Learn how to make transparent backgrounds in a few different programs, and how to preserve transparency using the correct file format.

Background removal, or subject isolation, is a very common need for designers and non-designers alike. When you can isolate and remove a background, it opens up many design opportunities:

  • Move a subject onto a different background
  • Create a composite of several subjects from separate images
  • Use an isolated subject on a transparent background to illustrate a point directly

In this article, you’ll learn methods of background removal using popular software and programs. Then, we’ll show you how Shutterstock Editor can become your go-to for removing backgrounds quickly and efficiently, and with direct access to a huge library of images and curated collections.

How to Remove Image Backgrounds in Different Programs

Remove Background in PowerPoint

Microsoft PowerPoint is the gold standard for slideshow presentation programs. But you can also use it to remove backgrounds from your images.

Removing background in PowerPoint
Owl image via Ondrej Prosicky

First, insert a picture into a slide. Select Picture Format in the menu at the top, and hit the Remove Background feature. This will start you off with an automatic selection separating the foreground from the background. Use the options Mark Areas to Keep and Mark Areas to Remove to adjust the selection.

Remove Background feature in PowerPoint
Not bad for a slideshow application!

Remove Background in Premiere Pro

Premiere Pro is Adobe’s video editing software for film, TV, and the web, allowing you to turn footage into polished films and videos. You can use images in footage to add elements that can’t be filmed, whether that’s because of a tight budget or a surreal style sequence.

To remove a background in Premiere you create an Opacity Mask, found in the Mask section under Effect Controls. Similar to using the Pen Tool in Photoshop, you set anchor points around the object you want to isolate. After you make the mask, check the Inverted box and reduce Opacity to 0.0%

Removing background in Premiere Pro using opacity masks
Bird image via Flying Macaws

Remove Background in After Effects

Adobe After Effects is used to create and edit visual effects in video projects. To remove the background in After Effects, you would use a process called Rotoscoping. Normally this is used as a frame-by-frame editing method to remove elements from footage, such as a product or logo you don’t have a license to display.

To remove a background on an image you want to use in a video project, select Roto Brush & Refine Edge in the Effect Controls menu. Then you’ll draw the outline around the area you want to isolate. Controls similar to Photoshop’s Select and Mask tool let you refine the edge.

Removing background in After Effects using Rotoscoping

Remove Background in Photoshop

There are several ways to remove the background of an image in Photoshop. A Quick Mask is the most direct way to separate your subject from a background. Use the paint brush to swiftly paint the area to be hidden or revealed in Quick Mask mode.

The Quick Mask tool is found at the bottom of the Tools window. To hide an area, paint with Black as the foreground color. To reveal an area, paint it with White. These can be used in tandem to refine your selection. The area that will be masked turns a transparent red.

Removing background in Photoshop using quick mask tool

Hit Q on the keyboard to turn the Quick Mask into a selection. Now you can click Add Layer Mask in the Layers window and the background disappears.

Transparent background on image in Photoshop

File Types for Transparent Backgrounds

When you remove a background, you’re actually making the background “transparent.” To use transparency to the fullest, you must save your work in the right type of file.

PNG Files

PNG files support transparency for web and print, assuming the resolution is high for the latter. PNG is a raster, lossless compression file. By comparison, transparent areas in an image saved as a JPG will turn white. We break it down further in this article on must-know file formats.

If you’re in Photoshop, use Save For Web to access the file saving options. Find it under File > Export > Save for Web (Legacy) in the main menu at the top, or hold Command + Option + Shift and hit S.

How to save file as PNG in Photoshop

In the upper right, click Preset and choose PNG-8 or PNG-24. The difference between 8 and 24 is color depth -– just compare the two and see if you need the larger file-size of 24.

SVG Files

Another file type to consider is SVG, used for vector files. If you’ve removed a background shape in a vector file, you can save it as an .SVG file to preserve its transparency, as well as take advantage of a vector file’s infinite scalability. This means no need to worry about size or resolution; it will have the same sharpness at any size in your layout.

You’ll need to be in a vector program to save a file as an .SVG. In Adobe Illustrator, for instance, hold Shift + Command and hit S to open the Save As dialog, and select SVG from the Format drop-down menu.

How to save file as SVG in Illustrator

Background Remover in Shutterstock Editor

Shutterstock Editor is the newest addition to these powerful background removal options. It’s a versatile, free editing tool giving you direct access to the entire Shutterstock image library and curated collections, where you can also customize your licensed image before downloading.

Remove background tool in Shutterstock Editor
Image via Aleksey Boyko

The image background remover tool uses a process somewhere between PowerPoint’s Remove Background and Photoshop’s Quick Mask – the software does the heavy lifting, but you can make detailed refinements to the selection. It’s the perfect tool for someone who wants a quick, simple, and reliable way to remove backgrounds.

There are just three basics steps to using Editor’s Remove Background tool:

  • Use search to select an image
  • Use the Remove Background tool
  • Download the licensed image

Go to Editor in your browser and upload your image, or use the search bar to select an image from the Shutterstock library. Click on Remove Background under Image Tools on the right side of the window. You’ll see something like the image below, where the program starts you off with its guess of the subject/background.

Remove background tool will make a guess at the selection

To edit the mask, either click -Remove and paint the background, or +Add and paint the subject. The -Remove brush will update the transparent yellow mask over the area to be removed.

Refine the selection by adding or removing

To get more precise, vary the brush size and Add/Remove areas that bleed into each other. Here’s a tip: Going smaller and clicking once, instead of painting by dragging the cursor, will let you control the selection more tightly. When you’re happy with your selection, hit Apply.

Apply to make the background transparent

When you’re done editing the file, and adding any other elements or typography from the options in Editor, hit the red Download button in the upper corner.

Save image as a PNG to preserve transparency

Choose PNG for the file type (to preserve the transparency), and since you have the option, choose 300 DPI for the resolution just to ensure maximum quality.

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