(Last updated on November 18th, 2021)
Do you have a photo with a white background that doesn’t look right? Would you like to just get rid of that needless white void? If that’s the case, take a look at our step-by-step guide that will show you the best way to remove a white background using Photoshop.
Removing White Background in Photoshop
Let’s say you have a photograph with a blank white background. It feels very empty, doesn’t it? It would probably look better if you could place your subject within a more appealing environment. Adobe Photoshop can make this alteration possible.
Working with layers in Photoshop can allow you to place your subject in any environment. It’s one of the key features that makes Photoshop an ideal photo editing program. Background removal is also not too difficult if that background you’re trying to get rid of happens to be one color.
Let’s open up Photoshop and bring in a photograph with a subject in the foreground and white for the background. For this tutorial, we’ll be using this photograph of a bird. The bird looks great but that distracting white background has got to go.
Let’s start by placing the photo on an editable layer. Right-click on the layer and click Duplicate Layer. We’ll now delete the first background layer by right-clicking on the bottom background and clicking Delete Layer. We’re doing this to ensure the background is visibly transparent, so we know the white background is erased and replaced with a gray-and-white checkerboard.
Now that we have a layer we can work to erase the background, we have a variety of tools to choose from to erase the white. One of the simplest and quickest ways to erase the background in a hurry is to use the Magic Eraser Tool. You can find it by clicking and holding on the Eraser tool in the toolbar and selecting the icon that looks like a spark is next to the eraser.
You can use this tool to click in the white area and that block of white will be automatically removed. However, you should be aware of the tolerance levels. The tolerance determines how much of the extra white will be removed from the edges.
If your subject has some white close to its edges, you should turn down the tolerance levels. If you look in the Magic Eraser Tool settings above the canvas, you can change the percentage of the tolerance through a dropdown menu. The lower the tolerance, the more edges will be recognized.
The other method for getting rid of the white background is to select the area you want removed first. You can do this by choosing a selection tool to highlight the area you want removed. Since the background encompasses a large area around our subject, we’ll want to use the Magic Wand Selection Tool.
You can find this tool by clicking and holding on the Quick Selection Tool that looks like a dotted circle with a paintbrush. From the pop-out menu, select the Magic Wand Tool. It should look like a magic wand with sparkles.
With the Magic Wand Tool selected, click on the white areas of your image. Be sure to take note of the little pockets of white you want to be removed as well. In the case of this bird photograph, we don’t want to miss the gap between the bird’s legs.
Just like the Magic Eraser Tool, the Magic Wand Tool also has a tolerance option. This will change how much of the edges will be erased off when you start erasing. Think of it as a preview of how much white background will be removed when you start erasing.
Once you’ve selected the area, you have a few options for getting rid of the background. You can simply erase the selected area using the Magic Wand Tool. The only difference here is that you can turn the tolerance to 100% and not worry about too many extra edges being cut off.
Your other option is that you can simply use the basic erasing tools and freehand the erasing. This can be a handy method if you have second thoughts about a particular part of the background you don’t want to be erased, or you’d like to create a little bit of falloff along the edges.
One of the more efficient methods of getting rid of the white background is to use the Background Eraser Tool. There are a few more steps to using this tool than the other erasing methods, but it can be a real time-saver once you grasp how to use it.
You can find the Background Eraser Tool by clicking and holding on the Eraser Tool. The icon for the Background Eraser Tool will look like an eraser with some scissors next to it. Click on it to start using the tool but don’t use it on the canvas just yet.
We have a few options for choosing how the tool will recognize the background it has to erase. The best method is to customize the eraser to find the edges of what it’s trying to erase. This way, our erasing tool will only recognize the area we need to erase and not the bird.
In the customization options above the canvas, change the Limits dropdown menu to Find Edges. Next to that option on the right, you’ll see the dropdown for Tolerance. Change that to somewhere around 60%. To the left of Limits, you’ll change the sampling to Once. It should look like an eyedropper with a target. Click on it to activate it.
Now comes the fun part. Click and hold on a portion of the white background to erase it. That little erasing will make the tool recognize the white it needs to erase. Start erasing even more but drag your eraser around the bird.
As you can see, the bird is not erased even when we click and drag around it. This is happening because we’ve told our Background Eraser Tool only to read the white parts of the background to erase and ignore everything else.
These are just a handful of methods to erase the background from your photographs. You can tweak the settings to get different results or even combine these tools to develop your technique. Play around with tolerance and limits to see what you can come up with.
It should be noted that these techniques are best suited for either white backgrounds or backgrounds of one specific color. If you’re trying to remove a bird from, say, a woodland area, that will require some extra selection and erasing techniques.
Hopefully, these techniques will help you make simple changes for easy background removals. These tools are best suited for photographs taken in front of a blank background or PNG files that didn’t save with transparent layers. For both cases, the combination of selection tools and simplified eraser tools will make your workflow all the speedier.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are a few ways to remove white background from your image in Photoshop. The fastest way is to use the Magic Eraser Tool. Use this tool to click on the background and remove it. If your subject has white in it, however, and you don’t want it removed, you have to use the Selection tools to separate your subject from the background better.
White backgrounds can easily be removed in the most recent version of Photoshop in several different ways. You can do so the old-fashioned way by selecting the area and using the eraser tool. If you want to be more efficient, you’ll want to get used to either the Magic Eraser Tool or the Background Eraser Tool. Those tools will make short work of a white background while leaving your key subject.
If your background is just one color, you can get around the tougher route of selecting and isolating a subject from the background. With some customizations of the Magic Eraser Tool, that background can disappear in an instant. With a little more time to retool the Background Eraser Tool, you can manually erase the background with a brush and not worry about erasing the parts you want to keep.
The Magic Eraser tool attempts to hone in on a specific part of your image which requires the removal of colors. It works by detecting the color you’ve clicked on and erasing every surrounding color that matches what you’ve clicked. You can also change the tolerance to determine just how much of an edge will be left around your subject matter. That’s something you’ll want to keep in mind if your subject has some white close to the edges that you want to keep.
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.