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    May 19, 2015 // 8:00 AM

    How to Remove the Background of a Photo in Photoshop or PowerPoint

    Written by Pamela Vaughan | @

    transparent photo background

    You know what one of my biggest design pet peeves is? When I'm trying to design something, but there's an unwanted background on the image I'm using. Either I want to remove the photo background altogether, or I prefer a transparent background so the image assumes the look of any other background I put behind it.

    Take the image on the left above, which is from our free, downloadable collection of holiday stock photos. That image would be so much more useful to my call-to-action, SlideShare presentation, blog post, or ebook if I could just remove that pesky background so it looked like the image on the right. Or maybe you've downloaded another one of our collections of free stock photos that could also use a transparent background.

    Luckily, there is something you can do about it. Using either Photoshop or PowerPoint, you can easily remove the background of your photo or image in no time. And I'm going to show you exactly how to do it. First, grab an image to practice with ...

    Download our newest collection of royalty-free stock photos, and choose an image.

    Got an image whose background you want to remove? Great -- let's get started!

    Because some of you may not have Photoshop at your disposal, let's start with instructions for PowerPoint. You can also jump down to the instructions for Photoshop here.

    How to Remove a Photo Background in PowerPoint

    Keep in mind that you'll need to be using Office 2010 or later, and because PowerPoint isn't as sophisticated as Photoshop, it may not work for some of the more difficult images. But if you don't have access to Photoshop, this could be just what you need.

    1) Insert the image into PowerPoint.

    Images with white/solid backgrounds or those that have high contrast with the foreground are the easiest to manipulate in PowerPoint. 

    insert-image-into-ppt.png

    2) First, click on your image. Then, under 'File' (on a PC) or 'Adjust' (on a Mac) in your toolbar, choose 'Remove Background.'

    remove-background-ppt-button.png

    3) PowerPoint will automatically try to remove the background ... but it probably won't get it right.

    remove-background-ppt-step-1.png

    4) Using the options in the toolbar, click to mark areas you want to keep or remove from the final cropped image.

    See how it's cutting off part of shark boy's torso above? First, drag the box around the image so it includes the entire area of the image you want to keep. 

    Keep in mind that the areas highlighted in purple will ultimately be removed. Using the Mark Areas to Remove option in the toolbar, click on any additional areas you would like to remove -- they will feature a minus sign. And if there are purple areas you actually want to keep, use the Mark Areas to Keep option in the toolbar and click to mark areas you want to keep -- they will feature a plus sign.

    To be more precise with the areas you're clicking on, zoom in on your image. 

    shark-boy-ppt-areas-to-remove-keep.png

    Let's zoom in for a closer look ...

    areas-to-keep-remove-zoomed.png

    If you happen to mistakenly include or exclude something, just click on the plus or minus sign that covers the area, and it will disappear.

    5) Click somewhere outside of the image when you're finished ... and voila! 

    background-removed-ppt.png

    6) Last but not least, save the image as a PNG file to preserve its transparent background.

    How to Remove a Photo Background in Photoshop

    Because Photoshop is much more sophisticated than PowerPoint, there are a few different methods you can use to make a background transparent. Each is good for a different kind of image. Click the links below to jump to the tutorial for each method:

    The Polygonal Lasso Method: For Images With Straight Edges

    Let's say I want to remove the blue background (as well as the pole) from this "stop spam" image.

    no-spam-stop-sign.jpg

    Because this image is made up entirely of straight edges, this method of background removal is perfect. Here's how to make that blue background (and the silver pole) transparent.

    1) Get your image ready in Photoshop. 

    The first thing you'll want to do after you drag and drop your image into Photoshop is convert it into a "Smart Object," and then rasterize it. Here's how:

    Click on the Layer dropdown in your Photoshop menu, highlight Smart Objects, and then click Convert to Smart Object

    layer-convert.png

    Next, click on the Layer dropdown again, but this time, highlight Rasterize, and then click Smart Object

    layer-rasterize.png

    Now you're ready to convert that pesky background into a transparent one.

    2) Zoom in on your image so you can be more precise with your background removal. 

    You can zoom in and out by clicking the View dropdown and choosing Zoom In or Zoom Out, or using the keyboard shortcuts as indicated.

    3) Select the Polygonal Lasso Tool from the toolbar on the left. 

    The Polygonal Lasso Tool looks like this: polygonal-lasso-tool.png

    Once selected, click on a starting point, and trace the part of the image you want to keep using a series of clicks from point to point. I prefer to get rid of the black border on the stop sign, so I'm tracing the sign just inside the outer edge of the white border.

    lasso-spam.png

    4) Connect the line with your starting point. 

    Once you've made it all the way around your image, connect your line to the first point you started with. You'll know it's connected when your cursor includes a little circle, as shown below.

    connected-cursor.png

    Once you connect your line to your first point, a flashing dashed line will form around your image, like so ... 

    dashed-line-edge.png

    5) Select the background you want to delete.

    Do this by clicking the Select dropdown in the top menu, and clicking Inverse. This will highlight the entire background you want to make transparent.

    select-inverse.png

    6) Delete the background.

    Hit Delete on your keyboard, and the background will turn into a checkered grid like you see below. This is how you'll know your background is now transparent.

    straight-edge-delete.png

    7) Save your image as a PNG file. 

    This will ensure your background transparency stays in tact. 

    The Quick Selection Method: For Images With Round or Wavy Edges

    Okay, now let's say your image isn't as straight-edged as the image in the example above, and it's got some curve to it, like the image below. Here, you'll want to use the Quick Selection Tool.

    bag-guy.jpg

    1) Get your image ready in Photoshop. 

    Just like we did with the Polygonal Lasso method, the first thing you'll want to do after you drag and drop your image into Photoshop is convert it into a "Smart Object," and then rasterize it:

    1. Click on the Layer dropdown in your Photoshop menu, highlight Smart Objects, and then click Convert to Smart Object
    2. Next, click on the Layer dropdown again, but this time, highlight Rasterize, and then click Smart Object. (See step 1 within the Polygonal Lasso method tutorial for screenshots if you're stuck.)

    2) Choose the Quick Selection Tool from the toolbar on the left.

    The Quick Selection Tool is right below the Polygonal Lasso Tool, and it looks like this: quick-selection-tool-button.png

    3) Click the background to highlight the part you want to make transparent.

    This tool takes some getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, it's one of the fastest and easiest ways to remove the background from a photo.

    Start clicking around on the background to highlight the parts you want to remove.

    quick-selection-first.png

    Adjust the size of the selection tool accordingly. I recommend starting with a larger size, since that will allow you to select larger sections of your background at a time, speeding up the process.

    quick-selection-size.png

    Repeat this process until the entire background of the image is selected:

    quick-selection-tool2.png

    4) Subtract selections as needed.

    Oops! Let's say you notice part of the image you want to keep is getting highlighted along with the background, like you see in the screenshot below. 

    oops.png

    Have no fear -- you can subtract parts of the image that accidentally get highlighted:

    First, click on the Subtract From Selection button in the toolbar at the top. (Alternatively, you can hold down alt while you click on a PC, or option while you click on a Mac.)

    subtract-from-selection.png

    This is also something that may take some getting used to, but the trick is to position your cursor right along the inner edges of the part of the image you want to keep. You may want to adjust the size of your Quick Selection tool for some of the finer details. Then click so the incorrectly highlighted section gets detracted.

    5) Delete the background. 

    Finally, click Delete on your keyboard to make the background transparent.

    quick-selection-tool-delete2.png

    5) Save your image as a PNG file. 

    This will preserve the transparency of your background.

    Pro Tip: Sometimes using the Quick Selection Tool results in jagged edges, especially on parts of the image where the edge should be a straight line. This tends to happen most on low-resolution images. If it happens to you, try smoothing out the jagged edges using the Polygonal Lasso method after first removing the background with the Quick Selection Tool.

    The Brush Method: For Trickier Images 

    There's a third method you can fall back on if the first two methods just aren't cutting it. This is great for images that need a little bit more precision, although to be honest, the first two methods usually do the trick for me.

    The one time this method comes in handy for me is when I need to clean up some of the edges of images whose backgrounds were removed via the first two methods. For example, I used the Polygonal Lasso Tool in Photoshop to remove the background of the shark boy image at the very top of this article, but I cleaned up the spaces in between his fingers (which needed a little bit more precision) using the Brush Method. 

    1) Get your image ready in Photoshop. 

    Just like the first two methods, the first thing you need to do after you drag and drop your image into Photoshop is convert it into a "Smart Object," and then rasterize it:

    1. Click on the Layer dropdown in your Photoshop menu, highlight Smart Objects, and then click Convert to Smart Object
    2. Next, click on the Layer dropdown again, but this time, highlight Rasterize, and then click Smart Object. (See step 1 within the Polygonal Lasso method tutorial for screenshots if you're stuck.)

    2) Select the Brush Tool from the toolbar on the left.

    The Brush Tool is right below the Red Eye Tool, and it looks like this: brush-tool.png

    3) Change the "Mode" and "Hardness" of the Brush Tool.

    Right below the top menu, change the Mode to Clear. Then click the drop-down arrow next to the brush size box, and change the Hardness to 100%. This will essentially transform your Brush Tool into an eraser. 

    mode-and-hardness.png

    4) Brush away the background.

    Erase your background by clicking and dragging. Adjust the size of your Brush Tool and zoom in on your image for more fine-tuned precision. 

    brush-method-1.png

    5) Save your image as a PNG file. 

    Once you have your image the way you want it, save it as a PNG. This will preserve the transparency of your background.

    That's it!  Hopefully image background removal is now much easier for you using at least one of these methods. If you have any other background removal tips, feel free to share them in the comments.

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published in September 2013 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

    80 royalty-free stock photos

      80 royalty-free stock photos

    Topics: Design Content Marketing

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