Magic tricks

Photoshop’s image editing heritage can be a blessing and a curse. Photoshop can concurrently hold a layer selection, vector selection and bitmap selection. That ability is confusing, but it does let you use bitmap selections to manipulate layers and groups.

And, bitmap selections can be created with the magic wand tool. Those selections can then be used to center layers and groups.

(The center in selection action shown above automates the Layer → Align Layers to Selection → Horizontal Centers and Horizontal Centers menu commands.)

Here’s a faster workflow, using ⌘-right click to select the layers, and triggering the action from a function key.

Using smart guides to drag the layers into place would probably be about as fast, but I always feel like I fight smart guides, so I usually disable them.

The magic wand tool also works with screenshots, which is a nice plus if you’re quickly mocking up some improvements to an existing design and want to work with images from a running app.

Magic wand settings

If you’re selecting solid colour areas, you’ll probably want a low tolerance and no anti-aliasing. Tolerance can be increased a little if you’re selecting gradient filled areas, but anti-aliasing should usually be disabled for this use.

Creating slices

The magic wand tool excels at creating slices. I frequently map out regions I need for slices with vector layers, where duplicating, transforming and other manipulation is easier, then I’ll select the regions with the magic wand and run the make slice from selection action.

Pixel counting

In conjunction with the histogram panel, the magic wand can also be used to count the number of pixels in a selection. The number of pixels in the selection can help measure the area of a glyph, giving a value to the visual weight. It’s not the only way to measure visual weight, but it can more accurate than guessing the correct scale. Please note that the histogram panel will need to be in the expanded view to see the pixel count.

The square, circle and heart shapes below all have a similar area. For this example, I enabled anti-aliasing for the magic wand selection.

This is all a hack, but as hacks go, it’s alright.

Published 10 February 2016.