STEPS: Making Sense of the Magnetic Lasso Tool

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1. Select an image with very definite contrast between the foreground image and its background. The skull in Figure 8-5 is a good example: a light gray skull against a dark gray background. Here's something that Photoshop can really sink its teeth into.

2. Select the magnetic lasso. If any tool but a lasso tool is active, press L to grab the lasso that's showing in the toolbox. Then press L as necessary to cycle to the magnetic lasso.

3. Click anywhere along the edge of the foreground element. I clicked at the top of the skull, as labeled in Figure 8-5.

4. Move the cursor around the edge of the foreground element. Just move the mouse, don't drag — that is, there's no need to press the mouse button. As your cursor passes over the image, Photoshop lays down a line along the edge of the element, as Figure 8-5 shows. If you don't like the placement of the line, back up the cursor and try moving along the edge again. The magnetic lasso also lays down anchor points at significant locations around the image. If you don't like where the program puts a point, press Backspace. Each time you press Backspace, Photoshop gets rid of the most recent point along the line. To set your own anchor points, just click.

Figure 8-5: After clicking to set the start point (top), I moved the magnetic lasso cursor along the edge of the skull. Then I reversed the completed selection (Ctrl+Shift+I) and pressed Backspace to fill it with white (bottom).

5. When you make it all the way around to the beginning of the shape, click the first point in the outline to close the selection. Or just double-click to close with a straight edge.

As I mentioned before, the magnetic lasso does not perform miracles. It almost never selects an image exactly the way you would like it to. After moving the cursor around the skull, I reversed the selection by choosing Select ^ Inverse (Ctrl+Shift+I) and then I pressed Backspace to fill the background with white. The result appears in the second example in Figure 8-5. As you can see, the magnetic lasso did a very nice job of isolating the skull — much better than I could have done with the lasso alone — but the selection isn't perfect. Notice the gap on the right side of the skull and the clumsy treatment of the tip of the pointy lower jaw on left. Okay, no automated selection tool is perfect, but the magnetic lasso makes as few mistakes as any I've seen.

Tip To create a straight segment while working with the magnetic lasso tool, press Alt, click to set the start of the segment, and click again at the end point. The next time * you click without holding down Alt, the tool reverts to its normal magnetic self.

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