Incorporating a new image into an existing design is easy if it already has a transparent background. If, however, your image is in JPG format (which doesn’t support transparency), you will have to tweak it before you can use it. Here is how to make an image background transparent in Photoshop.
The trick is easy. You just have to single out the part of your image that interests you and erase everything else, leaving only a transparent background, then saving the results in a format that supports transparency.
For this tutorial, we are using the popular image of Linux’s mascot, the penguin Tux.
Run Photoshop and open the file that contains the object on the background you want removed. Notice its resolution. Create a new secondary document (Ctrl + N) with a higher resolution – +200 pixels on both width and height will do. Return to your first document, select everything (Ctrl + A), then copy it to the clipboard (Ctrl + C). Move again to the second blank document and paste (Ctrl + V) your image there.
This transplant from one image to another will soon help us determine if we did a good job removing the background.
Change the default background
Choose the paint bucket tool (G) and select your background layer with a single click on its entry in the Layers pane on the right. Choose a color that doesn’t exist (at least, not a lot) in your existing image. We went for a pastel green. Click anywhere in your image to fill the background with that color.
As you can see, the rectangle we mentioned before is now visible around Tux. Let’s remove it.
Select the background with Magic Wand
If you’re lucky, as we were, and your image is crystal-clear with vividly defined outlines, you may be able to remove the background automatically. Select the Magic Wand tool (W) and your image layer from the Layers pane to try it out, then click on your image’s background. Note that we’re not talking about the colored background you created but the one within the rectangle around your object.
You will see an outline around your objects. If it selected everything apart from your objects, you’re good to go. If it didn’t, it’s worth retrying by changing the magic wand’s Tolerance value. The higher the tolerance, the more areas of your image will be selected. Then, press Ctrl + X to remove everything.
If all went according to plan, you’ll have your object floating alone. You won’t have extra items or stray pixels, and the one you’re interested in will have a clearly defined outline. If that’s the case, feel free to skip the following steps.
In most cases, though, the results aren’t perfect and need tweaking. It’s then that you have to do it manually. It’s more straightforward starting from scratch than trying to fix the magic wand’s messed results, so if that didn’t work, undo your last steps and prepare for some pixel cutting.
Remove the background
Choose your object’s layer from the Layers pane. Press L on your keyboard to select the Lasso tool. Carefully select some pixels outside your object by left-clicking, dragging your mouse to define a shape manually, and then letting go of the mouse button. Hit Ctrl + X to remove them.
If you select some part of your object, don’t redo your selection. Instead, you can refine it and add more sections by keeping Shift pressed while you click or remove parts using Alt instead.
Repeat until the only thing that remains is your object of interest.
This was the reason we used a solid fill color for our background layer. This solid color adds contrast, which helps see stray pixels to determine whether the object’s outline is smooth.
Export to PNG
To save your file, choose a format like 24-bit PNGs for your new transparent image. To save in this format, select “File -> Save For Web.”
The default setting will probably be JPG. Change it to PNG-24 from the pull-down menu at the top right. Leave the rest of the options as they are and click on Save at the bottom. Choose where you want to export your file, click OK, and that’s it. You can now incorporate the object in that file in your other projects.
Now that you know how to make an image background transparent in Photoshop, It’s also worth noting that if you are dealing with a popular item, a version of it with transparent background may already exist. Try searching for it online. Alternatively, check out these websites that have a good database of images with transparent backgrounds.