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Two foolproof ways to remove the background from a photo

Updated: Aug 6, 2013 02:58 PM
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By Drew Prindle
Provided by

Looking to cut out the background from an image, but aren't quite sure how to do it? Well, no matter if you have Photoshop or not, you've come to the right place. In this article we'll cover two different methods that will get the job done: one that uses Photoshop, and one that relies on a browser-based Web app.

We'll start with the simplest option – the Web app. Even if you're partial to full-featured programs like Photoshop or GIMP, we highly recommend checking out Clipping Magic. We like it because the learning curve is insanely low, it doesn't require any downloads or installs because it runs in your browser, and it doesn't cost a single cent. The program is currently in alpha, but it still works like a charm. Here's a quick rundown of how to use it: 

If you're fortunate enough to have a copy of Photoshop and prefer to use that,  we've also included a quick tutorial for that. 

How to remove backgrounds with Clipping Magic

So let's say you want to Photoshop a mustache onto your boss's face, but you don't have Photoshop and all of the gloriously curly mustaches you find have annoying white backgrounds on them. In order to strip out the background and get a PNG image of the mustache by itself, follow these steps:

1. Download/save the image to your computer.

2. Head over to ClippingMagic.com.

3. Click the big blue Choose File button or just drag and drop your image into the dotted box.

4. Draw a green line on the parts of the image you want to keep.

5. Draw a red line on the parts of the image you want to remove, i.e., the background. Zoom in as needed for more precision.

6. If the image preview on the right looks correct, go ahead and click save. 

Removing complex backgrounds

Looking to remove the background from an actual photograph, not just some clip art with a white background? Don't worry – Clipping Magic can handle this too, but it'll take a little extra work. To get the job done, just follow the same steps as above, but get a little bit more precise with the red and green markings. For example, this picture of my coworker Brandon Widder is pretty good, but the background just doesn't do him justice. I want to replace it with something a bit more interesting.

When I first dropped the image into Clipping Magic, the software's edge-finding algorithm did a decent job of finding Brandon, but needed a little extra help catching his majestic, flowing locks.

So, to make it more accurate, I needed to zoom in and get more precise with my green markings. You can change the size of your brush in the top menu, but I've found that's it's much easier to just zoom in really far. Once you're close enough to see where the algorithm missed the edges, drop a few green marks to help it straighten out. 

Once you're done with that, just zoom back out too see if the finished product looks all right. Mine's not perfect, but it'll do.

Now I can add a newer, more appropriate background

How to remove a background with Photoshop

Photoshop is a pretty amazing program, and with such a massive selection of tools, the program offers a number of different ways to strip backgrounds from images. We'll start with the easiest method. If you're dealing with a background that's a solid color, you can strip it away with these simple steps:

1. Open the image in Photoshop.

2. Select the Magic Wand tool.

3. Click on the background and hit Delete. It'll magically disappear.

4. Save your image, and make sure it's in PNG format.

Removing complex backgrounds

To strip away a more complex background in Photoshop, you'll need to dig a bit deeper into your toolbox. Photoshop is an incredibly full-featured program, and as such, it supplies you with different ways to remove backgrounds. Some of these methods carry far steeper learning curves than others, so for this tutorial we'll go over a method that's fairly straightforward. Here's how it's done:

1. Open your photo in Photoshop.

2. Select the Background Eraser tool.

3. Adjust the brush size to your liking.

4. Set the Sampling to Continuous.

5. Set the Limits to Find Edges.

6. Adjust the Tolerance. Lower is generally better since a high setting will remove more colors. It's generally a safe bet to opt for a setting in the 20-30 range.

7. Hover your brush over an area of the background that's near your object. Click and it will magically be removed.

8. Continue this process until you've created a background-free border around your entire object. Feel free to adjust the tolerance as needed where your image gets lighter/darker around the edges.

9. Once you've got a solid border around your object, you can switch over to the regular Eraser tool to remove the rest and put on the finishing touches before you save.

This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

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