Learn how to make a background transparent in Photoshop, and discover a faster alternative in Shutterstock Editor.

There are many ways to cut out an object or remove a background from an image. Many people start with Photoshop. Two popular masking methods for Photoshop use selection tools such as Magic Wand, Lasso, and the Select and Mask mode. Meanwhile, Quick Mask mode uses the paint brush to paint the background out.

These methods can be used for more complex background removal, but sometimes you need a quick and simple option for background removal. If you’re looking for a free and easy alternative to Photoshop, we’ll show you how Shutterstock Editor can help you make a background transparent in a few simple steps.


Method 1: Selection Tools and Masks

Step 1: Using the Magic Wand Tool

Choose the Magic Wand Tool from the Tools window. Start at 20% Tolerance in the Options menu.

Magic wand tool to make selections in Photoshop
Change the tolerance as necessary to add new areas to the selection.

You can add to a selection with Magic Wand by holding Shift and clicking in another area. You can subtract from a selection by holding Option and clicking the area you don’t want to include.

Step 2: Use the Lasso Tool to Fine-Tune the Selection

When you have a rough selection of the object or background, use the Lasso tool to fine-tune the edges. Hold Shift and drag to add to the selection.

There are three variations of the Lasso tool. You’ll find them by clicking and holding the Lasso in the Tools menu:

  • Lasso – Click and drag the cursor to freehand a selection.
  • Polygonal Lasso – Create polygonal selections by adding points to a selection shape.
  • Magnetic Lasso – Add to a selection automatically by drawing around an area.
Hold shift while using Lasso tool to add a new area

In the image above, notice how the selection runs into the bag. I used the Lasso, held Shift, and drew the little area to reselect that edge. To fix a selection running away from the bag, I’ll hold Option and do the same to remove that area of the selection.

Step 3: Use the Select and Mask Panel to Refine the Selection

Once you’re satisfied with your rough selection, hit the Select and Mask button in the Options menu at the top of the screen. Or hit Command + Option + R to open the window.

Select and Mask panel in Photoshop
Play with the Global Refinement settings to get a smoother selection.

In the Global Refinements section, start with these settings for a high-res, large image:

  • Smooth: 3
  • Feather: .3px
  • Shift Edge: -20

This will make the selection smoother, softening the edge, and contracting slightly to reduce any background reflection. Here’s what I mean:

Smooth out selection using global refinements
Ragged selection without using global refinements

If you get stuck, it’s best to hit Cancel and fix the selection manually, using Magic Wand or Lasso, then return to the Select and Mask window.

Step 4: Create a Layer Mask to Remove the Background

In Output Settings at the bottom of the Select and Mask window, choose Layer Mask from the list. The window will close and the layer with your subject will have a mask that hides the background. You can then activate or deactivate the mask by right-clicking on the mask icon of the layer, in the Layers window.

background removal in Photoshop
When the layer mask is activated, the background is transparent.

Method 2: Quick Mask

This method uses the Quick Mask tool in Photoshop. It’s a way to quickly build a mask with the paint brush. Similar to painting on a Layer Mask, you will switch the foreground colors to either add to or remove from the mask.

Activate Quick Mask with the button located at the bottom of the Tools window.

Quick mask mode in Photoshop
Toggle on/off Quick Mask Mode at the bottom of the tools panel, or just hit Q.

Then activate the brush tool (B). In Quick Mask Mode, only two colors appear in the palette: Black, used for hiding content, and White, used for revealing content. The idea is to paint over the background – the part you want to remove – with Black. The area you paint over will turn red.

Use the brush tool in Quick Mask Mode to remove the background
In Quick Mask Mode, the areas you paint over will turn red, showing you the selection.

Tip: To make large selections go faster, use a big brush size, and click once as a starting point in the area to exclude. Then hold Shift and click the next point. This will fill in the space between in a straight line.

Zoom in to add details to selection
To make a more detailed mask, simply zoom in and reduce the brush size to paint out or around smaller angles and curves. 

Now you can toggle between the Quick Mask mode and the Standard Editing Mode by hitting Q on the keyboard. This will show you the live selection.

Quick Mask Mode selection tool
If you want to keep working, simply hit Q to toggle back to Quick Mask mode and keep working on it.

When you are happy with the selection, click the Add Layer Mask button at the bottom of the Layers window to mask out the background. 


Alternatives to Background Removal in Photoshop

If you only need to perform basic design tasks, like background removal, Photoshop might not be the best fit. It’s expensive and can be tricky to learn. Here are some easy-to-use alternatives:

  • Powerpoint has a tool called Remove Background which starts you off with a selection of the foreground subject masked from the background. You also have options to add or remove specific parts.
  • Free Websites – There are numerous free apps and websites that allow users to manually remove backgrounds. While these can be easy to use, the cons include reliability and accuracy issues and a lack of system security.
  • Shutterstock Editor – The background remover in Editor makes it easy to cut out shapes and elements from an image. With all the other design tools in the app, you can make a professional design in half the steps and with a lot less hassle

How to Remove Background in Editor

Shutterstock Editor is a great alternative to all of the above — a powerful, free editing tool featuring a new background removal feature. Not only do you have direct access to the entire Shutterstock image library and curated collections, you can also customize your licensed image before downloading.

If you followed the Quick Mask method above, this will be a breeze. If you found it too technical, you’ll be happy that this tool is as simple as dragging a cursor. With three simple steps you’ll quickly remove the background from any image:

  1. Search and select an image
  2. Use the Remove Background tool
  3. Download the licensed image

To get started, open Editor in your browser. Search and select an image, then click on Remove Background under Image Tools on the right side of the window.

Remove background tool in Editor
Good little doggy image via Paul Steven

Simply click on the – Remove button and paint the background out. This will remove the background. To adjust the selection, click + Add and paint inside the subject you want to keep. Reduce the brush size with the Brush size slider to get more detailed, or increase it to block out large sections at a time.

Image background is removed
The yellowed-out area shows a preview of what will be removed.

Between each step, the program will adjust itself and show you the results. The part to be removed will be previewed in Yellow. When you are satisfied with the preview, simply hit Apply.

Final image has transparent background

Now you can download your fully licensed image, with the background removed, to use wherever you want. Make sure you save it as a PNG to retain the transparency.


For more great tutorials and techniques, keep reading:

Cover image background via FabrikaSimf, purse image via Creative Lab