Illustrator Basics: Using the Magic Wand Tool

When it comes to selecting objects in Adobe Illustrator, you have several different ways to approach this task. Whether you’re a “drag across all objects” kind of guy, or a “shift-click to select each item” sort of gal, the point is that many roads will lead you to your destination. One technique I use—once I remind myself that it exists—is employing the Magic Wand tool. With “magic” in the name, I don’t know why I often forget about it. It’s a great option for me, because I have the bad habit of accidentally assigning two very similar colors to objects. As a result, I’ll have objects that are all red, but not the same red. If you’re one of those people, the Magic Wand tool might be your new best friend!

Magic Wand Tool Basics

Illustrator’s Magic Wand tool is found in the Tools panel, just below the Selection tool. To set the options for using the tool, either double-click it in the panel, or choose Magic Wand from the Window menu.

In the Magic Wand panel, you indicate which attributes need to be similar for the Magic Wand to select multiple items. Your options include: Fill Color, Stroke Color, Stroke Weight, Opacity, and Blending Mode. Select as many of the attributes you want to match by clicking each checkbox. If you don’t see all of these options, you might need to toggle them on by using the panel’s menu.

Setting a tolerance value higher will include more items in the Magic Wand selection.

Setting a tolerance value higher will include more items in the Magic Wand selection.

Where the Magic Wand really shines—and where it differs from the Select > Same operation—is the tolerance levels you can set for each attribute. If, for instance, you select Fill Color, you can also select a tolerance level based on pixels. If you select a red object with a tolerance of 40, you may end up with not only varying shades of red, but also oranges or dark yellows. Choosing Stroke Width lets you set a tolerance of a set number of points, and the Opacity tolerance is set by percentage. A larger tolerance value will tend to give you a larger number of items selected when you use the Magic Wand.

With a tolerance value of 10%, selecting the star with 50% opacity with the Magic Wand will also select the oval with 56% opacity. The star with 61% opacity falls outside that range and is not included.

With a tolerance value of 10%, selecting the star with 50% opacity with the Magic Wand will also select the oval with 56% opacity. The star with 61% opacity falls outside that range and is not included.

Once you’ve set up your criteria and tolerance levels, selecting the matching objects is a breeze. Simply choose the Magic Wand and click on an object. All of the objects that match your criteria will automatically be selected. By default the “Use All Layers” option is checked in the Magic Wand options. This option will automatically select all matching objects, regardless of what layer they’re on. Turning it off lets you limit your selection to items on the same layer.

Selecting the red rectangle also selects the red oval. Shift-selecting the dark green star also selects the light green star because it's within the set tolerance.

Selecting the red rectangle also selects the red oval. Shift-selecting the dark green star also selects the light green star because it’s within the set tolerance.

Adding Objects to a Selection With the Magic Wand Tool

You can add more objects to the selection by Shift-selecting another object. Keep in mind, however, that doing so will bring in not only that object to the group, but all similar objects that fall within the set tolerance. This makes it easy to make a selection that includes all red objects as well as all green objects (assuming they are in that range).

Deselecting Objects with the Magic Wand Tool

If you Option/Alt-click on an object with the Magic Wand tool, that object and all the items within the set tolerance range of it will be deselected.

Saving a Selection of Illustrator Objects

Once you’ve perfected the tolerance and selected all the objects you need, you can then save those objects for quick selection in the future by choosing Save Selection from the Select menu.

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Posted on: June 6, 2016

Erica Gamet

Erica Gamet has been involved in the graphics industry for over 25 years. She is a speaker, writer, and trainer, focusing on Adobe InDesign and Illustrator, Apple Keynote and iBooks Author, and other print- and production-related topics. She is a regular contributor to InDesign Magazine, tech edited How To Do Everything with Adobe InDesign CS4, and served as leader of the Denver InDesign User Group. After living as a nomad for almost a year, she recently put down roots in El Paso, Texas, where she hikes and bikes every chance she gets. Check out ericagamet.com to see all of Erica's upcoming events, tips and tricks, and workbooks.

1 Comment on Illustrator Basics: Using the Magic Wand Tool

  1. Oh man, this tool could be handy whenever I need to convert colorful stock art to our very specific brand palette. I’m a bit embarrassed to not have known about this tool already, but I’ll be sure to remember it going forward. Magic, indeed!

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