Every now and then I see a tutorial that recommends using the Pen tool as a means of selecting something in Photoshop. I've always suggested to use whatever tool works best for you, but in a couple of the examples I saw, I found myself asking "why on earth are they using the Pen tool?" Also in many seminars people come and tell me that they had heard that the Pen tool creates "better" or "more accurate" selections. Not necessarily.
One of the the advantages of using the Pen tool is the ability to "tweak" the results using the anchor points on the path that's created with the Pen. Does that mean you'll get a better selection? Perhaps, but not always. As other selection tools and techniques have gotten better I find myself using the Pen tool less and less for selections.
Here's an example. I wanted to select the chef in this photo to put him on a different background.
First attempt: Quick Selection tool, Auto-Enhance turned off. Approximately 9 seconds
Second attempt: Quick Selection tool, Auto-Enhance turned on. Approximately 12 seconds
Third attempt: Pen tool, creating and tweaking the path. Approximately 3 minutes
When I compare all three (shown above a green layer for better look at the edges) I'm pretty darn happy with the edges created by the Quick Selection tool with Auto-Enhance turned on. A couple of the edges of the Pen-based selection look a little crisper, but remember we're comparing that to the Quick Selection tool with no tweaking. If I'd spent another minute or so I could have created an even better edge.
So is the Quick Selection tool just as good a selection tool as the Pen tool? Very often, I'd say yes it is. If nothing else, I can create a selection that's very close to what I want with the Quick Selection tool and then tweak it - still in less time than it takes with the Pen tool. (This assumes that there is a pretty good separation between the colors and what you're trying to select and the surrounding background areas. If everything is the same color, then the Pen tool can certainly come in handy)
And remember, you've gotta think about the end result too. If the reason I'm extracting the chef is to use in a small banner ad like this
why would I spend all that time with the Pen tool when it looks just perfect at this size using the Quick Selection tool?
Do I use the Pen tool? Definitely - as a tool to create beautiful curves that I fill with a color, there nothing better. As a designer it's one of the best creation tools in Photoshop.
Would I recommend to a beginner that they should learn the Pen tool as a selection tool? Hmmmm, probably not.
So if you're a pro at using the Pen tool, keep at it. I just worry that many people continue to use the Pen tool as a selection tool because they assume that it's still the best tool for the job - and I don't think that's true any more.
So, just for fun, try the Quick Selection tool and see if you don't start liking this tool, at least for some selection work.
If you don't currently use the Pen tool to make selections I would suggest that you shouldn't worry about that too much. As long as you're happy with the results of other selection methods, stick with those. If on the other hand, you want to learn more about using the Pen tool as a creative drawing tool, yes - watch some of the helpful Pen tool tutorials out there and start playing with anchor points!
But in my opinion, as a selection tool the Pen tool is not as important as it once was.