How to Erase a Background Layer in Photoshop
Photoshop is an image editing software that provides users with an array of tools to change pretty much any aspect of a photo. With tools like dodge, burn, and sponge, you can strip color from objects or lighten or darken them. Tools like the eyedropper give you the option to grab the exact color from an image and use it to replace another color in the photo. These features altogether are what make Photoshop so great; within one software, you have everything you need to bring your creative vision to life in no time.
However, if you are a Photoshop newbie, all the talk about tools and layers can seem a bit overwhelming. Today, we will be simplifying one of the most basic yet fundamental capabilities in Photoshop: erasing a background. By taking a step-by-step approach, we will review the background eraser tool, lasso tool, and manual eraser tool. By the end of this article, you will perfectly understand how to erase the background in Photoshop.
Last Updated December 2023
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If you are already familiar with manipulating backgrounds, this Photoshop tutorial will be a great refresher for you. If this is your first time editing photos, continue reading to gain a solid understanding of how to remove backgrounds using all three of Photoshop’s eraser features.
Removing the background with the background eraser tool
Whether you’re a casual user trying to create an internet meme, or a full-time graphic designer looking to design a logo, you probably spend quite a bit of time trying to make your images picture-perfect. Removing dull and unflattering backgrounds is one of the most common tricks photo editors use to achieve their design goals.
Not only will this guide explain how to get rid of the background, but it will also teach you how to make the background transparent so that you don’t get stuck with another background in another color (white).
Now that you know what’s ahead, we can now go ahead and get started.
Step 1: import the image
For this tutorial, we are going to use the image of stacked macaroons below for practice. Our goal is to cut out the background while keeping the baked goods in the photo. The original background is horrible, but we’re looking to replace the out-of-focus backdrop with something a little more fun and vibrant.
Our first step is opening the image you want to edit in Photoshop. You can do this by going to File>Open.
Step 2: locate the remove background tool
You can find the tool we are going to use for this operation under properties. This will be on the right-hand side of Photoshop’s interface. Once you find it, scroll down until you see quick actions. From there, simply select remove background.
Step 3: find areas to improve
With the click of a button, the background is no longer in the picture. If you are satisfied with it and just want a quick and easy removal without any touch-ups, great! You are now done. However, chances are that you will need to undergo some slight edits and smoothing over.
Our image below is a good example of why touch-ups are often necessary after removing the background with this. Notice how the image looks jagged and a bit unprofessional.
Step 4: Clean up the background
To slightly correct the jagged corners and inconsistencies, try the select and mask tool. Begin by selecting the layer panel in the right-hand section of Photoshop. Hold down command and then click on your cut layer. You will then see your entire cut image selected.
You will then right-click the magic wand tool and select the quick selection tool from the dropdown menu. Then, select and mask at your uppermost toolbar.
After selecting it, choose the refine brush tool from the left-hand toolbar. Drag and click on the image to smooth over the image. Similarly, you can also add back some parts of the image that the tool deleted by either using the brush tool or holding down the option key and dragging the refine brush tool across the image. Click OK at the bottom right, and then Command + X to add back the sections of the image.
As you can see below, the image is not as jagged, while the top macaroon looks much better.
Note: If using the brush tool, notice that you can subtract or add from the original photo simply by using the “+” or “-” in the top left section of the uppermost toolbar.
To optimize your newly cropped photo even more, be sure to take advantage of the refine edges tool found in the select and mask section above. This will help you to find edges, make them look more natural, and ensure that the new photo looks as seamless as the original.
Once in the tool, focus on the edge detection section. Here are a few quick and easy tools to speed up your revision process:
- Radius: Increase this slider to make the edges softer and more natural. This is far and away the most effective way to spruce up your edges and corners.
- Smooth tool: Keep it low. The higher it becomes, the less natural your photo looks.
- Feather slider: This helps blend in your foreground with the background. Keep it low if your background contrasts with your foreground, and increase if there is little distinction between background and foreground.
- Contrast: Adds more differentiation/definition to the edge of your photo. Be careful with this one, and use it in limited doses.
- Shift edge: Moving this will increase or decrease the selection
Now that we took the time to refine the edges, the photo looks much more clean and professional.
Using the lasso tool for background removal
One of the most popular tools to use for eliminating backgrounds is the lasso tool. Contrary to what the names may lead you to believe, many Photoshop users find the lasso tool to be better than the automatic remove background option because it is faster, more automated, and not as prone to mistakes.
Let’s dive into the steps below!
Step 1: using the lasso tool
Using our same macaroon image, select the lasso tool at the left-hand side of your toolbar.
Step 2: define and delete your selection
Select all sections of the macaroon photo that you do NOT want by dragging and clicking accordingly. At the top toolbar, be sure to select the lasso with the “+” sign on top of it, as “adding” will eliminate the background. Before clicking delete, be sure to right-click the layer and select rasterize. This will allow you to delete the background.
A quick tip for beginners: sometimes the lasso tool works wonderfully when identifying the edge of a shape, and sometimes it does not. If you are having difficulty with the entire background being selected right off the bat, work in sections. Then, use the “+” or “-” tool to slowly drag and select areas you want, and sections you want to remove. Zoom in (“control” + “z” to get more and more pinpoint accurate, and zoom out for context.
Background eraser tool for background removal
Now, as you can see below, the lasso tool did its job, but there are small sections that still have the background in it. What now? The background eraser tool has entered the chat.
Found on the left-hand toolbar (or by simply searching “background eraser” in your search bar), the background eraser manually allows you to eliminate the background. Is it time-consuming? Yes. But do you have complete control over everything? Yes indeed. For this particular exercise, note that we used the eraser tool instead of the background eraser tool, as it provides us with the absolute best control.
A little more clarification here: the background eraser tool is excellent if you have a clear distinction and differentiation between the background and subject colors. If your background color is muddled with the subject, however, do not select the background eraser; just use the regular eraser tool.
Step 1: locate the background eraser tool
To start, click the background eraser tool icon . Note that if you want any other eraser tool, simply right-click the icon for the full drop-down menu.
You can set the size of your eraser by clicking on the circle in the uppermost toolbar. Right now, our example is set to 52, but it will increase and decrease depending on my project.
Step 2: erase the background
Drag and erase. Be sure to zoom into the photo every time you need detail, and zoom out whenever you need some context.
Step 3: make retouches with the heal brush
For smoothing over or redoing the color of any section of your photo, use the heal brush tool. Simply click option + the color you want to replicate, and drag over to revise.
Below is an example of what is possible with the combination of the lasso tool + manual eraser tool.
Wanting to change the background of an image and give a nice pop of color? No sweat. First, make sure you have your background layer unlocked, or create a new layer as the background. Then, go to layer > layer style > color overlay. Select the color you want, and you are good to go!
You may also find that — once the color is changed — you have to touch up the photo even more. You can, of course, continue using the same techniques as before. However, one quick fix is the stamp tool. Found on the left-hand side of your toolbar, the stamp tool takes a section of your background and replicates it wherever you want. To use, simply click, select option over the color you want to copy, and then pinpoint exactly where you want it filled. This tool samples the color perfectly, and — in this instance — helps perfect the corners and edges of my macarons below.
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