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When designing, I have to take pictures of the things I'm using for elements. I erase the background pretty nicely around the object. However, it still leaves little jagged edges. I've tried contracting and all and it just contracts with the jagged parts. So, I spend the next 1-3 hours going around the entire object with the eraser in order to smooth out all the jagged parts. Please, please, please tell me that there's an easier way!!!!?
I don't even bother trying to erase large parts of the background. I just go around the edge with the eraser, and then lasso around the part I want to cut out, copy, and paste it into a new document.
If you can afford it, a graphical tablet is very helpful in erasing close-up.
I find the magnetic lasso more of a pain in the heinie than it's worth.
What are you trying to cut out? If it's something like a button or something else with hard edges, and a good contrasting color against the background, you can use Filter > Extract. Select the highlighter and highlight the edge of what you want to cut out. I did a tutorial on my blog recently that has pictures of using that tool: Maitri's Digital Scraps: Tutorial - Creating a Journal Page (Freebie Included).