Photoshop Tips: Selecting with Quick Mask

Jason Mayoff 09-03-2009

using quick mask in photoshopI have always found that one of the toughest parts about working in Photoshop is selecting parts of an image for deletion or enhancement. When I first started using Photoshop many years ago, I thought the only way to accurately make complicated selections, ones that aren’t simple rectangles or ovals, was to use the polygonal lasso tool. If you’ve ever done this, then you know it can sometimes get very tedious.


An easier way to make a selection is by using Quick Mask in Photoshop.

With an image file open, you enter Quick Mask mode by clicking the Quick Mask button near the bottom of your tools pallette, or by hitting ‘q’ on your keyboard. It will appear that nothing has happened, but you will have in fact been magically transported into the rose-coloured world of the Quick Mask.

select part of image photoshop

The simplest and easiest way to start working in this mode is to choose a brush, set your foreground color to black and start painting away. You will immediately notice that as you paint, even though your foreground colour is set to black, everything you brush over will come out reddish. Don’t worry. You want this to happen.

Photoshop Tips: Selecting with Quick Mask qm1


Photoshop Tips: Selecting with Quick Mask qm2

To use an analogy, when you are painting a room, you use masking tape to cover all the bits you don’t want to get covered in your lovely shade of eggshell mocha. Well, that’s the same thing you’re doing here in Quick Mask. Everything you cover with your reddish “masking tape” will be protected from whatever it is you’re going to do with the image. The idea is that Photoshop will “select” everything except what you have painted in red.

Once you’ve painted over all the places you want “protected”, simply click the Quick Mask button again, or type ‘q’ on your keyboard. Everything except what you just painted over will be encircled by marching ants indicating it’s been selected.

Photoshop Tips: Selecting with Quick Mask qm3


If this is what you want, then just move on from here, deleting or enhancing the selected area. Otherwise, you can go back into Quick Mask mode again and make adjustments to your mask.

What if you want to enhance, delete or otherwise change the area you painted over, rather than have that area masked? Easy as pie. Once you’re out of Quick Mask mode, select the inverse of what is currently selected by choosing Select->Inverse in the menus or hitting the CTRL-Shift-I keyboard shortcut or ⌘-Shift-I on a Mac. (That’s the letter that comes after H, not the number 1)

Here are a few tips:

  • Painting with black as your foreground colour applies the mask to an area
  • Painting with white erases mask from an area
  • You can use other tools (eg: gradient) to create a mask
  • Try changing the hardness of a brush when creating a mask

There are lots of other ways to select stuff in Photoshop. Each has its own uses. I’ll explore some of them in future articles.


What’s your go-to method for selecting stuff? The one you always try first. Is it one of the lasso tools? Color range?

Related topics: Adobe Photoshop, Image Editor.

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  1. Travis
    October 2, 2016 at 11:33 am

    Great informative article. happy I found it, thanks!

  2. photoshop masking
    November 1, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    Great tricks. Thanks for sharing.

  3. more photoshop
    April 17, 2009 at 7:24 pm

    Nice trick with Quick Mask, thanks!
    For me it was unhelpful tool...

  4. Brochures
    March 31, 2009 at 12:57 am

    I don't really use the mask tool much, but with this tutorial, I think I'll be able to use it more. Thanks for sharing this! Great job!

  5. Rob Walley
    March 10, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    When I started, I used the lasso tool for years. I tried quick mask for a while before someone suggested using the pen tool. The pen tool works much like the lasso but you have a great deal more control over the entire image and a quick feather of "1" after you make the selection really smooths things out. I'd love to hear other methods of making selections.

    • werd
      October 27, 2009 at 9:22 am

      the pen tool is a great way to make precise selections using paths.

      you will want to zoom in pretty close to be sure you are using the pen tool precisely enough. This can take a LITTLE longer to select around your entire object, BUT the precision is amazing.