In the world of image editing, Photoshop enjoys the honor of being the only app whose name has become a verb – to Photoshop a picture means to edit it, regardless of whether or not you’re actually using Photoshop.
Surprisingly enough, the same can be said of Photoshop’s famous Magic Wand tool, because many users look for the Magic Wand tool in other image editors.
In GIMP, the Magic Wand tool is called the Fuzzy Select tool, even though the icon is still supposed to represent a magic wand. You can activate the Fuzzy Select tool using the Toolbox panel as shown below, or you can press the keyboard shortcut U.
While it doesn’t share the same name, the Fuzzy Select tool in GIMP does exactly the same thing as the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop.
How to Use the Fuzzy Select Tool in GIMP
Once you’ve got the Fuzzy Select tool activated, it’s a good idea to take a look at the Tool Options panel before you get started with your selection.
The Tool Options panel is located directly below the Toolbox on the left side of the GIMP interface, and it displays any customizable settings that affect how the tool operates.
These settings can have a huge impact on how your selection is made, but sometimes choosing the right settings for your image feels more like an art than a science, so a bit of practice and experimentation goes a long way.
The Mode setting controls how your new selection will affect any existing selections. The default mode is Replace the current selection, but you can also set it to Add to an current selection, Subtract from the current selection, or Intersect with the current selection.
Most of the time, these mode setting buttons aren’t used, because you can hold down the Shift key to add, the Ctrl key to subtract, and Shift + Ctrl to intersect, and keyboard shortcuts are always faster once you learn the keys.
Antialiasing smooths any diagonal lines on the edges of the selected area, and it’s usually a good idea to leave this setting enabled unless you’re working on pixel art or something equally precise.
Feather edges gently fades out the edges of the selection instead of creating the usual precise selection boundary. The Radius setting determines the size of the fade effect in pixels. Note that the Radius option only becomes visible after enabling the Feather edges setting.
Select transparent areas is fairly self-explanatory – it specifies whether GIMP should include transparent pixels in the selection or not.
Sample merged determines whether GIMP will consider all the pixel layers in your document or just the currently active layer when creating the new selection.
Diagonal neighbors is a bit more complicated, but fortunately, the developers have included two handy diagrams in the official documentation, as you can see below.
This setting controls where GIMP will look for matching pixels when creating a contiguous selection based on color. It’s most useful when working with 8-bit or pixel art projects that don’t use antialiasing by design.
The Threshold setting is the most important factor in how your selection will be created. If you set the Threshold to 0, GIMP will only select pixels that exactly match the color of the first pixel you clicked on.
Increasing the Threshold setting will increase the acceptable color variations for that selection. If you set the Threshold to the maximum of 255, you’ll select every pixel in your image.
The default Threshold setting is 15, but if you’re used to working with Photoshop, you may find it more familiar to use a setting of 30 or 40. You may have to experiment a bit to find the optimal setting. Just remember not to set the Threshold too high!
If you can’t settle on a good Threshold setting, you can click and drag your cursor on top of your image to automatically adjust the setting. As you move your cursor, you’ll see the potential outline of your selection adjust as it tries to encompass the areas that you place the cursor over.
You can also combine this technique with the Draw Mask option, which will display a pink overlay indicating which areas will be selected when you release the mouse button.
If you want to get fancy with your selection, you can use the Select By dropdown menu to choose a specific color channel or color mode to use. Most of the time, these options are unnecessary, and you can leave it at the default setting Composite.
You can get some interesting results by using the other color channels, but by the time you’re ready to use them intentionally, you’ll be too knowledgeable for this tutorial 😉
Why Can’t I See My Selection in GIMP?
If you’re unable to see the selection marquees around the selections that you make with the Fuzzy Select tool, it’s possible that you accidentally turned off the Show Selection setting accidentally.
To toggle visible selection borders on and off, you can press the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + T (use Command + T on a Mac). Because it’s right beside the Y key, I sometimes toggle this by accident when I’m in a hurry. Ctrl + Y is the keyboard shortcut for the Redo command so it gets a lot of usages, and mistakes happen.
You can also open the View menu and check the Show Selection setting.
A Final Word
Now you know why you haven’t been able to find the Magic Wand tool in GIMP! The Fuzzy Select tool does exactly the same thing as the Magic Wand tool, but I think the GIMP developers were trying to distance themselves from being called a Photoshop clone/competitor when they renamed the tool. Say what you will about Adobe, but they do have powerful branding.
Happy selecting!About Thomas Boldt