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Foolproof ways to remove the background from a photo

Drew Prindle
how to remove background from image backgroundburner big

Looking to cut out the background from an image, but not quite sure how to do it? Well, no matter if you have Photoshop or not, you’ve come to the right place. In this article we’ll cover two different methods that will get the job done: one that uses Photoshop, and one that relies on a browser-based Web app.

We’ll start with the simplest option – the Web app. Even if you’re partial to full-featured programs like Photoshop or GIMP, we highly recommend checking out Background Burner. We like it because the learning curve is insanely low, it doesn’t require any downloads or installs because it runs in your browser, and it doesn’t cost a single cent. Here’s a quick rundown of how to use it:

If you’re fortunate enough to have a copy of Photoshop and prefer to use that, we’ve also included a quick tutorial for that on page two.

Our favorite: Background Burner

So let’s say you want to Photoshop a mustache onto your boss’s face, but you don’t have Photoshop and all of the gloriously curly mustaches you find have annoying white backgrounds on them. In order to strip out the background and get a PNG image of the mustache by itself, follow these steps:

  • Download/save the image to your computer.
  • Head over to Background Burner.
  • Click the big blue Choose File button or just drag and drop your image into the dotted box.
  • Watch as a tiny dragon burns the background off your picture.
  • With something this basic, Background Burner does a good job of getting the picture precise. If you want to make changes, you can zoom in and paint green where you want it restored and red where you want it removed.
Background Burner Mustache
  • If the image preview on the right looks correct, go ahead and click save.

Removing complex backgrounds

Looking to remove the background from an actual photograph, not just some clip art with a white background? Don’t worry – Background Burner can handle this too, but it’ll take a little extra work. To get the job done, just follow the same steps as above, but get a little bit more precise with the red and green markings. For example, this picture of our former SEO manager Ben Lundin is pretty good, but the background just doesn’t do him justice. We want to replace it with something a bit more badass.

BBQ background

Again, the little dragon went to work burning off the background.

Background Burner removing background

For the most part, the software’s edge-finding algorithm did a decent job of finding Ben, and gave four options to choose from.

Background options

We chose the one that left most of his body intact but didn’t want the grill or the other people ruining the vibe of our photo. If you are happy with the initial options, you can click select. If not, you can go into Touch Up and make things a little more precise. Using the basic outline, we started putting green lines on the parts we wanted to be restored.

Background touch-up

So, to make it more accurate, we needed to zoom in and get more precise with my green markings. You can change the size of your brush in the top menu, but we’ve found that’s it’s much easier to just zoom in deep. Once you’re close enough to see where the algorithm missed the edges, drop a few green marks to help it straighten out. After you’re done with that, just zoom back out too see if the finished product looks all right. Ours isn’t perfect, but it’ll do. Do the same with the red brush

Background touch-up pt. 2

When you’re happy with your product, choose Use This. The website will ask you to sign in to download your creation, but it doesn’t cost any money, and claims spam emails will be minimal.

Complete picture with background removed

Now we can add a newer, more appropriate background…

Ben Lundin in front of explosion


For offline work

Movavi Photo Editor

Movavi Photo Editor

There are quite a few background removal tools available (for a variety of prices and download options), so we thought to offer an alternative option with Movavi’s Photo Editor. Specifically, this editor is a great pick if you need to work offline or prefer to use a desktop app rather than a web app.

Downloading is a piece of cake. Simply head to the web page and choose to download either the Windows version or the Mac version, based on what computer you have. Install the program, open it, and you will immediately see an option to browse your hard drive for images.

Movavi Background Editing

Movavi’s background separation system is designed to be part intuitive, part customizable. You “brush” the foreground that you want to keep, and Movavi uses this information to automatically select the background to remove (don’t worry, you don’t need to be very accurate – broad strokes are typically enough for Movavi’s editor to work with). Once the program identifies the right space, simply apply the change and “Set New Background.” You can also use the Image File tool to add a new background if you want.

Adobe Photoshop

Photoshop is a pretty amazing program, and with such a massive selection of tools, the program offers a number of different ways to strip backgrounds from images. We’ll start with the easiest method. If you’re dealing with a background that’s a solid color, you can strip it away with these simple steps:

  • Open the image in Photoshop.
  • Select the Magic Wand/Lasso tool (the Lasso is great for more customizable selection).
photoshop interface magic wand tool
  • Click on the background and hit Delete. It’ll magically disappear.
  • Save your image, and make sure it’s in PNG format.

Removing complex backgrounds

To strip away a more complex background in Photoshop, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper into your toolbox. Photoshop is an incredibly full-featured program, and as such, it supplies you with a myriad different ways to remove backgrounds. Some of these methods carry far steeper learning curves than others, so for this tutorial we’ll go over a method that’s fairly straightforward. Here’s how it’s done:

  • Open your photo in Photoshop.
  • Select the Background Eraser tool.
photoshop screenshot
  • Adjust the brush size to your liking.
  • Set the Sampling to Continuous.
  • Set the Limits to Find Edges.
  • Adjust the Tolerance. Lower is generally better since a high setting will remove more colors. It’s generally a safe bet to opt for a setting in the 20-30 range.
  • Hover your brush over an area of the background that’s near your object. Click and it will magically be removed.
photoshop screenshot 2
  • Continue this process until you’ve created a background-free border around your entire object. Feel free to adjust the tolerance as needed where your image gets lighter/darker around the edges.
photoshop screenshot 3
  • Once you’ve got a solid border around your object, you can switch over to the regular Eraser tool to remove the rest and put on the finishing touches before you save

The “magic wand” or “lasso” trick is a great one to learn, because many photo editing programs have borrowed the look and feel of this highlighting tool for their own background removal options. So even if you’re using free online software like Pixlr or PicMonkey, knowledge of these tools can carry over.

For PowerPoint 2016 users

If you’re already working in PowerPoint, you probably really don’t want to open another app just to remove a background. Fortunately, PowerPoint allows you to remove backgrounds automatically within the program—if you know what you’re doing.


Start by clicking the picture that you want to use (the picture needs to be present in PowerPoint for this to work). Go to Format, and look for Picture Tools. Here you will see a group of options under Adjust: One of these options should be Remove Background.

Powerpoint Foreground Selection

This will allow you to create a set of marquee lines. Select the part of the image that you want to keep. The lines are fairly intelligent and often spot that object you want In short order. When you are finished, choose “Keep Changes” in the Close group.

This article has been updated since it was originally published due to software changes. We’ve replaced Clipping Magic, which is no longer free, with Background Burner. We also added options for PowerPoint and Movavi. Writers Emily Schiola and Tyler Lacoma contributed to this article.