How Do I Select by Color in Adobe Photoshop?

By David Weedmark

Learn the various ways to select a color in Photoshop CC and to modify the selected pixels using the Eydropper, Magic Wand and Color Range.

Things You'll Need

  • Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop provides us with several ways to make selections by color. Let's take an in-depth look at three methods: the Eyedropper Tool, Color Range and the Magic Wand Tool, as well as how to fine-tune and modify color selections.

The Eyedropper Tool

The Eyedropper Tool is useful for selecting a single color from an image and copying it in the Foreground Color swatch. To select a color in an image, click the Eyedropper Tool or the Foreground Color swatch in the Toolbox and then click on the image.

Getting the exact color you want may be difficult in high-definition images, because the individual pixels are often different shades. To get a precise selection, use the Eyedropper Tool rather than the Foreground Color swatch and then click the Show Sampling Ring check box in the Options bar. When you press the mouse button, the ring around the cursor shows you the color that will be selected when you release the mouse.

Color Range

When you want to select all of the pixels of a specific color in an image, use Color Range, available under the Select menu. When the Color Range window is open and you hover the cursor over the image, the cursor changes to the Eyedropper Tool. Click a color and then adjust the Fuzziness slider to specify the selection's tolerance. Whichever colors are selected appear in the preview window.

To add or remove colors from your selection., use the + and - Eyedroppers on the right of the Color Range window. The Localized Color Cluster and Detect Faces option are both good for getting all of the similar pixels in one area.

Color Range has many applications, like changing text colors, changing background colors and breaking an image into layers.

Color Range window

Magic Wand Tool

Using the Magic Wand Tool is the best way to make color selections in specific parts of an image, rather than the entire canvas. It's also good for cleaning up a selection you already made with Color Range.

The Magic Wand Tool is in the Toolbox. If you don't see it, hold the Quick Selection Tool to make the Magic Wand Tool visible. Select Point Sample from the Option bar's Sample Size menu. Click or drag the tool over the color you want. Increase the Tolerance in the Options bar if it's not selecting enough colors in its range. Decrease the Tolerance if it's selecting too many similar colors.

On the left side of the Options bar, you'll see four square icons. Use these to:
  • make a single selection,
  • add to a selection
  • subtract from a selection
  • intersect with a selection

Magic Wand Tool selection on a butterfly photo

Fine-Tuning Selections

After making a color selection, the Select menu gives you options for modifying the selected area. The most useful for color selections are the Grow and Similar.

Grow lets you expand the selection to similarly-colored surrounding pixels. Similar selects additional pixels throughout the image, much the same as Color Select. Use either of these options as many times as needed. Note that they won't work on images in Bitmap Mode or images that are 32-bits-per-channel.

Click Modify under the Select menu to see additional selection options. These won't select or deselect pixels solely based on color, however they are helpful for modifying the selected area's shape. In each of these options, you can specify the radius in pixels used to modify the selection. These are:

  • Border: to select only the  border of the selected area
  • Smooth: to smooth out irregular-shaped selections
  • Expand: to increase the selection areas
  • Contract: to reduce the selection areas.
  • Feather: to feather out the selection edges

Select Menu options

References & Resources