Reference Layer for Magic Wand Tool

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  • Updated 9 months ago
In Photoshop, for the Magic Wand Tool, I would like to be able to set a reference layer. So, when using the magic wand tool, I would like for it to use the pixels on a specific layer, even if that layer is not selected.

This comes in handy when flatting comic books. For example, there are three layers:

  • The top layer is the black inks. (Set to Multiply mode so the paper/white area is transparent and the black inks remain.)
  • The middle layer would be used for painting the objects, characters (highlights, lighting, etc.) 
  • The bottom layer would be used for flats. These are objects that are selected and given a specific flat color for easy selection.


The problem is that every time we want to paint an object on the middle layer, we have to switch to the bottom layer, use the magic wand tool to make a selection, then switch back to the middle layer, switch to the brush and start painting.  It would be so much faster if we never had to switch layers to accomplish this. Instead, set the magic wand tool to reference the bottom flats layer so we can select the area of the flats, use the keyboard shortcut for the paint brush and start painting.  Moving the cursor over to the bottom flats layer, back to the art to make the selection, back to the middle layer, back to the art to paint is so time consuming.

Thanks for listening.
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Chet Kenisell

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Posted 9 months ago

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Max Johnson, Champion

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While you wait on this possible feature, may I suggest a workaround in the interim?
I noticed you have your flat layer named "FLATS"... if that's consistent between files, you can record an action to toggle that to be the only visible layer and back again, then bind the action to one of the F# keys! Then you set your magic wand to "sample all layers" and you are kiiinda closer to what you were shooting for.

1. Window -> Actions
2. click new action button at the bottom, name it "Toggle FLAT" and change the "Function Key" to something like Shift-F11...
3. Hit "Record"
4. Hold alt(opt) and click the eyeball on the "FLAT" layer in the layers panel
5. Click the stop (square) button in the actions panel to stop recording.

Now try playing the action or hitting that hotkey and you'll see that it toggles between isolating the "FLAT" layer visible and back to the view you had before without changing which layer is actually currently selected. Now if you have the magic wand tool set to "Sample All Layers" it only *sees* the FLAT layer.

Not perfect, but a hotkey toggle should be worlds easier for your workflow than lots of mouse clicks...
Hope that helps!


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Chet Kenisell

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Love it. Thanks for the workaround!
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Mark Payne

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I've gotten so used to the "magic wand layer switch" I've never even thought of a feature to get around it.

Unfortunately my layers can be named anything, so the above workaround would not work. This also depends on whether or not you can actually "see" the layer you want to select from ie. top layer might be a solid color.

I do like the idea however. How would you go about implementing specifying which layer for the magic wand to react to? Right click contextual menu?
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Max Johnson, Champion

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My method toggles on/off the visibility of ALL layers but the one you are isolating. So it won't matter what's above it.

Fun fact, if you follow my steps above, but while you have the layer you toggle selected, it does a "selected layer" instead of the name of the layer... combine that with the fact that you can record directional layer selection changes with alt(opt) - brackets ("[" and "]"), and you can make an action that will:

1. Jump selected layer down one layer
2. Toggle the isolate mode
3. Jump back up one layer

So that relies on layer order instead of layer name... still not perfect, but another way to imperfectly skin a cat.
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Mark Payne

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This is very interesting! I'll have to wrap my head around this and try to set it up.

Nice one. Thanks!
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Chet Kenisell

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Mark, see the attached mock-up of the implementation I had in mind.