Peeling an image off a white background

scraperA lot of times, I need to remove the background from an image in Photoshop as part of a layout.  Until recently, I was using Photoshop’s magic wand tool, which, as I’m sure anyone who’s familiar with Photoshop is aware, is kind of hit or miss.  Sometimes the result looks great… other times you end up with jagged edges or halos around the image.

As it turns out there’s a much cleaner (though more complex) way of doing this.  Here’s how to “peel” an image off the background (I’m using Photoshop CS5… menu item locations may vary in other versions):

  1. Unlock the image layer by double clicking it, if you haven’t already done so.
  2. Duplicate the layer.
  3. Make the new layer your active layer, and invert it (Image > Adjustments > Invert, or Ctrl-i)
  4. Select the entire layer (Ctrl-a) and copy it to the clipboard (Ctrl-c).
  5. Hide or delete the layer (you won’t need it anymore)
  6. On the layer containing the original image, add a layer mask by clicking the Layer Mack icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.
  7. Hold the Alt key and click on the mask thumbnail (next the the thumbnail of the image in the layer panel) you just created, then paste the content of the clipboard (Ctrl-p).
  8. Click on the image thumbnail to return to normal view.  You image should now be partially transparent, and sitting on a transparent background.
  9. Duplicate the layer until the image is opaque again (usually about 5 to 10 times).
  10. Merge down the layers one at a time, starting with the topmost layer (select the layer and Crtl-e), choosing “Apply” each time it asks you about the mask.

When you’re done, you should have a single layer containing your original image, but now it’s on a transparent background.

I’ve only tried this with images on white backgrounds.  If you have a background of some other color, your results may vary.

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Nikki Blight – Web/PHP Developer