Quickly Remove Unwanted Background

Stock photo Web sites (or any other Web sites that allow downloading high-quality pictures) list thousands of photos that include a single object on a white background. These can be pretty much anything—fruits, vegetables, hands, legs, lamps, tools, cookies, trees, cars, etc. Usually these photos are intended for image editing needs such as complex compositions, ads, and any other pictures that may include either a single object or more than one. But before using such objects in your composition, you want to remove that annoying white background. In this tutorial we will look at the quickest way to remove unwanted background of any color.

Please note that by “the quickest way” we really mean the quickest, not the most precise way (which is the theme for the next Pixelmator tutorial) of removing unwanted backgrounds. This technique might not work with complex backgrounds or blurry objects.

Anyway, let’s get started.

Step 1

Open an image with the object for which you would like to remove the background.

To demonstrate this, I went to www.istockphoto.com, typed “single object” into the search field, and found a red satin bow that I am sure will be useful for some of my compositions in the future.

Step 2

Select the Magic Eraser Tool in the Tools palette

The whole magic of removing unwanted backgrounds (or any other colors) in Pixelmator has to do with the Magic Eraser Tool.

Step 3

Click-and-drag with Magic Eraser on a white background, and see how it becomes transparent.

Step 4

Repeat the procedure if needed. For example, I repeated it on the bow shadows.

Conclusion

Now that you have an object without a background, you can put it into another image or simply use it in other compositions.

If you wish to keep the object’s transparency, you will need to save the image in PXM, PSD, TIFF or PNG file format. See the Pixelmator User Manual for more information about saving images.

Tutorial Comments

  1. Mitch Holbrook

    Very helpful. Just fixed my logo and plan to launch the new version of my web site with an increasing number of Pixelmator enhanced photos soon.

  2. Senior Geek

    Thank you. This was very helpful!

  3. Eoin Bailey

    I’ve been using Pixelmator for a while now, and I’ve never known about this! Thank you, this is going to be my most used tip! It’s already being put to use.

    I really should go through the manual, it’s just that I never have the time to do that, but it would be worth it in the long run.

  4. Shake

    extremely helpful! thank you.

  5. Isaac

    I have done this but when I export it into my blog, the transparent area shows up as white instead of transparent. I saved it as a PNG and told it to keep transparency, what did I do wrong?

  6. Matt

    To Isaac,

    Make sure to update your browser to the latest version. Sometime older browsers do like that such as IE6 at my work does the same thing without transparent but white instead. Hope that helps!

  7. Michal

    If it does work (most likely because the background has many colors or the background and picture wanted to be kept have similar colors.) then use the lasso tool and just click around the whole image to select it and delete the stuff around the selection.

  8. marx

    i could remove white background only changing the blend mode of layer to multiply.

  9. Dr. Pee Pee

    Thanks so much! I had no idea what that tool did, and I hadn’t tried it out yet. But now that I understand what it can do, wow… I’ll save some much time now! I used to just try to use the soft eraser and always, painstakingly, attempt to erase all the background on an image. And it was always the worse, especially when I had a person I wanted to erase the background from, and I would get to try to go around his hair, and it was just a huge mess, trying not erase bits of hair, but then it would always leave pieces of the background, between hair locks, just so annoying!!

    But this, this, is perfect!!! Oh man, I love Pixelmator so much, and this just reaffirmed my love even more! Thank you so much for this tutorial, and the amazing application that is Pixelmator!!!

    Now…on to the rest of the tutorials!!!

  10. slashcoleman

    Holy Amazing! That was cool – Thanks so much. It worked great!

  11. PEGRET

    Went through the tutorials and the help topics-very understandable-have iphoto, picasa, pse, LR, Nikon transfer and view but this app seems to be the the most user friendly and direct with explicit directions. issues: some help topics are blank…i.e.no brush collections, erase tool,paint bucket, gradient tool and fill stroke selections just to name a few, appear. Some tutorials refer to the “manual” where is it?

  12. briana

    I have a huge problem doing this. When i try to delete the background on a “normal not so simple picture” it cuts off parts I don’t want. Wish I could just take out the whole background and leave the object……frustrating!!!

  13. Ausra

    Briana,

    If the background is a little more complicated than this one, try using other techniques for selecting objects. You might want to have a look at the Lasso Tool tutorial:

    http://www.pixelmator.com/tutorials/working-with-the-lasso-tools/

    or, Changing Backgrounds tutorial:

    http://www.pixelmator.com/tutorials/changing-backgrounds/

  14. davim84

    hey great tutorial, I removed the white background from my logo, but when i save my logo it saves with white background to my desktop, how do i save the logo with no background??

  15. Ausra

    @ davim84, save your images in PNG file format to preserve the transparency.

  16. Joel

    So, I have a JPG, I have removed the background. I saved as a PNG, it opens in preview fine and has the background now transparent. I open back in Pixelmator and it is transparent. I than export back to JPG. However the background is now white again? Is it not possible to save a JPG with a transparent background? I am trying to upload to a custom print site and they only allow JPG. I don’t want a white background included on my glasses, just the logo. Can anyone comment on this? thanks, Joel

  17. Ausra

    Hi Joel,

    JPG file type doesn’t support transparency. To keep the transparency, you should save your images in PNG file type.

  18. josh

    How then could I put in a different background color? Example: I have a picture that I would like to remove the background color (which I can use the magic eraser tool above to do that), then I would like to put in another color. How would I do that? Many thanks.

  19. Ausra

    Josh,

    Create a new layer by click the Add Button (+) in the Layers palette (View > Show Layers). Drag this newly created layer below the Background Layer. Next, choose Edit > Fill to fill the area with any color you like. And that’s all.

  20. Michelle

    Is there no “paths” tool available?

  21. Ausra

    Hi Michelle,

    You can create paths using the Pen Tool which is available in Pixelmator 2.0.

  22. Edwin

    Thanks for this. The easiest tutorial I’ve seen on this subject so far.

  23. Torg

    Can I change the “shape” of the eraser so I can do a more precise edge?

  24. Ausra

    @Torg, yes you can. Use the Brushes palette to change the tip of the Eraser Tool (View > Show Brushes).

  25. Young

    Hey! Thanks for the tutorial. I tried to use the masking tool in photoshop to make my G+ cover… but failed! I’m glad I found this.

  26. Dave

    It’s magical!! (~insert Drew Barrymore voice~)

  27. DeeDee

    Thank you!

  28. Rae

    It looks like it is very easy but when I select my Magic Eraser and place it on my white part of the image it is a large circle and then my entire image goes away and noting is transparent! Clearly I am doing something wrong. When I drag it says “Tolerance” and then a percentage…please help my idiotness!!!

    Rae

  29. Ausra

    Hey Rae,

    Try only clicking. Don’t drag. It should work. If you drag the Tolerance increases and more image is erased.

  30. BenG

    OK, I am missing something. I have a picture of a carpenter’s triangle. I want to cut away all the background (transparent), save the image and import it into a CAD program, so I can overlay the triangle shape over a logo dwg.

    I erased the background as described above (checkerboard pattern), saved it in various formats, but all import into the CAD with a black background filling out the image.

    You can tell I am a novice at image processing.

  31. Ausra

    @BenG, save the image in PNG file format. It should preserve the transparency.

  32. J Dizzle

    I’ve erased a little too much of my background and would like to retrieve it. I can’t “undo” as I’ve saved the file. Is there a way to get the original image back? THANKS!

  33. Ausra

    @J Dizzle: Yes, choose File > Revert To > Browser All Version.

  34. Dillo

    Is there really no way to select non-contiguous areas of the same color? What if the object has holes?

  35. Ausra

    @Dillo, using selection tools you can choose the selection modes. You can read more about those modes here:

    http://help.pixelmator.com/mac/3.2/#64

  36. Daniel

    As a Mac user, Pixelmator is my go-to. I’ve been using it in little bits for the past couple of years and learning as I go.

    And I’m finding that I’m starting to gain some proficiency in photo-editing. Cool!

  37. Julie

    I used the magic eraser on the top of my image, but now when I click on the bottom portion- like on your picture the bottom portion of the bow, it is not allowing me to use the magic eraser- nothing happens. What am I doing wrong? The top portion also has a dotted line around the portion I am removing- nothing like that is showing up under the image when I click on it. Thanks for your help!

  38. Salim Ahmed

    Great work and great instruction. Thanks

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  43. Salomon

    I’ve erased a little too much of my background and would like to retrieve it.

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  45. Anila Jain

    You have used the magic eraser tool here for removing the background and it worked well as the background is in one solid color. But if the background is not in one solid color or the image edge is not plain enough then Photoshop pen tool should be used for image selection and then need remove the background of that image.

  46. Pedro Mack

    Most Prominent Work and Tremendous Efforts from you. Fantastic view of points there. I am optimistic that I will use masking tools in Photoshop to make this things happened.

  47. Mike Lin

    You said, “not the most precise way (which is the theme for the next Pixelmator tutorial)”. What is the next Pixelmator tutorial? I have a blurry object and it’s difficult to make it look natural after removing the background.

  48. Fiona

    I’m not a designer, but I’ve lost my fair share of hours zooming in and tracing to
    Background Removal. I had no idea that feature existed! Thanks for saving me a few hours in the future :).

  49. Gene Callahan

    On a WEB PAGE, you mention the “next tutorial”… and DON’T LINK TO IT! Aargh!

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