How to Use Lasso Tool in Photoshop

Yeehaw! Time to round up some selections in Photoshop!

The Lasso tool is handy for quickly making rough selections to grab elements in an image. But how do you use it? When should you use it?

Hello! I’m Cara, a photographer, and Photoshop user. Grab your cowboy hat and come along with me as we learn how to use this handy tool.

When and How to Use the Lasso Tools

There are three types of lasso tools and each works best in a specific circumstance. Let’s look at when.

Freehand Lasso Tool

The Lasso tool allows you to draw freehand when making a selection in Photoshop. It is perfect for when you need to quickly grab a selection and accuracy is not a high priority. 

For example, let’s say I wanted to duplicate the flower in this image. A tight selection around the flower isn’t necessary. In fact, it would create more work for me to recreate the shadows. 

To make a selection with the Lasso tool, open it from the toolbox on the left side of your screen. Note that the icon looks similar to a cowboy’s lasso rope. We’ll work with the freehand version for now.

With the tool active, simply click on your image and begin dragging your mouse to make a selection. Make sure to always loop around and close the selection where you began. Photoshop closes the selection in a straight line if you don’t. 

There it is. This selection took me less than 10 seconds. Now I can simply copy and drop the duplicated flower next to the original one. 

Boom!

On a touchpad or even with a mouse, it can be difficult to make precise lasso selections. However, if you have a steady hand and are working with a tablet and pen, this can be a handy tool even for more complicated selections. Otherwise, we have the other two types. 

Polygonal Lasso Tool

Instead of following your cursor exactly, the polygonal lasso tool creates straight lines between mouse clicks. Just click on a starting point, then click at another point along the path and a straight line will appear. 

This tool is perfect for cutting out objects with straight lines, like a building or toy blocks. 

Magnetic Lasso Tool

The magnetic lasso tool gets a little more precise. Click and drag close to the edge of your subject. 

As you move through the image, the magnetic lasso will “stick” to the subject. This works best when there is a lot of contrast between the subject and the background.

The selection isn’t perfect, but for a quick trip around the flower, it didn’t do too bad. With just a few more clicks, I can clean up the mistakes.

Clean Up Lasso Mistakes

You can’t fix mistakes en route, so keep going until you finish the selection, then you can go back and clean up. To add to the selection, hold down the Shift key. You’ll notice a tiny plus sign appear next to the cursor. Drag around the area you want to include. 

To remove parts of the selection, hold the ALT or OPT (Mac). You’ll see a tiny minus sign appear. Again, drag around the areas you want to remove. 

If you make a mistake as you’re creating the selection and want to start over, simply hit the ESC key to delete the whole thing. 

Settings for the Lasso Tool

There are a couple of settings in the options bar at the top that can be helpful when using the lasso tool. 

Feather

For all the lasso tools, setting the feather at 0px creates a hard line. Raising this number will create a soft, blurred-out edge. 

Width

Width is important for the magnetic lasso. The width dictates how close you have to be to the edge for the program to find it. 

A larger width means you don’t have to follow the edge as closely. But it also might pick up other elements in the image that you don’t want. You can adjust the width by pressing the bracket keys [ for smaller and ] for larger. 

You can see the size by pressing the caps lock key. The cursor will turn into a circle showing the width. 

Contrast

Photoshop finds the edge of the object by looking for contrast. The default contrast setting is set low at 10%. For high contrast selections, you can bump it up to ensure the program only grabs the high contrast edges. 

Frequency

Frequency is how many anchor points the tool drops as you go. For more complicated selections, raising this number can make it easier. 

That’s it for today! 

Curious to learn more about working with selections? Check out more of our helpful posts like this one on how to deselect in Photoshop!

About Cara Koch
Cara fell in love with photography circa 2014 and has been exploring all corners of the imagery world ever since. When she felt limited by Lightroom, she dove headfirst into Photoshop to learn how to create the images she wanted.

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