Photoshop: Transparent Background Tutorial

I am pretty sure this happens to all of us at some point. You might be trying to prepare a picture for a presentation, or adding a logo to your website. Maybe you need it for a collage you’re putting together. And then there is the background. Sigh. It’s such a pain. Knowing how to get rid of the background in Photoshop is easy and it’s a skill you’re going to be thrilled to have. We will also touch on some other transparency based techniques so you can say you know it all. Making transparent backgrounds in Photoshop is just the beginning. Learn the foundations of Photoshop in this tutorial.

Make an existing image’s background transparent

  • First, you’ll need to find the image you wish to edit. Go ahead and hit “O” to open an image, or click on File–> Open.

  • It’s probably a good idea to save this image by clicking on File–> Save as. This means your original image will always remain the same, regardless what you do to it here.

  • Now that you have selected and saved the image, locate your layers panel and double-click the word that says “background”. This will create a pop-up box to name your new layer. Name it, or don’t, then press OK.

  • Drag this new layer (layer 1) below the current layer (the one next to your image thumbnail that you renamed or kept as layer 0).

  • Click on the layer next to your thumbnail to highlight it. Press the “W” key which is a short code for your “quick selection tool”. Left click and drag this over the part of your image you want to make transparent. For this image, I started from the top left corner and slowly drag the quick selection tool inwards until it covered the space I wanted. If you accidently get marching ants around your entire picture, press CTRL+Z to go back a step. This is your shortcut for “undo”. You should see marching ants around your selection. What are marching ants? Become a photoshop guru in no time in this online course.

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  • Now, the easy part. Push delete. You should see white and grey checkered boxes where your background once was. This is indicative of a transparent background. You did it! Repeat the above steps with any other space in the background you wish to remove, as I have done below.

  • If you are happy with the results, then go to File–> Save. I prefer to save mine for the web. To do that click on File–> Save for Web. I select JPEG from the dropdown list at the top right of the save box. You can mess with the other setting if you know what you’re doing – if not, just push OK to save.

Create a new image with a transparent background

So now you know how to get rid of a background of an image that’s already been made. It’s really helpful for a lot of scenarios, but what happens when you’re designing your own graphic in Photoshop and you want to make sure it has a transparent background? There’s an answer for that and it’s one of a couple options: initial transparency, eraser, deleting background or lasso. Let’s go through these.

Initial Transparency

  • This option is good if you have not started designing yet.

  • When you go to open a new canvas to work on a new graphic, find “background contents” and select Transparent from the drop down menu. *Note* if you are using your image for the web, make sure to save this as a PNG. JPEG does not support this transparent feature.

  • That’s it. You’re done. Get to designing!

Delete Background

  • Sounds simple enough, right? But you can only do this option if you are working with a multi-layer image and the background is white. Find the “background” layer on your layers panel. Right click on it and click “delete layer”. This should reveal any transparency.

  • Click File –> Save. You can continue working now.

Clipping Path non-white backgrounds, non-multi layers

If the above options were not something you could do without sacrificing part of your image – it’s okay. We just have to get a bit creative with our methods, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

  • Find your eraser button on your tool bar and right click on it. Choose “magic eraser tool”.

  • Now drag your magic eraser tool over the parts of the image you want the background to be removed from. You’ll notice that this tool wipes out most of the background, but it can also take out things you don’t want it to. To “undo” the last erase you did, press CTRL+Z. Now to make this erase function a little more precise you can lower the “tolerance”. Go to the top of your window, with the eraser tool active, and lower the number.

  • With the lower tolerance number you can try to drag the magic eraser tool over the parts of your image you want to be removed again. This should aid the collateral damage from wiping out the background.

Eraser tool for manual erasing

  • If you’re feeling patient, you can also unlock your background layer and manually erase the background piece you want removed. To unlock the image just click on the lock next to your background layer and drag it to the trashcan at the bottom of your layer panel. Now you’re unlocked and you can edit this layer all you want.

Lasso Tool

If none of the above options worked, you can probably –with patience- get the results you want with the lasso tool.

  • First, locate your lasso tool on the side tool bar. If you right click you’ll notice a few different options. Try them all out and see what results you like better. Let’s start with the regular lasso.

  • Draw around the image you want to keep. There should be marching ants around it. You’ll have to pay close attention as you draw so you don’t cut anything out. And don’t let up on your mouse clicker until you’ve come full circle with the lasso.

  • Click CTRL+Shift+I to invert the selection.

  • Now press CTRL+X to delete the background.

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