Inverse selections in Photoshop – Easily select complex objects

In Photoshop, you’re sometimes faced with the problem of making a complex selection, but none of the available tools gets the job done. The object you’re trying to select may have varying colors and tones and fuzzy edges, making the selection very difficult. In this excerpt from my video course Mask It Like a Pro!, I will show you that there is a surprisingly simple solution in many cases. Instead of trying to select the object itself, it is often much easier to select the background of the object and then invert the selection. You will learn how to use the Color Range tool in combination with the Lasso tool to get this done quickly and easily.


In order to apply this method successfully, the object you’re trying to select should ave a fairly homogeneous background. That is, the colors and tones in the background should be very similar. Moreover, the colors and tones of the background should be sufficiently different from those of the object.

If you have a background that is busy and similar to the object, any selection tool in Photoshop will have a very hard time.

Step 1: Choose the Color Range tool

In order to make a precise selection of the background, choose the Color Range tool (Select > Color Range…). This will display the Color Range dialog that you’ll be using to start building your background selection.


Choose the Color Range tool from the Select menu (1) and use the dialog of this tool (2) to build the selection.

Step 2: Shift-click on the background to build the selection

By holding down the Shift key on your keyboard and repeatedly clicking just outside the edges of your object, you can build a selection of the background step-by-step until the object is nicely separated from the background.

Inverse-selections-step-2-shift-click-to-select-backgroundStep 3: Invert the resulting selection

When you’re finished building the background selection, click the Invert checkbox in the Color Range dialog to turn the selection of the background into a selection of the object. Then click the Ok button.


By clicking Invert (1), you turn the background selection into a selection of the object (2).

Step 4: Elimitnate selected areas elsewhere with the Lasso tool

The Color Range tool only selects areas close to the object. Areas further away will be left out. In the inverted selection, these areas will be selected in addition to the actual object. To remove these areas from the selection, simply grab the Lasso tool in Intersection mode (holding down Shift + Alt [win] / Shift + Opt [mac]), and select the area just outside the object. When you are finished with this selection, Photoshop will intersect the two selections (the one you created with the Color Range tool and the Lasso selection). The result is a clean selection of the object itself, and you’re done.

Use the Lasso tool (1) in Intersection mode and select the general area around the object (2).

Use the Lasso tool (1) in Intersection mode and select the general area around the object (2).


Full video tutorial (excerpt from Mask It Like a Pro!)

Here is the video tutorial that explains this entire process in more detail. Note that it makes some references to other lessons that are also part of my masking course. Details can be found at the end of this article.


The quickest way to create a complex selection in Photoshop is not always the most obvious one. The range of available tools is quite large and the number of ways to use and combine them is huge. In order to master selections and masking – which is one of the key skills in Photoshop – you need solid knowledge about these tools, and you have to think out of the box sometimes. Be inventive and experiment!

If you want to learn everything about layer masking, check out my 6-hour video course Maks It Like a Pro! It comes with 21 lessons and a ton of resources for you to practice – all tightly integrated in a convenient learning environment.

Mask It Like a Pro!

The complete guide to layer masking
in Photoshop CS5 / CS6 & CC

6-hour video course
21 lessons
20+ resources

Have fun!


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