Learn how to Make a Background Clear in Photoshop

From product photography to web design, sometimes an image without a background is simply better. Trying to get the job done without the right tools can frustrate even the most seasoned photographer. With the recent updates to Adobe Photoshop, the process is easier. Sometimes it only takes a few clicks.

A new feature in Photoshop 2020 can automatically remove a background. The process uses artificial intelligence to determine which parts of the image to keep and which to remove. A.I. however, is never as experienced as a human editor. For complex images, manual removal of the background using Photoshop's various selection tools may be required.

You don't have Photoshop yet? Here are some other ways to remove a background from an image.

The quick and dirty way to remove a background in Photoshop

Photoshop 2020 includes a new background removal link that is supported by the Select Subject tool. Linking doesn't do it right every time, but it works well for simple images and can be easily refined for others. Before you start, make sure you have Photoshop 2020 version 21.0.0 or later. Otherwise, you must update the software first.

First, copy the background layer to create the layer type Photoshop needs to use the tool. Select the entire photo (Command + A on MacOS or Ctrl + A on Windows) and copy and paste it. In the Layers panel, click the eye icon next to the background layer to hide the background. From here, you only work with the new layer you just created.

In the Properties window on the right, go to the Quick Actions section. If the Properties window does not appear, click the following icon:

Under Quick Actions, click Remove Background. You have to wait a few minutes for the program to find the subject and remove the background. As soon as the program is finished, you should see the motif on a transparent background (marked by the checkerboard pattern). If you don't see this transparent background, make sure your background layer is hidden.

This quick method works great for some photos, with ridiculous results for others. If it doesn't work for you, continue with the manual method below. If the result is close, but not quite perfect, click the mask that Photoshop created automatically (the black and white image in the Layers panel). With the mask selected, use a white brush to add the subject and the black brush to erase any parts of the background that have not been removed.

Once you're satisfied with the results, you can delete the background layer and save the file as a PNG to maintain transparency or as a PSD to make further adjustments later.

How to remove manually in Photoshop

Choose a Photoshop selection tool

To make a background transparent, you have to choose what you want to keep and delete what you don't want. Which of the various Photoshop selection tools works best for this task? It depends on the picture. If you are working with an image on a background with a lot of contrast, e.g. B. a dark object on a light background or a monochrome logo, the selection process is a little easier.

In this tutorial we assume that you are working with something more difficult. If you can remove a busy background, you can remove any background, and even working with a white or plain background can save you time by familiarizing yourself with the various Photoshop selection tools.

The Magic wand tool selects all pixels with a similar color. For example, if you have a logo on a white background, all you have to do is click on a white area to select it, then click Delete to delete it. You may need to repeat this if multiple background sections are divided by parts of the object you want to cut out.

The Choose Object The tool uses artificial intelligence to select the borders of an object. You draw a rough outline to indicate which object and Photoshop A.I. does the rest. You can also use this tool to remove an object from a current selection.

The rectangular and elliptical marquee The tool works when you want to select an object that is a perfect rectangle or circle. Simply place the selection over what you want to keep, and then follow steps four and six below.

The Lasso, select subject, and Select and mask Tools are better for removing a more complex background and are located where most of Photoshop's hidden power is present. Here are the basic steps to get these tools up and running.

1. Go to Select> Select Subject

The Photoshop "Select Subject" tool provides an easy introduction to background removal. Go to Select> Choose Subject. The process takes a few seconds, but Photoshop then roughly selects the subject of the photo using artificial intelligence. The tool is usually not perfect, but that's fine. You can refine the selection in the next step.

Alternatively, if the photo contains more than one subject and you only want to select one object, you can use the Select Object tool. In the Toobox, select the "Select Object" tool (Photoshop 21.0.0 and higher). It's in the Magic Wand tool. Draw a box around the object and Photoshop selects the object for you. Here, too, you can refine the selection in the next step. So don't worry if the object is not perfectly selected.

If the Choose Subject tool doesn't work for you (or you're using an older version of Photoshop), go to the next step and start over.

If the "Select Subject" tool works fine (it happens!), Go to step 4.

2. Use the selection and mask for complex motifs to refine the selection

Your selection is probably not quite perfect. If you are working with an object with well-defined edges, the magnetic lasso tool is probably the easiest route. So go ahead and go to the next step. However, the Selection and Mask tool often gives the best results for objects with less defined edges, textures, and highly irregular shapes. For objects using both methods, such as the camera image used in this tutorial, you can mix both methods.

Adjust the selection by clicking Select> Select and Mask. In the Select and Mask window, refine the selection. Use the brush tool in the toolbar on the left and select the plus symbol in the upper toolbar. Then swipe over anything that should be included in the selection, but not. Or click the minus symbol at the top to paint over parts that should not be part of the selection. Remember that the goal is to select the subject and not leave the background you want to remove.

If the brush selects too much, zoom in and use a smaller brush size (right next to the plus and minus symbols at the top) and decrease the radius in the property toolbar. If the brush doesn't pick enough, use a larger brush and increase the radius.

Get the selection as good as you can with the selection and mask tool, but don't sweat if it's not perfect yet. Make sure you don't pick too much. If you leave something out, it will be more difficult to return later. Click "OK" once you have refined your selection as much as possible.

Enlarge all edges before proceeding to the next step, and make sure you haven't left out any selections. When you've done this, simply reopen the Selection and Mask tool and select this area.

3. Turn your selection into a layer

Save what you've selected so far on a new layer, even if it's not quite perfect. Just make sure you haven't left out anything that should be selected. If these “marching ants” are still showing your selection, copy and paste the selection (Ctrl or Command + C) (Ctrl or Command + V). The pasted selection is automatically displayed as a separate layer. Alternatively, you can go to Layer> New> Layer via Copy.

In the Layers panel, click the eye icon next to the original background layer. This way you can see your transparent background, but you cannot delete the background yet.

4. Refine further with lasso tools and eraser

Photoshop has about a dozen different selection tools. While selecting and masking works well with objects that are difficult to select (e.g. people with hair), the magnetic lasso tool can be faster for well-defined edges. Refine your selection after selecting and masking or jump directly to this step if you cut out an object with precisely defined edges.

Choose the magnetic lasso tool. The lasso tools are the third from the top of the standard toolbox, but there are several – click and hold and then select the magnetic lasso tool from the drop-down list (it's the icon with a magnet in it Corner). If your object has both well-defined and straight edges, the polygonal lasso tool may be the easier choice, but it won't work with curves.

Click around the outside edge of the object to select additional background areas to remove. The magnetic lasso snaps into the edges of the object. However, click often enough to improve the object. When you’ve selected part of the background, tap the delete key.

You can also use the eraser to remove parts of the background from the toolbox. This is good for final cleanup after using the lasso tool.

5. Clear the background

Finally, go to the Layers panel and click on the background layer. Click Clear to remove the background and leave only the selection you made. You can add a new background layer to play around with different colors, gradients or images and see how your selected object is displayed above it. If you want this transparent background, you want to leave the image unchanged after deleting the background.

6. Save as PNG

If you save your file as a JPEG, a white background will appear because JPEG does not support transparency. Go to File> Save As and choose PNG from the file type options. Now you have a PNG file that you can place anywhere with a transparent background. If you want to make further changes without any problems, you can also save a second version as a .PSD file.

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