(Last updated on August 2nd, 2021)
Does your latest Photoshop project involve removing a particular object from a background? Are stressing out over trying to find a way to get a transparent background to appear in your project? Read on to figure out just how to deal with transparent backgrounds in this informative tutorial.
Suppose you have a photograph with an exciting thing you’d like to isolate. Maybe you want a leaf you found on the grass to be the focus or you want to place somebody into a different location. Photoshop can make those dreams a reality.
Removing subjects from a background has become a pretty common practice in Photoshop. In the same way that a movie can place actors in different locations via a green-screen effect, Photoshop can isolate a particular area that you want to either make transparent or position over another image.
Also replicating the effects of green screen, Photoshop’s tools for making this happen have improved over time. The old days of the application required a lot of finely-tuned lasso work to perfectly cut out a subject. You had be as skilled with a brush in order to cut out a part of a photograph.
The improvements over time have advanced to such a degree that you don’t need to be some masterful rotoscoping to give your photos a transparent background. Here are some of the ways you can go about doing just that.
Make Background Transparent in Photoshop
1. The Quick Way
Sometimes you may get lucky with a photograph that doesn’t have a ton of information. Perhaps the background is so simplistic that it is one solid color or a collection of similar colors. If this is the case, you may have just lucked out and found an easy means of making a transparent background.
Take a look at this picture. The sky is quite bright here. Suppose I wanted to remove it and place a different sky over this area to have an entirely different look. Accomplishing this doesn’t take much work at all.
From your Photoshop toolbar, simply select the Magic Eraser tool, looking like an eraser with a magic wand. Now choose the strength of the erasing tool from the properties panel at the top of the screen to change the sensitivity.
The sensitivity of the eraser will ultimately depend on how much the background bleeds into the rest of the subject. I can see that in this photograph there’s some white bleeding into some of the smaller parts of the building. I’m going to reduce the strength of the eraser so it doesn’t go too far.
With the toolset, all I have to do is click on the sky with my Magic Eraser tool. And, presto, the background is gone! You should now see the black and white grid behind the building, signaling that the background is transparent.
This tool works differently for backgrounds depending on the number of colors and the falloff. If you’re sure your background is simple enough to remove, you’ll have to experiment with different strengths of the Magic Eraser tool to find what level works best.
You can also consider using the more standard Background Eraser tool, which acts more like a classic eraser except it recognizes the background you’re trying to erase. However, this tool is a bit more tricky to tackle and is only advisable if you’re trying to take off a portion of the background.
2. The Selection Tool Way
Now let’s say that the background is a bit denser. There’s lots of color and details in the background that the Magic Eraser tool will simply not do for this job. If this is the case, we will have to use the selection tools to isolate our subject from the background.
This is where a little bit of skill is required in selecting the object we want to isolate. Take a look at the selection tools in your toolbar and find the right one that works for your subject. If you’re trying to remove a ball from the background, select the spherical selection. If it’s a complicated design, draw with the lasso tool.
In this instance, we’re trying to isolate a boxcar. So the best choice for this job would be the rectangular selection tool. Click and drag the selection tool around the object to cover the area we want to pull out of the background.
To keep a reference shot, I like to duplicate this layer I’m working on to know how much of the background has been removed. This is not a requirement for this project, but it’s certainly safe if you want to try a different mask.
We now click on the Select & Mask tool in the upper properties menu with the boxcar selected. This will open up a new window for fine-tuning how we’ll remove this particular selection from the rest of the photograph.
In the new properties menu, you can select from several sliders. The most crucial slider present is Transparency. When you turn this up to 100%, the background surrounding the selected object will disappear.
Below the Transparency slider is a series of other options for better retooling the selection tool. You can change the smoothness of the selection as well as the feathering if you’re seeking more of a gradual falloff.
Once you finalize these changes, you’ll now have a layer with the object removed from the background. So what can you do with this transparency behind an isolated object? Well, quite a bit, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
You can save the image as a PNG that will preserve the transparency and either place it on a website or save it for another project in either Illustrator or InDesign. With the object still in Photoshop, you can put backgrounds behind it in different layers.
Transparency backgrounds in Photoshop have only grown easier to accomplish with age. Considering it has been a highlight function of the application for decades, it’s no surprise that the tools have made significant advancements.
If you’re new to Photoshop, this is an essential aspect of the program to master. Whether you’re a designer who wants to cut out people from photographs for particular pages or a photographer who wants to place a person in a different backdrop, it’s an invaluable skill crucial to almost any profession.
Frequently asked questions
If the background you’re trying to remove is all one color, you may just have the easiest time getting rid of the background. The quick and dirty way to do this would be to break out the Magic Eraser tool, retool the tool’s strength, and simply click on the white area. This may take some fine-tuning to address how much of the white you want to be removed as it can bleed into your isolated object, so you’ll have to play around with the settings. If the object you’re isolating shares this color, you’ll have to go the route of using the selection tools to single out your subject for a transparent background.
The critical thing to note about saving out a transparent background from Photoshop is that you need to make sure that information is carried into the file type. The most common file type you’ll use for creating objects with transparencies will be a PNG. However, when you export out this image, you’ll have to make sure that transparency is selected from the exportation settings. PNGs do not automatically have transparencies placed upon them, so you need to make sure that information is recognized. If this option isn’t selected, you’ll end up with a white background instead.
If you’re trying to remove the white background from a logo, the chances are high that the logo was made as a vector-based artwork. If this is the case, removing the white background can be as simple as using the magic background eraser tool. Play around with the levels for the erasing tool, and you may just be able to remove the background with a simple click. If you want a more accurate erasing of the background, use the magic wand or selection tool in conjunction with the erasing tools.
Removing the white background from an image can be difficult, depending on the image. If you are trying to remove the background of a vector-generated image, such as a logo, it can be as simple to create transparency as tuning the magic background eraser tool. Suppose you’re trying to remove white background from a photograph with a lot of color information. In that case, you’re going to have to get creative with the selection and erasing tools to find just the right mix of both to generate transparency.
Mark McPherson has been working as a video editor and content writer for over ten years. His background started in animation and video editing before shifting into the realm of web development. He also branched out into content writing for various online publications. Mark is an expert in video editing, content writing, and 2D/3D animation.