This guide will teach you how to simply remove the background of an image in Photoshop CS6 using the Magic Wand Tool and the Quick Selection Tool. Depending on your needs, you may use a transparent image to add beautiful background-free images to documents, presentations, and websites.
This guide explains how to remove the backgrounds of simple images using selection and deletion. This method works best for images with simple backgrounds with a solid background color, smooth edges around the object, and a distinct contrast between the foreground and the background. These instructions may not be for you if your image is detailed or intricate around the edges or has a background with a similar color to the foreground.
The rest of this guide will introduce you to the basic selection tools in Photoshop CS6, provide step-by-step instructions to remove a background using the Magic Wand and Quick Selection tools, and how to troubleshoot potential problems when removing a background with this method.
Overview of Photoshop CS6
Navigate the major Photoshop CS6 selection tools with Figure 1. To remove the background of your image, you may need to use the tools in the diagram below.
To access a tool with multiple functions (i.e. Magic Wand Tool or Quick Selection Tool), right click the icon and select the tool you would like to use.
Photoshop Tools Overview:
Note: Keyboard shortcuts in parentheses.
- Background Eraser Tool (E): Change particular colors of a layer to transparent by clicking and dragging.
- Eraser Tool (E): Change parts of the layer to transparent by clicking and dragging.
- Layers Panel: Displays all layers within the document. When a particular layer is selected, your actions will only affect that layer.
- Magic Eraser Tool (E): Change all similar pixels to transparent by clicking a particular color.
- Magnetic Lasso Tool (L): Select an object with magnetic points that snap to the edge of an object. Add points by clicking and moving your cursor. Remove points by pressing backspace (Windows) or delete (Mac).
- Magic Wand Tool (W): Select similar pixels by clicking the layer.
- Move Tool (V): Move objects in a given layer around the Photoshop workspace by clicking and dragging.
- Quick Selection Tool (W): Select an object by clicking and dragging.
- Workspace: The area located around your image.
- Adobe Photoshop CS6
- Image file with an unwanted background (JPG or PNG file preferred)
Step 1: Open Photoshop CS6
Open Photoshop CS6, preferably on a Windows or Mac operating system.
If you are using an earlier version of Photoshop, the tools should hold similar functionality; however, they may appear differently or be located in different places within the program.
Step 2: Open the Image to Edit
Select FILE from the menu bar, then click OPEN. Browse for your image file, SELECT the image, then click OPEN.
Step 3: Select Layer From Background
- In the Layers Panel, RIGHT CLICK the LAYER named Background.
- Click LAYER FROM BACKGROUND. RENAME your layer to the name of your choice.
- Press OK.
Without removing the layer from background, your background cannot be transparent.
Step 4: Select the Magic Wand Tool on the Vertical Toolbar
On the left vertical toolbar, right click the fourth icon from the top (wand icon) and select the Magic Wand Tool.
Step 5: Adjust Your Selection Settings on the Top Horizontal Toolbar
Select ADD TO SELECTION, change your sample size to POINT SAMPLE, change your tolerance to 32, and CHECK anti-alias, contiguous, and sample all layers.
If you would like to learn the functions of your selection settings, read below. If not, PROCEED to STEP 6.
About Selection Tools
While these are good default settings, you may need to adjust them based on the image. Refer to the descriptions of each setting below.
- New Selection: Useful to generate a single, new selection. When chosen, generates a new, different selection with every click.
- Add to Selection: Useful to select multiple objects or multiple parts of an object. When chosen, creates a new selection and adds to the current selection with every click.
- Subtract from Selection: Useful to correct mistakes or remove parts of the selection. When chosen, every click removes a portion of the current selection.
- Intersect with Selection: Useful to select intersecting parts of an image. When chosen, this tool views your initial selection, and your current selection, and keeps only the area where both sections overlap.
- Tolerance: A tolerance of 32 would select our current selection, plus any pixels that are up to 32 shades darker or 32 shades brighter. Therefore, a higher tolerance value would increase your selection size and a lower tolerance value would decrease your selection size.
- Anti-alias: When selected, smooths out edges by applying a slight blur to them.
- Contiguous: When selected, only pixels that fall within the acceptable tone and color determined by the tolerance option and are side by side will be selected.
- Sample All Layers: When selected, all layers, regardless of if they’re active or not, will be included in your selection.
Step 6: Make Your Initial Background Selection With the Magic Wand Tool
To accurately select your background, CLICK a portion of the background FAR from your object to make your initial selection. You should see animated dotted lines indicating your selection (see figure above). You should only need to click once to select a good portion of your background.
If you have selected your entire object or only a small portion of your background, press Control (Ctrl)+D (Windows), Command (⌘ Cmd)+D (Mac) to deselect and try again.
If you have selected most of your background, proceed to Step 7.
Best practices: As demonstrated in the figure above, CLICK within the GREEN CIRCLES to ensure a GOOD selection that does not overlap your object.
Worst Practices: Do NOT click within the RED BOX as this includes shadows, uneven backgrounds, and your object.
NOTE: You do not need to select the entire background on your first click, and it is ok to have small parts of your object selected.
Step 7: Refine Your Selection With the Quick Selection Tool
In this step, you will select the remaining details of your background that you may have missed in Step 6.
To REMOVE a portion of your selection, RIGHT CLICK the WAND icon on the vertical toolbar. Click QUICK SELECTION TOOL. On the horizontal toolbar, click the SUBTRACT FROM SELECTION icon.
To ADD smaller portions to your selection, follow the instructions above to select and resize the QUICK SELECTION TOOL. Click the Add to Selection icon.
Choosing a brush size: Use a smaller brush size for details and use a large brush size for larger areas. To change the size of your brush, click the DOWNWARDS ARROW to the right of the Subtract from Selection icon, then drag the slider to the right (larger) or left (smaller).
Once a moderate brush size is selected, CLICK and DRAG the Quick Selection Tool to ADD or REMOVE portions of your selection.
- To UNDO your last move, either press Ctrl+Z or ⌘ Cmd+Z (Mac).
- To REDO what you just undid, press Ctrl+Shift+Z (Windows) or ⌘ Cmd+Shift+Z (Mac).
- To RESTART your selection and restart, either press Ctrl+D (Windows), ⌘ Cmd+D (Mac), or right click and choose DESELECT. The animated dotted lines should disappear.
- To ZOOM in or out for better viewing, first, press Z to select the Zoom tool. To ZOOM IN, click anywhere on the workspace. To ZOOM OUT, hold the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) key while clicking anywhere on the workspace. This will not affect your image or selection.
Step 8: Finalize Your Selection
Refine your selection until the entire background is neatly selected. As shown in the image above, the animated dotted line should outline your canvas and the object. If any part of the animated dotted line overlaps with the object, you may accidentally delete a portion of the object.
If your line overlaps the object or does not outline the canvas, continue to refine your selection as detailed in Step 7.
If your line neatly outlines the canvas and object (see image above), proceed to Step 9.
Step 9: Press BACKSPACE (Windows) or DELETE (Mac) to Remove Your Background
Once you press delete, you should see a gray and white checkerboard pattern where your background once was. This background indicates transparency; therefore, if you place the image into a Microsoft Word document, PowerPoint presentation, or on a website, the image will stand alone without a white background.
Step 10: Press Ctrl+D (Windows) or ⌘ Cmd+D (Mac) to Deselect Your Selection
The animated dotted line should disappear and you should still have the checkerboard pattern in place of your previous background, as shown in the figure above.
Step 11: Save Your Image As a PNG File
In the Menu bar, hover over FILE and click SAVE AS. If you’d like, change the name of your file, then click the FORMAT dropdown menu. Change your format to PNG. When presented with PNG Options, click OK.
Step 12: Congratulations!
You may now use your beautiful background-free image to create beautiful documents, presentations, and websites without looking like it was made in the 1990’s!
Step 13: Troubleshooting
Having trouble? Here’s a guide to some frequently encountered problems.