How To Use The Background Eraser Tool In Photoshop

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There are several ways to remove a background in Photoshop, and each method has its strengths and weaknesses. A less common method of removing a background is by using the Background Eraser Tool in Photoshop. This tool gives you control over how much of the background is removed, and here is how to use it.

Video Tutorial

What Is The Background Eraser Tool In Photoshop?

The Background Eraser Tool erases parts of an image based on pixel color. Contrary to what the name suggests, you can use this tool to erase any area, regardless of size. This method of removing a background takes longer than other methods, but you have a lot more control over how much of the background pixels are removed. You can also be more accurate in ensuring that you don’t remove any foreground pixels.

The tool is much like the Brush Tool in that you drag the mouse over the areas to remove, and it deletes pixels of similar colors. There are a few settings to adjust for a more precise technique, which I will detail for you later in this tutorial.

The Background Eraser VS The Magic Eraser

The Background Eraser Tool and the Magic Eraser Tool share similarities. However, their differences will lead you to prefer one tool over the other.

The similarities between the Background Eraser Tool and The Magic Eraser Tool are:

  • They erase pixels based on color: Both tools erase pixels of a particular color. It’s your job to tell them which colors to erase
  • Both tools work destructively: The actions you perform with these tools are destructive, which makes it hard to reverse the steps. There are ways around it, but the alternatives are not native to the tool. 

The differences between these tools are:

  • Their usage is different: To use the Background Eraser Tool, you must drag over the areas you want to erase. The tool only erases pixels that you paint over.
Pixels erased with the background eraser tool. It took me a few brushstrokes.

Using the Magic Eraser Tool is much easier. You just have to click somewhere in your image, and the pixels of similar color will instantly disappear. However, the tool doesn’t give you much control over what pixels are erased. 

Pixels erased with the magic eraser tool. It only took me one click.

The Background Eraser Tool offers more adjustment options than the magic eraser tool.

This is the main difference between these tools. Here are the options for the Magic Eraser Tool.

And here are the options for the Background Eraser Tool.

The difference in the options available for each tool greatly reflects the quality of your resulting image.

The Magic Eraser Tool erases areas quickly, but there isn’t much control over what pixels are erased. Below, you can see some examples of what both tools can do.

I tested both tools to see how well they can erase a background. I took full advantage of the options available for each tool. I then put my image against a solid background so you can see the differences better. 

I erased the background below using the Magic Eraser Tool. The background was gone, so we can consider the job done. However, I was left with a blue fringe around the dog. Sadly, there was no option to prevent this from happening and it will require further adjustments to fix.

For the image below, I used the Background Eraser Tool. The tool gave me plenty of options to erase pixels with much more precision. In the next section, I will present all the options for the Background Eraser Tool. 

So to make the choice easy, choose the Magic Eraser Tool when the area you want to erase is relatively easy to remove, and you want the job done quickly. For example, a subject against a solid colored background.

Then, use the Background Eraser Tool when you have more complex edges in your image that make it hard to erase the background. For example, when you have hair or fur in your photo. The Background Eraser Tool is much better at removing backgrounds with a wide array of colors too.

The Background Eraser Tool Settings Explained

You can find the Background Eraser Tool under the Eraser Tool in the Toolbar.

Alternatively, press Shift + E until the Background Eraser Tool icon appears in the Toolbar. 

Once you enable the Background Eraser Tool, some options will appear in the Options bar

I will walk you through each of these options.

1. Brush Preset Picker

The first option available is the Brush Preset Picker panel.

Within the panel, you can adjust your brush Size. You can also change the brush size using the bracket keys on your keyboard. The right bracket key ] increases brush size, while the left bracket key [ decreases it.   

Keep brush Hardness at 100% when removing pixels from an image.

2. Sampling Options

Choose a sampling option according to the color of the pixels that compose your target area. 

Continuous – The setting erases different hues as you drag the brush around your image. This option is ideal for erasing a background composed of different colors.

Once – Allows you to erase pixels of a single color, no matter how much you drag around your image. This prevents you from accidentally erasing unwanted pixel colors.

Background Swatch – Allows you to erase the active color of the background swatch in the Toolbar.

3. Limits

As the name implies, the Limits option restricts the area you erase with the Background Eraser Tool, giving you excellent precision when using it.

Here is what each Limits option does.

Contiguous –  Erases pixels of the same color that are touching.

Discontiguous – Erases pixels of the same color positioned apart from each other.

Find Edges –  Is ideal for erasing pixels positioned near the edges of an object. It detects the objects’ edges and smooths them. 

4. Tolerance

Tolerance –  Controls the range of colors affected by the Background Eraser Tool. When erasing a solid color background, set the Tolerance to a low percentage. When erasing a background composed of multiple colors, set the Tolerance to a higher percentage. 

5. Brush Angle

Changing the Brush Angle makes it easier to erase pixels positioned in hard-to-reach areas. If it’s hard to use the brush in some areas, you can rotate your canvas by pressing R on your keyboard. 

6. Protect Foreground Color

Allows you to prevent a pixel color from being erased. That helps when you don’t want to risk erasing the wrong pixel colors.

7. Pen Pressure

Select this option if you use a drawing tablet instead of a mouse. It controls the Opacity of the Background Eraser Tool according to how hard you press your pen on the tablet. 

How To Remove A Background With The Background Eraser In Photoshop

First, bring your image to Photoshop. Then, select the Background Eraser Tool in the Toolbar.

To use the Background Eraser Tool, simply paint over the target area.

But before doing so, you need to adjust some background eraser settings.

Adjust brush size according to the area to be painted. If the target area is large, increase brush size by pressing the right bracket key ]. If the area to be erased is small, decrease brush size by pressing the left bracket key [.

To avoid painting undesired pixel colors, set the sampling mode to Once.

In Limits, choose Contiguous if the colored pixels to be removed are positioned next to each other. Adjust the Limits option according to the area you are painting.

Contiguous was the best option for the image below because all pixels in the target area were touching.

But for this other area, Discontiguous was best because the blue pixels were far apart due to the white object in between them.

When removing pixels near the edges of objects, set Limits to Find Edges. Doing so preserves the edges of an object.

Suppose your background is composed of the same color. Set Tolerance to a low value. You will only need to adjust the Tolerance once if you remove pixels of the same color or similar shades.

To adjust the Tolerance value, drag its slider up or down. Alternatively, type any value between 0 and 100 in the tolerance box.

When removing pixels from a background, you may want to prevent specific pixel colors from being removed, especially if those pixels are near the area you want to remove.

To do this, position your cursor on an area with the color you want to protect.

Then, hold Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) until your cursor turns into the Eyedropper Tool icon. Then, click the area to sample the desired color. 

Once you do this, the Foreground Swatch will turn into the color you sampled.

This means that color is now protected, and you can erase the pixels you want without risking affecting the pixel color you sampled. For example, I could erase the blue pixels near the roof in the image below without affecting the brown pixels.

You can repeat the process as many times as you want to protect other pixel colors while you work on removing a background.

How To Fine-Tune Your Image After Using The Background Eraser Tool

When removing backgrounds with the background eraser tool, you might erase the wrong pixels, even when you’ve done everything to avoid that.

Remember that the Background Eraser Tool works destructively, so this tool doesn’t offer options for undoing an action or fine-tuning your edits.

As I removed the blue pixels from my image, I accidentally painted the roof.

To bring erased pixels back or fine-tune your edits, do the following.

Go to the Toolbar and select the History Brush Tool (Y).

Then, go to Window > History.

The History panel will pop up.

Scroll the panel all the way up and check if the History Brush icon appears next to your image layer.

If not, click the empty box near your image name. The History Brush icon will then appear.

 With that checked, hide the History panel by clicking the double arrow in the panel.

 Now, drag the History Brush over the area you want to bring pixels back.

By following the instructions above, you can precisely remove a background using the Background Eraser Tool. After removing your background, you can place the resulting image against a solid color, put a background image behind it, or even export it as a PNG file with a transparent background.

Pros And Cons To The Background Eraser Tool

The Background Eraser Tool has advantages and disadvantages. Using it or not will mostly depend on your situation.

A downside to this tool is that it takes a while to remove pixels. That is because you constantly need to adjust the tool settings while erasing a background, which can be very time-consuming. 

Another downside to this tool is that it works destructively. It doesn’t offer options to undo an action or fine-tune your edits, so unless you find a way around it, it can be challenging to use this tool. 

On the bright side, the background eraser tool is surprisingly great at erasing pixels from complex backgrounds. You will be amazed, for example, at how precisely it removes backgrounds from images that contain hair, fur, and trees.

Lastly, another benefit of using the Background Eraser Tool is that it is the best tool for erasing pixels based on their colors, as it offers many adjustment options.

So although this tool isn’t the best option for removing a background, it certainly will get the job done. To learn the most effective tools in Photoshop for removing background, see this tutorial for a complete guide.

Photo of author
I'm a Canadian photographer and photo retoucher turned founder of bwillcreative.com. Around here I help you to decode the mystery of photo editing with no-fluff videos and written guides to help you achieve your creative goals. Outside of shooting photos and my passion for educating, you'll find me mountain biking or on the trails with my dog, Sunny!

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