How to make Backgrounds Transparent in Photoshop
Hey Guys! Today we’re going to show you How to make your Backgrounds Transparent in Photoshop. Creating a transparent background for your product images in Photoshop opens up a whole variety of display options for your featured products. For example, a transparent background gives you the ability to place your product against a background that dynamically changes colors. On responsively designed sites, a featured product with a transparent background can interact differently with its background depending on the user’s screen size.
In this video, we’ll go over 5 different ways to make backgrounds transparent in photoshop.
Using Photoshop to create a transparent background, and then saving the file in the appropriate web-ready format, is remarkably easy once you know what you’re doing.
How to make backgrounds transparent photoshop
In this video/blog, we’re going to show you How to make backgrounds transparent Photoshop. Did you guys know that there’s a tool inside of Photoshop that will remove backgrounds for you? Did you also know that you should probably never use it? Stick around and I’ll tell you why.
What’s up Photoshop fam, I’m Rick Navarro, this is the Pixel Laundry Photoshop Academy. Recently I came across a bunch of videos online about a background removal tool and I was so blown away that I had never used or even heard about this tool in the almost 20 years I’ve been working commercially in Photoshop and then as I started to use it and learn about the tool, I realized why this tool is actually pretty good for what it’s attempting to do in a professional capacity. Though I don’t recommend it and this is the background eraser tool. Today I’m going to show you how to use this tool and I’m also going to show you like five or six other ways that are like a thousand times better than using this tool. I am a fan of anything that is going to make your life easier, more efficient, more quality driven and any automated or automation that Photoshop can provide to you as a creator that is going to make your life easier and not fussing with you know the minutia. I think it’s a great thing, I think that’s an incredible thing and you’ll see in some of these examples that I’m going to provide for you today that you know this tool has its place and even though that’s true maybe I’m just biased because I’ve been using so many of the other methods for so long, at this point while this tool has this place is just simply not my favorite okay?
Background Eraser Tool
So let’s go and dive right in. I’m going to show you how this Tool Works and why there’s like a million better ways to do it a completely other way alright? So right under here in your tool palette is your background eraser tool, it’s literally named background eraser if you’ve never used this tool it erases backgrounds but it’s a bit of an over simplification right? Because backgrounds can be anything. Backgrounds can be solid, they can be organic shapes, they can be in cameras, they can be a background that’s been blurred because of depth of field, they can be dark, they can be light and some of the ways that this tool works doesn’t really in my opinion kind of keep that in mind or it does but it does in a way that doesn’t offer much utility to me as an artist or creative. Let’s just start with this first example right, come example a model on a background, model on white and in some cases where when this is very simple, this tool probably shines its best okay? So we’ll start at the top and then work our way down and slowly watch as this thing crumbles okay? In this particular case where you have a dark-haired model on a light background, that is the scenario a dark haired model on a light background or a light haired model on a dark background. This is when this is going to work best and let’s just go ahead and dive right in and show you. First off you have a bunch of settings up here, this first setting is called continuous sampling and basically what that means is, it’s going to sample the color that’s directly below the crosshair but as I drag, it’s going to continue to resample that color until it meets another one.
So let’s just do this so you can actually get a visual on it. I’ve already gone ahead and created some of these just for time sake because there’s going to be a lot of explanation here so as I continually sample across its going to erase but it’s also going to erase anything that that tiny crosshair goes over so not amazing right? We’ll talk about all of these settings here in a second. Let’s actually just go to this continuous and as you can see as long as I stay out here and the background it’s okay but the moment I cross over into the hair it’s no good. So that’s continuous sampling. Now this second one here is called sample once now much like the stamp tool or the clone stamp tool I can sample out here it’s going to reference that color and as long as that remains my sample source now I can paint over this hair and it’s going to be fine but again if you just saw what happened, if I drag over the darker spot now I’m painting over the hair because it’s grabbing anything dark or if I come in here in skin tone now it’s going to grab anything that’s skin tone.
This last one here is called your foreground and background, it’s going to sample from the foreground and background so whatever these are set to at the time of usage that’s what it’s going to try to eliminate, it’s a color based selection and there’s some other tools that we’re going to talk about here in a second that’s basically I think it is a better way to execute this but that basically what it’s doing, it’s sampling the color based off of whatever parameter you have it set to and it’s going to erase based off of those parameters. Now again you know sure there could be you know if I’m going to use anything they’re probably going to use this middle one and there is a bit you know utility to this like this is, this is actually pretty strong like this detail here, we’re maintaining one pixel in thickness across these flyaway and I’m getting a clean selection and the reason you’re seeing green by the way is because I’ve got a green background there but if I turn this off and turn all the layers off, you can see that the transparency is doing an actually good job but what happens when the color reflects back into the hair, is it going to pick that up as well? What happens if it’s curly hair? What happens if you’re you have a dark haired model with a dark background? This works great because there’s a lot of contrast between the background and the foreground. I see a ton of YouTube videos on how to use this tool and nobody seems to really talk about that and I’m not sure why? So I want to make sure that you guys are well-rounded in the tools that you select and why you select those tools for your personal workflow and this is why I’m explaining. This is why I decided to make this video at the end of the day. It’s a lot about technique and it’s a lot about personal preference but this is my personal preference and it’s definitely not this tool but let’s keep on going so you can continue to understand.
So in one regard, this is actually really good, so I can use it for this but this scenarios it lends itself to using this tool, if I’m careful because again it’s not a broad brush in the sense that it’s a one-size-fits-all thing, you can use it on anything anytime anywhere. Let’s look at some of these other examples that I’m referring to. Another good way to use this tool is probably a product, if the product is on a white background, if you’re shooting tabletop products or if you’re using this in this capacity you can use this same tool, this background eraser to do the same thing and again the same rules apply and I can move relatively quickly and get in here and erase everything that I don’t need or that is basically sample color based sample I needed to go in here and get rid of the rest of this, I can easily do that.
But the meat of this work has technically already been done. Another thing about this brush is that it is working destructively which basically means that I’m working directly on the file, so if I haven’t duplicated the file from the original layer, you’re going to mess, you’re going to mess up your image so be mindful of that when you’re using this to duplicate your layer. I talked about this a lot, in a lot of my other videos but to be working on-destructively as a professional retoucher and just a photographer who is cognizant of these tools after the fact I need to be mindful of how I’m treating these images and I need to have the latitude to be able to go back and forth. If I make a mistake, if my machine crashes if I don’t have enough history States set up in my preferences or any number of reasons, client revisions so on and so forth. So I have to be able to go back and forth. So these are some examples where it’s being used and it’s pretty strong and I can see the attractiveness of using that but I also know other techniques of how to eliminate the background that I think move faster. Let’s go to, I’ve got another sample right here and here’s a great example of where this starts to fail real fast okay?
So let’s go back to our background eraser tool, let’s start right here so sampling is continuous. So the sampling is going to be based off of this varying background, there’s a lot of colors that are shifting right it’s not a flat background, it’s not a white background, it’s not a paper background, it’s a table. So here let’s see how it does here okay? Again not my favorite, you can see it’s trying to make an attempt at cutting out that object but it’s not doing a very good job. So let’s go to the second one where this was continuous, this is going to be sampling once. Now this background is basically similar color but let’s see how it performs. Again this gray is not even close, it’s not even in the color range of that background. Now I’ve already duplicated this so you can kind of see that if I need to go back to the original I can, that’s fine. Let’s just go ahead and put another layer in here so we can kind of get a little bit sharper contrast between what’s happening okay? But as you can see it’s not even deleting everything entirely, it’s not erasing the background like the name is supposed to simply right? But Rick what about those other settings?
BG Remove Settings
Okay let’s talk about those other settings. So this first one discontinuous, the easy way to remember this and the other setting I’m about to show you is that instead of continuous, think continuous. Now the way this is supposed to work is that, if I take this sampling tool and I start to erase again it’s basing it off of the crosshair and whatever color that it’s over or where I sample it’s supposed to not go over here into this second section of the green right? Because it’s broken up by this color here but as you can see it’s bleeding over. Now for what it’s worth, it’s sampling the original color and that’s great like if that’s exactly what wanted it to do that’d be fine, it’s separating out that green from the orange very clearly okay? But technically, it’s supposed to stop right here because it’s discontinuous or discontinuous which basically means that any pixel that is not physically side-by-side, it’s not supposed to touch. So as soon as there’s an edge there it stops but as you can see it’s still grabbing it continuous basically means the opposite. Any pixel that is physically side-by-side it’s supposed to eliminates. Let’s go ahead and take a look at that again. This one basically means any pixel that is physically side by side, it’s going to erase and anything that stops it it’s going to stop.
So here we don’t have the same problem as the other one but if I grab here and drag across now all of a sudden, we do, let’s try it again. There it is again, so it’s not stopping even though it’s supposed to because that middle section of green is not touching the outside section or this inside section. If I see, if I make my brush a little bit smaller and come in here I can get this a little bit tight but for all this work that I’m having to-do to get that cup granted this is, this is as cut and dry as it’s going to get colors side by side and solid backgrounds most of your photos are not going to be this, you’re going to have a model with a background that background will either be on location or it will be in the studio. So if you’re shooting products on white, maybe if you’re shooting models that have skin tone hair texture complexion and a background which could be anything not amazing okay? This foreground background color is basically the same way it works based off of the foreground or background color you have here and it’s going to be very similar to this one here. Again I don’t recommend it, I don’t recommend it okay? Find edges is also going to be based off of color and if I come in here and I grab this, it’s basically trying to distinguish, Photoshop is trying to distinguish what the edge is.
Now the tolerance settings work like the one tool if you guys are not familiar with the one tool also has tolerance setting and this is basically telling Photoshop to adjust how accurate to the sample or to the selection, how accurate you want Photoshop to be so on solids. This doesn’t work as well but if we say let’s just go ahead and create a new layer here and for the sake of demonstration, we will grab the gradient tool okay? If I grab the wand tool and click right here, right exactly where that pixel is and my tolerance is set at 30, it’s not, it’s not, it’s only going to grab. So far if I open up this tolerance to a hundred, it’s going to grab everything that’s remotely close to that color. If I drop it down to like 10, the lower the tolerance the smaller section, the smaller level of tolerance it’s going to have that doesn’t matter whether you’re selecting on this side or that side. Whatever pixel you select under that one tool is going to reference this tolerance setting for how much of that color it’s going to grab. This works the exact same way, so if I’ve got a tolerance level that set pretty low, if there’s any level of gradient in it, it’s only going to grab that color. If I have the tolerance setting very high it’s going to grab any color that’s kind of like that color okay?
Let’s try it with that gray tint, let’s see what happens you see, as I slide in over here less and less stuff was getting erased. If I go back to the back side, all this stuff will go. Let’s drop that tolerance down, I’m going to start here and you see how it stops, it stops right there okay? But if I raise it up, this isn’t even in the color spectrum and it’s erasing it because my tolerance is really great okay? So that’s how this tool basically works. Now I want to focus on things that actually work, so let’s go through here and show you about five or six ways that you can use that are far better than this tool. Now before we do that, let me show you a better tool for something like this okay? And that’s simply the pen tool. Now again you can use this select subject function that Photoshop has created for us, sometimes if you use this or something similar in your selection palette like your selection tool palette, it will give you jagged edges so it’s already made the selection. So let’s just duplicate that and look I’ve eliminate the background but if we get close you can kind of see these little jagged edges and it doesn’t give you a super crisp, super sharp edge.
In some cases, that’s actually really a good thing but in others you may need a little bit more spot on the selection. What I like to do is, I can make a selection with something like that. Select subject and this little button right here, this called make work path from selection and instead of using the pen tool and manually going around and making my pen tool selection which is going to give you the sharpest edge that you can get in Photoshop, if you push this little button it does it for you amazing right? Now based off of this selection, I can from here go ahead and remake the selection based off of this path. If I just hit command and enter now it’s going to give me a new selection based off of the pen tool path okay? Now you say why would you do that, look at the edge versus what we just did earlier. In fact, I’ll just show it to you. Go back here, make selection, select subject, duplicate the subject, look at the difference between this edge right? Here it’s a little feathered versus this one right here, it’s much sharper of an edge. This is your regular selection, this one is your pen tool, so this is another way to get this.
Now where the colors start to get close together, you’re going to have a larger discrepancy and it’s going to be a little bit harder for the path to kind of work itself out. So in that case then you can make edits on the path directly. So again if I come over here and hit the make path like right here if I need to kind of refine this a little bit, I can get in here and eliminate if I need. See it doesn’t even look like it’s on the edge, so let’s bring that a little bit closer or better yet let’s just go ahead and eliminate some of these points so we don’t have as much information in here creating corners, there we go. Now we can use these Bezier handles to give us a nice smooth edge okay but everything else is already done, so instead of having to go through and do this manually which is also another option, you can use a selection, create a path based off of the selection and then recreate your selection based off of your path, a little bit convoluted but a lot faster than having to scrub and figure out and sample and come back and refine and redo for what it doesn’t make any sense. You want to move quick, you want to move quick, but you also want to move efficient. Of course there’s the tried-and-true method of just the path tool.
If you grab a pen and you come in here and you can make your selections manually and by doing this I am guaranteeing I’m not using colors as the foundation for my selection, I’m using my eyes and my own intellect as opposed to Photoshop to do the job for me. I mean look how fast I’m moving through this too, there it is eliminated your background okay? So there you go, there’s a couple right there. Let’s keep on moving. I’ll show you some more. This is a great example and this is another one that’s really fast and it also works if the scenario lends itself to it. So if you have a situation where you’ve got product on white or on a solid color okay but you need to change the background color for some reason client is making that request, let’s go ahead and add a background in here and let’s just do something like this okay? Let’s put it under and we’re going to use the blend if option inside of the layer style palette. Now I talked a lot about blend in one of my previous videos, I’ll put a link up here but a blend if option will work really great here too. Again dark product, light background, another reason why this is great is because there’s just a subtle shadow here that I want to keep you know and if cut this out or if I use any of these previous text neat techniques, it’s going to get rid of the original shadow which is going to be the most natural shadow and then I’m going to have to recreate that. So I’m creating more steps for myself later on, if I don’t have a better way to-do it, a better technique to do it. If I use the background erase tool, it’s just going to eliminate anything in that color range. So since the shadow is on the light background, it’s going to be relatively light and when you erase that then you got to create it again so it’s no good. So if I grab this and grab the light slider a little bit, check out what happens, I just grabbed everything in that light tonal color range and automatically eliminated it. There it is again, pull it off, pull it on, pull it up, pull it on well Rick what about the shadow? Well let’s take a look. You can see it’s separating it now if I hold down option and or control if you’re on a PC and click right here, it’s going to split that and now I can slowly gradate into my product negatives that’s happening here.
Watch out for Tonal Ranges
Anything that’s in that light color tonal ranges going to be eliminated too so how do you resolve that? How do you fix that? Well, watch this. If you’ll remember back in the beginning, I can select the subject very quickly right? Let’s just go ahead and here and grab my wand tool and I’m going to delete anything that’s kind of in that range. All right now just to make sure I’m going to get a little bit tighter and make sure that everything I want selected is selected. This is a little, a little bit of a lower res image so I don’t have as much pixel information. I’m going to tighten up this selection, she’s going to duplicate that okay so the product is completely isolated, shadow everything’s gone, just the product. I’ve got the product layer and I’ve got my blend if layer and I’ve got my background and because my blend if layer is directly under my product layer, now all my tonal highlights are back. So here it is, without the layer and here it is with it on. I could now that I have it on top, I could I could actually even go further right and you can see there’s just a subtle hint of contact and a little bit of color discoloration that works and allows into ground it then I’ve got this on separate layer, so I’ve got full control now I can change it you know to any season and he’s season any color season, any color palette that you want you’ve got full control okay?
Let me show you this other example, it’s a little bit more complicated but it’s another way to make a selection that’s going to eliminate your background instead of using a pen tool or a quick selection. In this particular instance, this is a flattened image of a carpet with a shadow. If I tell Photoshop, select the subject and all these fine details are missed, I’m going to have to go back through here and make this selection meticulously and it’s going to take a lot of time right? So I don’t really want to do that because it’s just not efficient use of a time, if there’s a better way so instead of doing that I’m going to use this option here called color range and basically I’m going to use the color range of the carpet to tell Photoshop this is how and what I want you to make the selection based off of okay? So if you go into here go under select and color range, if grab my sample or my eyedropper I can basically tell it anything that is this color, I want you to grab okay and I’ve got this fuzziness slider that will refine the edge for me.
So if I draw get all the way here you can start to see the texture I don’t really want you know it to be as tight as the texture. I just want it to be more on the outside so the closer I can get this out here the better that’s going to be. So I’m going to go ahead and hit okay and based off of this selection now I could duplicate it but still there’s still a lot of detail in here that I missed so let’s go ahead and deselect that and let’s try it again and let’s see if we can’t refine that and mask a little bit tighter so color range and instead of just clicking out if I click on this eyedropper with a plus tool I can add to my selection. So my initial selection was out here in the whites but I also want anything that’s kind of like that or anything that’s like that. Right now I’ve got this set to white mask, but if I put this to grayscale you’re going to be able to see this a lot better you see. So I’ve selected all of my shadow now I can also tell it I don’t, I don’t want anything that’s like this or like that or like that okay so you can see it’s getting tighter, but it’s also because there’s color in the shadows, it’s leaving some of that color in there so we got to find the kind of happy balance okay?
Now I think this gives me a better selection overall, so let’s see if this, if I can just adjust this a little bit with my fuzziness slider and I think that’s pretty good. Let’s see what we got okays in here, it still left some of the selection but that’s not a problem because I can easily go ahead and add this by holding down shift and very quickly going around and making sure that anything on the inside here went too far, anything on the inside any of these little pixels these dancing ants that are kind of on the inside here, I want them to be a part of it. I don’t want to eliminate it so just like that now I know I’ve got a ton of detail out here in the fringe and I’m good with that and then I can duplicate that later okay? Turn that off there it is okay. Now you’ve got a little bit of this kind of ghosting happening, that’s because it grabs some of the grayscale images and what I could do is if I grab my history can paint this right back on and just to move quick, I basically made the selection based off of the previous one and I’m just scrubbing it in very quickly you can see the original color coming back.
All right so there you go color range one selection pen tool and let’s go ahead and finish strong with probably the most widely used technique for complicated selections particularly with hair and that is channel mask. Channel masking is probably the most widely used, widely taught on YouTube technique for making selections and rightly so. It’s a great technique, so if you’re not familiar with this, she wants your base layer go over to your channels and what you’re looking for is the channel that gives you the most contrast. Now disclaimer, this is going to work. Sometimes just like I said with the other tools, it really depends on the circumstance if you have a dark-haired model on a light background your gold. If you’ve got a light haired model on a dark background your gold. Anything that’s going to give you a lot of contrast and separation, it’s going to work for you really well.
Now once you step outside of those parameters then you got to find other ways and other techniques in order to make it work. So again, I’m looking for the most contrast between the background and the foreground, it looks like this blue layer is it, so I’m going to duplicate this right here and I’m going to go ahead and hit command L or ctrl L if you’re on a PC and I’m going to increase the contrast between that hair and that background. All I’m looking for is a lot of contrast okay? I don’t want to get rid of all of these little fibers, all of these little hair, these hair strands, so you got to be careful because if you push it too far, you start to see it goes away. So right about there okay going to register that end, I’d like to invert this selection because I want the selection to be white and the thing that I’m getting rid of to be black white reveals, black conceals, this is how your masks work in Photoshop but this cool technique that you can do right like that was a global edit with the, with the levels but this cool technique that you can do to kind of isolate some of these more difficult areas is, if you make a selection just in a particular area, I can focus on the contrast on that area. So if I grab just here and do the same thing, bring up my level slider I can get a greater level of contrast in one particular area versus doing it globally okay? So I bring back some of these details. these fine hairs.
Now the rest of this stuff like this in here, that’s already been, it’s clearly within my boundaries I would say these you know let’s just call the edge of the skin my boundaries because I’m not going to be making a selection outside of that, I can easily just fill with white now instead of doing all this, watch this. Well first before we do that, let’s go ahead and get rid of this dark edge here. Same thing, isolate the area, bring it all the way down, same thing down here, same thing down here, it’s okay, if I get a little bit of overlap because that’s very clear. Look at that, I don’t have to paint it, I don’t have to get in there with my hand and do it and run the risk of there being variations moving very quickly and it’s going to give you very professional results okay? Now what about all this stuff inside here okay? Well first off, I was really only concerned with the hair, so what about that stuff in there? Let’s go ahead and go here.
First off, we’ve got our selection, now I can go back to my original layer, duplicate that and look I’ve gotten rid of the background layer and I’ve maintained the hair. Now I can go in here and tighten that up and maybe get rid of some of these other edges. Now you can use your background erase tool, what about this in here right? No good. Remember if there is something that Photoshop is pretty decent at and this select subject is giving me a pretty strong selection, so if I use that selection, I can go back here to my mask and now I don’t have to finesse Icon, just grab a white brush and move very quickly. I’m going to stay away from the hair because the hair is exactly the way I want it, this is not going to give you a refined hair edge, is just going to give you a nice body edge okay? So now my selection is even better. Let’s go back okay, so this is the original one with the channel layer. So I’ve got my hair selection there and I’m going to go ahead and make a mask over this one here and put it over top and now any area that’s, that didn’t get, didn’t travel through Icon brush back in. So this is another way to kind of work non-destructively so that you’re not losing any of these details but you still get all the information that is required okay? Some refining that needs to happen down here but again so much less and so much faster than the background erase tool.
Alright guys that’s How to make backgrounds transparent photoshop. I hope that really helps you out. Be sure to LIKE, subscribe and hit that notification bell so that you can get updates on our future videos. We love making these for you, if you’ve got any ideas for future episodes make sure you comment in the section below and let me know if this help, is helping you out okay? Thank you so much for watching and we’ll catch you next time.
***Please note, that the previous blog entry is the transcribed audio from the video for this entry. To get the full experience to be sure to watch the video on the page below or go to the Pixel Laundry Photoshop Academy YouTube channel. Be sure to subscribe to get all the latest tutorials! Also if you need retouching services, we encourage you to check out our portfolio of work at Pixel Laundry. We are clipping, background removal and retouching specialist that service traditional and online retailers, advertisers and entertainers. Please don’t hesitate to reach out for some free samples and an estimate on your project. ***