Using Shift and Alt like a pro

The roles of the Shift and Alt keys in adding, subtracting, and intersecting selection outlines can interfere with your ability to take advantage of other functions of the selection tools. For example, when no portion of an image is selected, you can Shift-drag with the rectangular marquee tool to draw a square. But after a selection is active, Shift-dragging adds a rectangle — not a square — to the selection outline.

I[J This is one reason why Adobe added the selection state buttons to the Options bar.

After you click a button, the tool adds, subtracts, or intersects, with no additional key presses on your part, depending on which button you click. But if you want to hide the Options bar or you just prefer pressing keys to clicking buttons, you can control the selection tools from the keyboard without giving up any selection flexibility.

The trick is to learn when to press Shift and Alt. Sometimes you have to press the key before you begin your drag; other times you must press the key after you begin the drag but before you release. For example, to add a square to a selection outline, Shift-drag, release Shift while keeping the mouse button pressed, and press Shift again to snap the rectangle to a square. The same goes for adding a circle with the elliptical marquee tool.

The following list introduces you to a few other techniques. They sound pretty elaborate, I admit, but with a little practice, they become second nature (so does tightrope walking, but don't let that worry you). Before you try any of them, be sure to select Normal from the Style pop-up menu on the Options bar.

♦ To subtract a square or a circle from a selection, Alt-drag, release Alt, press Shift, drag until you get it right, release the mouse button, and then release Shift.

♦ To add a rectangle or an ellipse by drawing from the center outward, Shift-drag, release Shift, press Alt, and hold Alt until after you release the mouse button. You can even press the spacebar during the drag to move the marquee around, if you like.

♦ To subtract a marquee drawn from the center outward, Alt-drag, release Alt, press Alt again, and hold the key down until after you release.

♦ What about drawing a straight-sided selection with the lasso tool? To add a straight-sided area to an existing selection, Shift-drag with the tool for a short distance. With the mouse button still down, release Shift and press Alt. Then click around as you normally would, while keeping the Alt key down.

* To subtract a straight-sided area, Alt-drag with the lasso, release Alt, press Alt again, and click around with the tool.

If you can't manage the last two lasso-tool techniques, switch to the polygonal lasso instead. In fact, the reason Adobe provided the polygonal lasso tool was to accommodate folks who don't want to deal with pressing Alt seven times during a single drag (which I strangely quite enjoy).

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