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(Last updated on February 10th, 2023)

An image doesn’t always have to take up your entire Photoshop project. Sometimes it can be subtle if given transparency. In this article, we’ll show you how easy it is to perform this common Photoshop technique of making your images see-through.

glass chess pieces
Make your images as clear and see-through as these chess pieces with this essential Photoshop technique. credit: Pixabay.

Transparent Layers

One of the easiest ways to make an image transparent is to add transparency to the layer it occupies. This method is handy as you can quickly see how a transparent image can affect other layers. Here’s how to apply transparency to an image layer.

  1. In the Layers tab, select the layer with the image you want to be transparent. Unlock the layer if it’s currently the background by duplicating it.
Photoshop transparent layer beach duplicate layer
Duplicate this layer to start making edits on the photo of this beach. caption: Duplicate this layer to start making edits on the photo of this beach. credit: Mark McPherson
  1. Look for the Opacity box in the layer options. It should be set at 100%. The layer will be completely invisible if you turn it down to 0%. Play around with the settings to find the right level of transparency.
Photoshop transparent layer beach lowered opacity
Lowering the opacity will make this image more transparent. credit: Mark McPherson.
  1. To save the transparent image, ensure the image layer is above a blank background with no color. Then save it as a PNG by going to File > Export > Quick Export as PNG. The PNG format will keep the transparency of the image.
Photoshop transparent layer beach saving PNG
Here is where to find the PNG exportation options. credit: Mark McPherson.

There are two benefits to making the image layer transparent. The first is that it can blend better with other backgrounds and colors in your Photoshop file. Second, you can save the transparency recognized in graphic design programs, website designs, and 3D model textures.

Transparent Selections

Let’s say you only want a part of the image made transparently. The best way to do this is to isolate a part of the image using the selection method and then make that selection transparent. Here’s how to apply transparency to a portion of an image.

  1. Select the layer with the image where you want to have transparency. Make sure it’s not locked so that you can edit it. You may have to duplicate the layer to do this.
Photoshop transparent selection sofa layer duplicate
This photo of a sofa is now on a layer we can edit. credit: Mark McPherson.
  1. Select the portion of the image you want to be made transparent. You have a few options for doing this. Here are the selection options to consider:
    1. Object Selection Tool: This smart tool automatically detects the borders of a selected area and highlights them. This is the fastest method if you want to isolate a prominent subject.
    2. Quick Selection Tool: This tool can detect edges automatically as you drag them across the screen to make your selection.
    3. Magic Wand Selection Tool: This one-click tool detects the selection area based on its set strength.
    4. Marquee Selection Tools: These tools are handy for selecting a specific shape in your image, like a circle or rectangle.
    5. Pen Tool: This is the old method of simply drawing around a portion of the image by hand using the pen tool.
Photoshop transparent selection sofa selected
This sofa was selected by using the Object Selection Tool. credit: Mark McPherson.
  1. With your selection made, we now need to isolate it. Copy the section by pressing Control and C (or right-clicking and selecting Copy) and then delete it by pressing Delete.
Photoshop transparent selection sofa selected deleted
The sofa is gone now, but it will soon be placed on its own layer where we can edit its transparency. credit: Mark McPherson.
  1. Create a new layer in the layers tab by clicking the Create New Layer button at the bottom. Select this new layer and then paste it into the selection. The cut-out part of the image should now be on its separate layer.
Photoshop transparent selection sofa selected new layer
Notice how the sofa is now on its own layer. credit: Mark McPherson.
  1. To add transparency to the selection layer, reduce the opacity in the layer options.
Photoshop transparent selection sofa selected new layer opacity
We can now change the opacity of just the sofa in the picture. credit: Mark McPherson.

Starting With a Transparent Background

If you create a blank Photoshop file, you’ll start working with a white background. While you can replace this with a transparent background with some layer organization, you can start with transparency immediately. This can be ideal if you import an image and tweak the opacity.

Here’s how to create a Photoshop file with a transparent background already applied.

  1. In Photoshop, go to File > New to create a new document. This should open up the new Photoshop document options menu.
  2. In the new document window, locate the section labeled Background Contents dropdown box. Click on it and select Transparent instead of White.
Photoshop transparent background new document
Here is where you’ll select a transparent background when creating a new Photoshop document. credit: Mark McPherson.
  1. Click Ok to create the project. You should now be working with a transparent background to add an image on top of it.

Painting Transparency

If you’d prefer to add different transparencies to portions of the image by hand, this can be accomplished with Photoshop’s erasing tools. This method is one of the more challenging ways, but it can be ideal for those desiring the most control over their transparent images. Here’s how to paint transparencies in Photoshop.

  1. Select the image layer you want to be made transparent. You should duplicate this layer and hide the original, so you have a backup in case you make any mistakes.
Photoshop transparent city
This image of a city is now on a duplicate layer where we can practice using the erasing tool for transparency. credit: Mark McPherson.
  1. Select the Eraser tool from the toolbar on the left side of the screen. Locate the eraser settings at the top of the screen and change the opacity percentage. In the same way, you’d change the opacity for an image layer and set the range of how much you want to erase. 100% will entirely erase the image, while 0% will erase none.
Photoshop transparent city eraser settings
Notice the eraser settings at the top of the screen for changing the opacity.
credit: Mark McPherson.
  1. After selecting the brush size, start painting with the eraser tool over the areas you want to be made transparent. The transparency should show up instantly in the areas you paint.
Photoshop transparent city eraser brushed
After using the eraser tool on the sky, some of the blue remains thanks to the opacity settings. credit: Mark McPherson.

Tips and Tricks

  • Always Save as PNG: Transparencies will only appear in images saved as PNG files. Images with transparencies saved as JPG will place backgrounds behind your transparent images.
  • Remember Locked Layers: If you open an image directly in Photoshop, it will automatically be locked in the background layer. Duplicate this layer to start making changes to it.
  • Keep The Background Transparent: When creating a new Photoshop file, ensure the background is transparent. This is good practice if you use Photoshop to create multiple transparencies.
  • Check The Color: If you can’t add transparency to your image in Photoshop, you might work with an image using CMYK colors. Navigate to Mode in the top-window options and select RGB color to ensure that you can add transparency.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I make an existing picture transparent?

A Photoshop picture can be transparent by turning down the opacity. This can be accomplished by either turning down the layer’s opacity or using the eraser tool with an altered opacity.

How do I make a JPEG transparent in Photoshop?

JPEG images can be made transparent by changing their opacity. After bringing the JPEG into Photoshop, unlock the layer and locate the layer’s opacity settings. Change the opacity percentage, and you should start seeing transparency. Save it out as PNG to have this transparency saved as an image file.

How do I fade a photo to transparent in Photoshop?

There are two options for fading a photo in Photoshop. You can either change the layer’s opacity or its blending mode. Use the opacity if you want a see-through look, and choose a blending mode if you want it to fade more into the layer below it.

Is there a transparent tool in Photoshop?

There isn’t precisely a transparency tool in Photoshop, but you can use the eraser tool as one. Change the opacity settings of the eraser and start drawing on your image to create transparency.

How do I change a white background to transparent in Photoshop?

White backgrounds can be easily replaced with transparent ones in Photoshop by adding a new layer and deleting the background layer. The new layer you create will be transparent. You can also automatically start with a transparent background in Photoshop by changing the background options in the new project creation window.

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