for those automatic quick selections. The Lasso variations add that extra flexibility that allows you to adapt the way you draw your selection to the subject you are working with and the contrast and colors the document displays.

What’s Next?

Hope this post helped you learn some more details about this somehow underrated feature. Join us at Bring Your Own Laptop and learn even more tips and secrets. Become an active member in our community and share your experience with other students! Expand your portfolio with our 30+ courses and dedicated support for just $12 a month* . Of course, cancel anytime (or I’ll do my John Wayne accent).

See you in class! – Dan