Photoshop: How to Remove Background of Image in 7 Quick Ways (Updated 2022)

how to remove background from image in photoshop

Knowing how to remove background in Photoshop is a valuable skill. This allows you to create fabulous graphic design work with more flexibility. Depending on the final results you are looking for, there are multiple ways you can use to turn the unwanted background of your image into a transparent background or change it to a new background or change the background color with Adobe Photoshop.

Before jumping into it, you should check your image. It’s always best to source an image of high enough resolution with a clean background. It is easier to remove the background of a high-quality image rather than something that is blurry and pixelated. But sometimes you don’t have a choice and you have an image with a complex background or the area of the image you want to retain is not that sharp, to begin with. In this case, you can still remove the background of the image in Photoshop, with a bit more time and detailed work.

In this tutorial, I’m using Photoshop CC 2022 on a Mac OS to show you the different methods to remove the background of an image.

Prepare Your Image In Adobe Photoshop

Step 1: Unlock Background Layer

Open your image in Photoshop. Open the Layers panel by going to the menu bar, then, click on Window and scroll down the drop-down menu to click Layers.

With the Layers panel opened, you can see at least one layer inside.

If it’s a locked background layer, double-click the image layer so that it converts to a layer.

Double-click to unlock background layer in Photoshop
Double-click to unlock background layer
Open Layer Panel and unlock background layer

Step 2: Duplicate Layer

After converting the locked background image to an unlocked image layer, you should duplicate it to save the original image. To do that, go to the Layers panel, and select the layer you want to duplicate. Then, click the menu button on the top right-hand corner of the Layers panel. A drop-down menu appears, then click on Duplicate Layer.

The other way to duplicate a layer is to right-click on the selected layer. Click on Duplicate Layer in the drop-down menu and your layer will be duplicated.

Duplicate layer

Step 3: Make Layer Invisible

Next, make the duplicated layer invisible by unchecking it or clicking the eye icon so that the eye icon disappears. Now only the layer you want to remove the background from is visible.

Uncheck layer eye in Photoshop
Uncheck layer eye

First Method with Photoshop Remove Background Tool

The Remove Background Tool in Photoshop is by far the best tool. Instead of taking hours, this method takes only mere seconds to remove the backgrounds of any image. It does work best if your image is of high resolution, with a solid background or solid color background, and a subject that is sharp. It is also the easiest way to do the job among all other methods.

How this tool works is that it uses the machine learning technology of Adobe Sensei to help to recognize the subject. With a click of the button, the background of your image automatically disappears. Here’s how you use the Remove Background tool to remove backgrounds in Photoshop:

Remove background with Photoshop’s Remove Background Tool

Step 1: Open Properties Panel

Open up the Properties Panel by going to the top menu. Click Windows, scroll down the dropdown menu, and click Properties. The Properties Panel opens up with some functions. Under the Quick Actions subpanel, click the Remove Background button. Wait for a few seconds and the background disappears, leaving only the main subject.

Step 2: Select Layer

Go to the Layers Panel and click on the image layer that you wish to remove the background from.

Step 3: Remove Background

This is the best method because you typically only have to go through one step to remove background of an image in Photoshop. The best thing is, the background is not deleted permanently but saved as a layer mask. In this way, the background can be hidden from view and you can have it appear anytime you want. There are times when the edges of your subject need to be cleaned up, you can easily do that with the layer mask. Other than that, the subject image is good to go.

If you don’t see the Remove Background button in the Quick Actions subpanel, chances are your image is still a locked background layer. You will have to unlock it first. Once it’s unlocked, check the Quick Actions subpanel, you should be able to see the Remove Background button this time.

Second Method with Photoshop Select Subject Tool

Sometimes, you want to remove the background not by layer masking, but by picking out the subject image. In this case, you can use the Select Subject Tool in the Quick Actions subpanel of the Properties panel.

Same with Remove Background Tool, the Select Subject Tool also leverages the power of Adobe Sensei to select your subject. Here’s how you do this:

Remove background by selecting subject

Step 1: Click the Select Subject Button

Open up the Properties Panel and go to the Quick Action subpanel. Instead of clicking the Remove Background button, click on the button labeled Select Subject. You will now see marching ants or dotted lines surrounding the subject of your image. This means the subject has been selected without the background.

Step 2: Move Subject

Next, select the Move Tool or press V on the keyboard. Bring the cursor to the subject surrounded by marching ants. You can move the subject around without the background.

Third Method with The Quick Selection Tool

When using the Remove Background tool, it can only help you remove the background. As for the Select Subject tool, it can only help you select the subject and separate it from the background. Both these tools can help you save a lot of time and effort removing the background, but you can’t choose a specific area to remove.

As for the Quick Selection tool, it gives you far more flexibility to remove any part of your image. Here’s how to use it:

Step 1: Decide What You Want to Keep

You need first to decide if you want to remove all of the background or only part of it.

For example in this image, I want to remove only the upper part of the background and keep the cat and floor as part of the subject image.

Once you’ve decided on the area you want to keep, it’s time to move on to step 2.

Step 2: Select the Quick Selection Tool

Having decided on the part you want to keep, now go to the Toolbar and find the tool that looks like a brush with a circle made of dotted lines. If you don’t see it, it may have been nested with the Magic Wand Tool. You can look for the Magic Wand Tool or press W on the keyboard, right-click on the Magic Wand Tool icon, and a menu pops up with three other tools. One of the tools is the Quick Selection Tool. Click on that.

Quick Selection Tool in Photoshop
Quick Selection Tool

Step 3: Select the Part You Want to Keep

Once you’ve selected the Quick Selection Tool, go to the Layer Panel, and click on the layer you want to be removing the background from. If the layer is not selected, your Quick Selection Tool does not work.

After that, with the Quick Selection Tool, hover your cursor over every part of the image that you want to keep, then click and drag the cursor to select it. You will start to see marching ants appearing around the area you want.

Keep doing the same until you’ve selected every part that you want.

There are times when you select something you don’t want by accident. You can remove that by holding down the Option key for Mac and Alt key for Windows. This changes the cursor to the Quick Selection with a minus sign (-). With that, do the same by hovering your cursor over the image you want to remove but accidentally included, then clicking and dragging the cursor to deselect it. The marching ants around that area disappear.

Step 4: Removing the Background that You Don’t Want

With the area of the image you want to select, now is time to remove the area you don’t want and keep the area that is within the marching ants.

To do that, go to the button just below the top menu, called Select and Mask.

Click Select and Mask…

You will see the background is removed and the Properties panel with many rows of toggles appears on the right side. Scroll all the way down to Output Settings.

Output Settings options in Select and Mask Properties Panel in Photoshop
Output Settings options in Select and Mask Properties Panel

Click on the arrow on the left of Output settings and more options appear. Under “Output to”, click the options window and select Layer Mask. Then click the OK button.

Select Layer Mask in Photoshop
Select Layer Mask

Now when you come back to the Layers Panel, you will see your image layer is accompanied by a layer mask thumbnail that is black and white. This allows a reversible action to your image. In other words, no part of your image is lost. You can make the removed portion appear again or you can remove more of your image if you want using this layer mask.

Third Method with The Object Selection Tool

The Object Selection Tool is similar to the Remove Background Tool and Select Subject Tool in that it uses the machine learning technology of Adobe Sensei to help to recognize and select the subject.

Step 1: Select the Object Selection Tool

Object Selection Tool in Photoshop
Object Selection Tool

You can find the Object Selection Tool in the same place as the Quick Selection Tool. Go to the Toolbar and look for the Magic Wand Tool or press W on the keyboard, right-click on the Magic Wand Tool icon, and a menu pops up with three other tools. One of the tools is the Object Selection Tool. The icon has a cursor pointing to a white solid square with dotted lines around it. Click on that.

Step 2: Select Your Image Subject

Select your desired image layer, then hover your cursor over the image subject. Next, click once on your image subject, then wait for a few seconds. Once the subject is identified, you will see marching ants appear around it.

Step 3: Remove Background

Then, similar to the method before this, click on the button that says Select and Mask below the top menu. With the Properties Panel opened, scroll down to Output To and select Layer Mask. Then click the OK button.

You have now removed the background in Photoshop and created a layer mask for that image layer.

The Magic Wand Tool

The Magic Wand Tool is similar to the Quick Selection Tool in that it doesn’t select the subject or background in one click. You use the Magic Wand Tool if your image does not have an obvious background to remove with the Remove Background Tool.

Maybe your image includes lots of trees, flowers, and people intertwined together. This can be hard for the Remove Background Tool to recognize any of these as subjects. You may try the Remove Background Tool or Quick Selection Tool, but there may be a chance you won’t be able to select what you want. And there is no way you can tell Photoshop to increase or reduce coverage of selection.

The next best tool to use is the Magic Wand Tool.

Step 1: Select the Magic Wand Tool

Go to the Toolbar and look for the Magic Wand Tool or press W on the keyboard.

Magic Wand Tool in Photoshop
Magic Wand Tool

Step 2: Click on the Areas You Want to Remove

Select your desired image layer, then hover your cursor over the background areas that you want to remove. You will start to see marching ants around the area you’ve clicked on.

Adjust Tolerance below top menu bar in Photoshop
Adjust Tolerance below top menu bar

These marching ants may not be surrounding the exact area where you want to remove or retain. In this case, still with the Magic Wand Tool selected, go to the options just below the top menu bar, you will see the Tolerance option. The lower the number the less area is selected and you can better select more detailed areas of the image. The higher the number, the bigger area it will select, you will see the marching ants covering a bigger area.

Toggle your desired Tolerance by trial and error until you are able to select the areas you want.

Step 3: Remove Background

Then, click on the button that says Select and Mask below the top menu. With the Properties Panel opened, scroll down to Output To and select Layer Mask. Then click the OK button.

You have the background removed and a layer mask created for that image layer.

Fifth Method with The Pen Tool

The Pen Tool is useful if you are removing the background of an image that is not sharp enough for Photoshop’s Artificial Intelligence to recognize the subject. Using the Pen Tool, you can trace out the subject manually and remove the background.

This tool is different from the rest in that you can’t click and an area is selected automatically. You will have to put in more time and work to select the points surrounding the area.

Step 1: Select the Pen Tool

Press P on the keyboard to change your cursor to the Pen Tool, or click on the pen icon in the Toolbar.

Pen Tool in Photoshop
Pen Tool

Step 2: Trace the Subject

With the Pen Tool, go to the outline of the subject, and click one time on any point of the outline. You will be drawing paths around the subject. These are going to look like points surrounding the subject. How you draw the paths will not be the same as using a pen on paper where you simply draw continuously if you like.

Sometimes you will have to click and drag your cursor to create curved paths around the shape of the subject. There are times you can click once, move to the next point and click again to allow the pen tool to trace the subject. You can adjust the curvature of your path lines by adjusting the handles of the path points.

Path handles to trace curved areas in Photoshop
Path handles to trace curved areas

Keep doing that until you’ve traced around the subject. Before you can remove the background, you will have to close the paths by clicking on the first path point. This completes the tracing of the subject.

Step 3: Remove Background

Next, go to the Path Panel. If you don’t see it, click Windows on the top menu and scroll to Paths, and click on it. The Path Panel will open up and you will see a Work Path layer in the panel. Select the Work Path layer, then go to the Path options menu on the top right of the panel, click on it and click Make Selection.

Remove background with Pen Tool

Once you’ve done that, you will see marching ants replacing the path you’ve done before. Next, a window that says makes selection pops up. Make sure Feather Radius is 0 and Operation is Selection. Click the OK button. The marching ants of your trace appear.

Make path selection in Photoshop
Make path selection

Then, go to the top menu, and click Select for the dropdown menu to appear. Scroll down the submenu and click Select and Mask.

Select and Mask in Photoshop
Select and Mask

The Properties Panel pops up. Scroll all the way down to Output Settings. Click on the arrow on the left of Output settings and more options appear. Under “Output to”, click the options window and select Layer Mask. Then click the OK button.

Now when you come back to the Layers Panel, you will see your image layer is accompanied by a layer mask thumbnail that is black and white. This allows a reversible action to your image. In other words, no part of your image is lost. You can make the removed portion appear again or you can remove more of your image if you want using this layer mask.

Sixth Method with The Magnetic Lasso Tool

The Magnetic Lasso Tool works in a similar way to the Pen Tool in that you use it to trace your subject until the end path meets the starting path point. The difference is that the Magnetic Lasso Tool helps you save more steps than when you use the Pen Tool. Let’s check out the steps below:

Step 1: Select the Magnetic Lasso Tool

Press L on the keyboard or look for the icon of a magnet with a polygonal shape in the Toolbar.

If you can’t find the Magnetic Lasso Tool, go to the Toolbar and right-click on the three dots at the bottom of the Toolbar.

Select Magnetic Lasso Tool in Photoshop
Select Magnetic Lasso Tool

A long list of tools will appear in the dropdown menu. Find the Magnetic Lasso Tool and click on it. Your cursor will change to a lasso with magnet icon.

Step 2: Trace the Subject

With the Pen Tool, you will have to click and drag the cursor many times to wrap the path around the subject depending on the curves and shape of the subject. But with the Magnetic Lasso Tool, the tracing method is different.

First, select the layer with the subject you want to remove the background from. Then, with the Magnetic Lasso tool already selected, click on any point of surrounding the subject to start. Next, move your cursor along the subject’s outline as if you are drawing it. Do this without clicking anything. You will see that the tool has a magnetic effect which will allow the path to forming the shape of the subject’s outline automatically.

Keep tracing until you’ve traced around the subject. Before you can remove the background in Photoshop, you will have to close the paths by clicking on the first path point. This completes the tracing of the subject.

Step 3: Remove Background

Once you’ve done that, you will see marching ants replacing the path you’ve done before. Next, a window that says Make Selection pops up. Make sure Feather Radius is 0 and Operation is Selection. Click the OK button. The marching ants of your trace appear.

Then, go to the top menu, and click Select for the dropdown menu to appear. Scroll down the submenu and click Select and Mask.

The Properties Panel pops up. Scroll all the way down to Output Settings. Click on the arrow on the left of Output settings and more options appear. Under “Output to”, click the options window and select Layer Mask. Then click the OK button.

Now when you come back to the Layers Panel, you will see your image layer is accompanied by a layer mask thumbnail that is black and white. This allows you to retrieve the same image you had before. In other words, no part of your image is gone. You can make the removed background appear again or you can remove more of your image if you want using this layer mask.

Seventh Method with The Background Eraser Tool

Most times, the images you have are not picture perfect with a sharp subject on a solid background that you can remove easily with the Remove Background Tool.

You may wish to remove the background of an image that includes a lot of details that you wish to retain. In this case, you can use the Background Eraser Tool to manually remove parts of the background you don’t want with more precision in Photoshop.

Step 1: Select the Background Eraser Tool

The Background Eraser Tool may not be found on the Toolbar, that’s because it’s hidden from view. To select it, go to the three dots on the Toolbar, typically found near the bottom of the Toolbar. Right-click the three dots and you will see another set of tools pop up in a sub-toolbar.

Select the Background Eraser Tool. It has an icon of scissors with an eraser.

Select Background Eraser Tool in Photoshop
Select Background Eraser Tool

You can also select the Background Eraser Tool by pressing E on the keyboard.

Step 2: Decide What to Erase and How Much

Click on the layer you want to take action on, then go to the options panel just below the top menu. Select the size and settings of your brush by clicking on the brush preset picker. You can also adjust the hardness and spacing between each time you erase and more.

Adjust your Background Eraser Tool settings in Photoshop
Adjust your Background Eraser Tool settings

Under Limits, select Contiguous, and choose your Tolerance based on how much sensitivity you want the Background Eraser Tool to be when it’s in contact with the subject. The higher the Tolerance Level, the more you will be able to erase the subject with the background. The lower the Tolerance Level, the more the tool will be able to detect the subject and prevent it from erasing away the subject.

Step 3: Erase the Background

Remove background with Background Eraser Tool

You can select a bigger brush size to erase a bigger area if there’s nothing there you’d like to retain. As for the little details, you will have to adjust the limits and tolerance level by trial and error as you erase parts of your image.

Choose Your Best Way to Remove Background in Photoshop

There is more than one way to remove background from your image in Photoshop. Some of these methods only require a few clicks, while some include manual work and more time to do so.

All of these work well and depend on your image quality and what effect you’d like to achieve. Use the method that contributes most to your productivity and results.

Featured image from: Online illustrations by Storyset

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