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Quickly Remove Backgrounds in Photoshop Using the Magic Eraser

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One of the most common questions I get from inexperienced Photo editors is “How do I remove the background from my picture?” There are probably dozens of ways in any version of Photoshop to do this, and each has its challenges. This technique is most likely the simplest.

The image above is very ideal for this technique. Yours may not be, but you can still use this technique to remove your background. You can download this image on Wikipedia to try it yourself before you dive in and use your own photos, which are probably more complicated. If they are, you may want to check out my more advanced tutorial on Removing Complex Backgrounds from Images. If not, this How-To will help you remove those simpler backgrounds.

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Diving right in, right click on your “Background” layer in your Layers Palette. Pick “Layer from Background…” to unlock your Background layer.

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Photoshop won’t let you have a file without at least one layer in it, but it will allow you to have one without a locked “background” layer. “Background” becomes “Layer 0.” Simply press OK at this prompt.

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If your Layers Palette looks like this, it’s time to erase out your background.

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Click and hold on the Eraser Tool until you get the contextual menu. You’ll be picking the “Magic Eraser.”

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The Control Palette is at the top of your screen. You’ll need to set your tool to have these settings before the next step.

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Simply click on any color and the Magic Eraser fills it with transparency as if it was the Paint Bucket Tool.

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Notice that this gives a slight halo effect where the anti-aliasing can’t take care of all of the blue sky in our background. Oftentimes, your images will come out the same. There are more advanced ways to cut out images in Photoshop and many of them exist to deal with this craft issue.

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Press  L to choose the Lasso tool. Use it to draw a rough shape around your newly cut out object like I’ve done with this bird.

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Press ctrl shift J to perform a “New Layer Via Cut.” This will remove whatever was in your lassoed area and automatically move it to a new layer. You can safely delete “Layer 0,” having removed the only part of the image you care about.

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I click on the adjustment layer to add a “Color Fill” style Adjustment Layer. I put this behind my “Layer 1” to test the halo around the bird and get an idea how good my cutout is.

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I decide that it’s pretty decent, despite some haloing around some of the darker areas. Again, this image is a fairly perfect one for removing the background with the Magic Eraser. If your background is more complex for the Magic Eraser, see my tutorial on removing complex backgrounds.

Image by Fir0002 via Wikipedia. Image protected under GNU license.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.

  • Published 10/8/10

Comments (10)

  1. Andy

    After you do your initial cut out. Invert your selection (CTRL+SHIFT+I).

    Now just the bird should be selected. Contract the selection SELECT->MODIFY->CONTRACT

    Depending on the resolution of your photo this number can be between 1 and 25.

    Now Invert your selection again (CTRL+SHIFT+I)

    Now CLEAR the selection EDIT->CLEAR

    This will reduce your Halo effect and most of the time remove it. Practice makes perfect, don’t forget you can always CTRL+ALT+Z!

  2. 3grrrs

    Terrific photoshop hints .. but do you ever do paint shop pro hints, sadly, not all of us can afford photo shop
    Thanks for all the good stuff you post!
    Rita

  3. Eric Z Goodnight

    Hello, Rita. I will be doing an all-around graphics column at How-To Geek, not focusing just on Photoshop. I will be discussing free and cheaper options like GIMP, Paint.NET and Photoshop Elements. Maybe Paint Shop Pro, as well. My goal is to be able to help our audience in any graphics program.

  4. Ian

    A simpler version is Select with the lasso loosely and use the magic wand (subtract) to get closer fit, then cut or ctrl+j for new layer. done.(of-course using photoshop).

  5. Andy

    @IAN, shorter in one part….longer in another.. With a photo like this…the lasso is unnecessary.

  6. Darrell

    Great Article, I appreciate your taking time to share with us. Looks Great !

  7. chess

    paint.net?

  8. marc

    Two tips that improve this process:

    1) Click on the sky (in this case) a couple of times with the magic eraser tool and play with the Tolerance. It may be enough may get rid of enough of the “halo effect” for simple images

    2) Instead of all the lassoing, just Ctrl+click on the layer’s thumbnail to select the hawk {in this case}?

  9. Eric Z Goodnight

    I used the lasso to make sure there were no hidden extra bits of information in the layer. Sometimes the Magic Eraser won’t quite erase everything, so I add this step to get rid of that.

    Playing with the tolerance is always a good idea. The Magic eraser works exactly like the paint bucket tool except it paints transparency, so you often have to mess around with it to get it to do what you want.

  10. Carrol

    Just made my day! Have solved the many problems I’ve experienced when correcting errors in
    historical family photos. Thanks heaps! Regards, Carrol

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