How To Make A Background Transparent In Photoshop (Step By Step)

In graphic design and photo editing, there are several reasons why you would want to make a background transparent in Photoshop. You may need a transparent background when editing product images to upload to websites or preparing a logo for marketing material.

A transparent background means that any element behind the object will be visible, which is great if you place a product onto a flyer with other elements and background colors. 

When working with logos, businesses need to have, at the very least, a full-color logo, a black-and-white version of the logo, and a logo with a transparent background.

Whatever the case, here are three ways to turn a background transparent when working with photos, logos, and white backgrounds, as well as two methods to export the file while keeping transparency. 

How To Make A Photo’s Background Transparent In Photoshop

When working with photos, it can be complicated to make the background transparent, especially when the subject or background is quite complex. 

However, Photoshop has continuously updated the selection process to include AI features that simplify this process to make it so much easier for you.

Here is how to make the background of a photo transparent, no matter how complex the subject is. I will show you this example of a man standing outside. You can see his hair is quite tricky to select if I were to select it manually.

Step 1: Activate The Quick Selection Tool (W)

Once your image is open in Photoshop, select the Quick Selection Tool (W) from the Toolbar. The tool is usually hidden in the Object Selection Tool (W) fly-out menu, so click and hold on the tool to reveal the additional options.

Note: Later in the article, I will discuss some techniques to clean up the selection using the Select and Mask workspace. To learn more about this feature, see this guide.

Step 2: Use The Select Subject Function

Once you have selected the Quick Selection Tool (W), you will see the Select Subject button in the Options Bar. Click on the arrow next to the button and select the Cloud (Detailed results) option. 

It will seem as though nothing happens, but the setting is changed. If you click the arrow again, you will see the Cloud option is selected with the tick next to it.

Note: you can access the Select Subject button from other tools, including the Object Selection Tool and the Magic Wand Tool. The process is the same.

Changing the option to the Cloud will cause Photoshop to take longer when making the selection. However, the selection is usually much more accurate than the device setting. When selecting the Cloud option, you will need an active internet connection to create the selection.

Once the setting is changed, click on the Select Subject button and wait a few moments for Photoshop to make the selection.

Once the selection is made, you will see the marching ants pattern around the subject.

Step 3: Clean Up The Edges Using The Select And Mask Workspace

Depending on how complex the subject in your image is, you may need to clean up the selection a bit. There are two main ways you can do this. 

Firstly, if there are a lot of corrections, you can use the Select and Mask workspace. Secondly, if there are minor issues, you can move on to adding the layer mask and then clean up the selection.

To open the Select and Mask workspace, click the Select and Mask button in the Options Bar while your chosen selection tool is still active.

The Select and Mask workspace opens, where there are several tools and functions to help you refine the selection as well as a preview of the selection. 

Firstly, decide how you want the preview to appear in the middle. You can choose to have a black-and-white version of the image, an onion skin view, or a red overlay on the areas not selected.

Then, start refining your selection. If you have a subject with hair, you can clean up that area of the selection by clicking the Refine hair button at the top of the workspace.

You can then select the tools from the Toolbar to clean up the selection. Focus on the Quick Selection Tool (W) to add or remove large areas from the selection, the Refine Edge Tool (R) to shift the edges of the selection inward or outward, or the Brush Tool (B) to manually add or remove small areas to the selection.

You can also clean up the selection using the Global Refinements tab in the right-hand panel. Here you can Smooth or Feather the selection, Adjust the contrast, or Shift the Edge.

Once you have cleaned up the selection, you can select one more option to refine the selection a bit more. Go to the Output Settings tab in the right-hand panel and select the Decontaminate Colors option.

Lastly, select the Output To method using the drop-down menu. You can choose New Layer With Layer Mask to remove the background and create transparency immediately. Click OK to apply the effects.

A new layer will be added to the Layers Panel, and the areas around your subject will be transparent.

Step 4: Add A Layer Mask

If you didn’t need the Select and Mask workspace to refine the selection and skipped to this step, you won’t have a layer mask on your image removing the background. 

To add a layer mask once you have created the selection around your subject, select the image layer and click on the Add a Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Panel.

Step 5: Check The Selection Using The Layer Mask

Whether you used the Select and Mask workspace or just added a layer mask after creating the Select Subject selection, you will have a layer mask attached to your image layer. This means you can touch up the image further if needed.

This method works well for larger areas that weren’t selected properly. For instance, the automatic selection didn’t select the man’s earphones correctly, and I missed that in the Select and Mask workspace.

Note: Zoom in using Control + + (Win) or Command + + (Mac) to spot problems more easily.

To fix those areas, click the layer mask in the Layers Panel. The white border shows that it’s selected.

Then, select the Brush Tool (B) from the Toolbar and set the foreground color to white.

Note: When working with layer masks, white reveals and black hides the layer’s pixels.

Now, brush over the areas with white to add them to the image. Switch the color to black if there are areas of the background you want to hide.

You should now have an image with a transparent background.

Step 6: Save A Copy As A PNG

Once you have made a background transparent, you must ensure you save it correctly to keep the transparency. If you export your image as a JPEG, a white background will be added to the picture. You need to save the image as a PNG to keep the transparency. 

A quick way to save your image with a transparent background is to go to File > Save a Copy or press Alt + Control + S (Win) or Option + Command + S (Mac).

Your File Explorer or Finder window appears, where you can select a file location and name the file. After adding those details, selecting PNG from the Save as Type drop-down menu is crucial. Then click Save when you are done.

Once you click Save, you will see another window where you can choose between the Smallest, Medium, or Largest file size. Make your selection and click OK.

You will now have an image with a transparent background. As I upload the image below, you will see that the background is the white page instead of the original background from the image.

How To Make A White Background Transparent In Photoshop

When you have an image with a white background, you can use a different technique to make the background transparent. This method is much easier as separating the background from the subject requires fewer steps.

This technique is helpful when you want to cut out a product from product photography to place on adverts or a different background on a website. I will be using this product photo.

Step 1: Activate The Magic Wand Tool 

You must first select the background, and since it’s white, you can use the Magic Wand Tool (W) by selecting it from the Toolbar. Click and hold on the Object Selection Tool to open the fly-out menu.

Step 2: Adjust The Magic Wand Tool Settings

Once the Magic Wand Tool is selected, you must adjust the settings in the Options Bar. When selecting a white background, you don’t need to set the Tolerance too high. Set the Tolerance to about 10.

Then check the box next to Anti-alias to keep the selection edges smooth. If the background is all connected, you can check Contiguous, as this selects pixels next to each other. However, uncheck this option if some background pieces are closed off between parts of the subject.

Step 3: Select The White Background With The Magic Wand Tool

Once the settings are correct, click once on the white background. The tool will select all the pixels of the same or slightly similar color. Since it is white, most of the background should be selected. You may notice pieces that haven’t been, such as the slightly darker area next to the product’s shadow.

If parts have been left out, you can select them by holding in Shift (you will see a plus sign next to the tool’s icon) and click to add the pixels of the slightly darker color.

You can add as many other areas until the background is selected. If the product has a slight shadow, you can add it to the selection to remove it or keep it in if you want it visible with the product. 

You can also edit the shadow out with the layer mask or create a new selection with the Pen Tool (P) for a precise selection.

Step 4: Add A Layer Mask And Invert It

When you are happy with the selection, add a layer mask by clicking the Add a Mask icon in the Layers Panel.

You will notice in the layer mask and on the canvas that the product is hidden, and the background is visible.

To correct this, you can invert the layer mask by ensuring it’s selected and pressing Control + I (Win) or Command + I (Mac).

You will now see the product with a transparent background on the canvas.

Step 5: Save The Image As A PNG Copy

To save the image with a transparent background, use the same method as above by going to File > Save a Copy.

Name the file and choose a save location. Then, select PNG from the Save as Type drop-down menu and click Save.

Select whether to save the file as the Smallest, Medium, or Largest file size and click OK to save the image with a transparent background.

How To Make A Logo Background Transparent In Photoshop

When making the background of a logo transparent, you can use any method. However, you likely want your logo edges to remain sharp after removing the background. To keep the edges clean, using channels is the best approach.

I will make the background of this logo transparent.

Step 1: Open The Channels Panel

To start, open the Channels Panel, which should be next to the Layers Panel tab.

If you can’t see the panel, go to Window > Channels to open it.

Step 2: Copy The Channel With The Most Contrast

In the Channels Panel, you will see four channels; RGB, Red, Green, and Blue. If you have color in your logo, select the channel that shows the most contrast. Since my image is black, gray, and white, all the channels are the same, so I’ll select the Red channel.

Make a selection of your chosen channel by dragging it to the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Channels Panel.

Step 3: Adjust The Levels Of The Channel

Adjust the levels of your channel to make it entirely black and white. You want the background to be completely white and the logo to be completely black.

Press Control + L (Win) or Command + L (Mac) to open the Levels adjustment. Then shift the shadows to the right to darken the logo. Click OK to confirm the adjustment.

Step 4: Create A Selection Of The Copied Channel

Once the logo is entirely black or as dark as you can get it, create a selection by holding Control (Win) or Command (Mac) and clicking on the thumbnail of the copied channel.

You will see the marching ants pattern around the logo on the canvas.

Step 5: Add A Layer Mask And Invert It

Hide the background by opening the Layers Panel and clicking the Add a Mask icon.

Once again, you will notice the logo is hidden, and the background is visible.

Press Control + I (Win) or Command + I (Mac) to invert the layer mask, and you now have a logo with a transparent background.

Step 6: Save The Logo As A PNG Copy

Use the same method as the first two techniques to save the logo by going to File > Save a Copy.

Add the file name, choose a location, and ensure that PNG is selected from the Save as Type drop-down menu. Click Save.

Choose the file size in the window and click OK.

An Additional Way Of Exporting Transparent Backgrounds In Photoshop

There is another way to export your images or graphics as a PNG with a transparent background. This method offers more settings than the Save a Copy method.

You can save your image by going to File > Export > Export As or pressing Alt + Shift + Control + W (Win) or Option + Shift + Command + W (Mac).

The Export As window appears, offering settings to adjust before exporting the image.

First, select PNG from the Format drop-down menu and check the box next to Transparency.

Note: Checking the Smaller File (8-bit) option will reduce the file size, but it also reduces the quality, and I don’t recommend you use this setting.

Next, you can change the Image Size and the Canvas Size. These settings are helpful if you need to set the image to a specific size or reduce the file size without affecting the quality too much.

You can also select whether you want any Metadata saved with the file and adjust the Color Space if needed.

Most importantly, you can see the file size next to the thumbnail on the left. This detail allows you to check the size before saving, as uploading large files to websites and online pages will be undesirable and slow the load time. 

You can work to reduce the file size before saving if necessary.

Once you have changed the settings, click Export, and you can then name the file and select a location before exporting the file with a transparent background.

With these steps in mind, you can now easily cut out and save an image with a transparent background in Photoshop!

Happy Editing!

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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