Frightday Fundamentals: Mastering Elliptical Alchemy for Savvy Shapes and Selections

Wait, Halloween is over, you say? Friday is over, too? Well, I don’t care. Despite having originally crafted this review of how the ellipse tools work in Photoshop before Halloween (and thus before Friday), while I was hauling across Wyoming in the middle of the night and diving in a crater in Utah to get my scuba certification, I was also simultaneously coming up with a reason that the post-Halloween era is even more frightening. Because that’s just the kind of renaissance woman that I am.

So, I bring you my slightly spooky review of how the ellipse tools (the Ellipse tool proper that makes a shape or the Elliptical Marquee that makes a selection) work when you hold down various keys while you’re dragging with it. I bring you:

What follows are some, uh, Thanksgiving-themed illustrations that demonstrate how to use the Elliptical Marquee to select much more than a circle, without ever using anything but an ellipse.

For example, with the elliptical marquee in hand, you can drag out an ellipse of any proportion. Hold down the Shift key to create a perfect circle. Hold down the Alt key to make the point where you start dragging the center of your shape. Note that for this simple selection, the cursor is just a standard crosshair.

Once you have one selection, you can add another to it by holding down the Shift key when you draw your next shape. You’ll know you’re adding to your original selection because the cursor has a plus sign on board.

You can subtract a new elliptical area from your existing selection by holding down the Alt key when you make the new selection. (Here I also added the shift to make the pupil of my creatures eye a perfect circle.) Note that my cursor informs me that I’m going to be subtracting by wearing a minus sign next to the crosshair.

Finally, and this is extremely useful, you can find the intersection of two selected marquees (and make that the new selection upon release) by holding down both the Shift and Alt (Option) key as you drag the new shape. This is actually a great way to select human eyes, because they are often very close to that irregular almond shape I’ve created below.

These various means of magically controlling your ellipses can also be controlled from the options bar, where you’ll see cryptic icons designed to indicate to you how your elliptical tool is going to behave. But, a) did I mention they were cryptic? And b) by mastering the modifier keys, you’ll be able to make all this alchemy happen on the fly.

Adding more ellipses can further embellish the eyes, without ever having to resort to the pen tool, the various lassos, or any other implement I may not have thought of. And before you go complaining that it would have been nice to see these jack-o-lantern eye treatments before Halloween, let me explain. These are not pumpkins, my friend. These are the frightened eyes of some very nervous cartoon turkeys, hiding in the dark until December.

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