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Background Removal Tutorial

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Background Removal Tutorial Empty Background Removal Tutorial

Post by Aniki Mon Sep 12, 2011 12:49 pm

This is crossposted from my tumblr which you can find here:

I will be posted more tutorials and animation tidbits there so follow if you're interested! :O

Why would you want to remove the backgrounds?

Since animation has gotten fancier and fancier as time passes, more and more people are opting for full images with removed backgrounds in their animations. USUALLY the end result is much more satisfying that having icon graphics for the entire thing, however, this can also result in things that don’t look entirely satisfactory… That’s an aesthetic issue that I’ll cover another time.

Another good reason to remove backgrounds is that it helps in making more uniform graphics, rather than relying on and keeping the original backgrounds of the images.

This tutorial is for ANYONE who wants to learn to remove backgrounds, regardless of whether or not you plan to be an animator, because if anything it helps if someone else is able to remove backgrounds and reduce the workload for the animator.

What you need:

You will need some sort of image editing program. There are tonnes of freeware programs on the internet that you can find, GIMP being reputedly handy for those on a small budget.

I prefer to use Photoshop, however many of the tools can be found on other programs, you just need to know where to find them, and how using them differs from that of Photoshop, as most of the examples I will be showing will be done in Photoshop.

Getting started:

It’s as simple as opening your image into your image editing software.

The best thing to do first, is to put your image into a new layer, so there is a background layer underneath.

Background Removal Tutorial Tutimg0001
(forgive my messy writing)

Following that, pick a colour that VASTLY contrasts the colours in the image. For example, this image has a lot of blue, so anything that would look jarringly different comparison would be warm colours. Neon colours USUALLY work too. For this example, I’ll pick red (because I like red). Using this colour, fill the background.

Background Removal Tutorial Tutimg0002

This is so you can much more easily see what you have erased or not.


There are several methods when it comes to removing backgrounds, each having their own benefits and drawbacks.

There are two ways that you can go about doing it (That I know at the very least), simple erasing and layer masks. I think I’ll go through layer masks in another tutorial, but it has its benefits especially if you opt for erasing via brushes.

At the same time you want to make a decision on whether you want to remove the backgrounds by way of selection or brushes

Using a brush/the eraser tool to erase the background, often by aid of a pen tablet.

- Best for use with people accustomed to using tablets to do their work.
- More rounded natural edges.

- Not as clean
- Not for the shaky of hand

How to:

I don’t usually do this (actually I never do, because my hand is shaky), but it’s as simple as picking the eraser tool and erasing the background by hand, adjusting the brush size/hardness as you move along.

Personally, I don’t find this method as clean, because sometimes stray pixels undetected by the eyes, or even over a coloured background, goes unmissed. This is actually quite the problem if you intend to apply strokes, or add certain types of effects to the layer.

One way to solve this problem is to add an outer glow or a stroke to the layer. You can do this by double clicking the layer your image is on.

Background Removal Tutorial Tutimg0003

After you pick one, change it to a colour that differs greatly from the background. You can turn the stroke/outer glow’s visibility off at the very end when you’re done, so you don’t have to worry about it ruining your image.

Any extra pixels that you may have missed with immediately be visible, and you can easily go through with an eraser and get rid of those.

Background Removal Tutorial Tutimg0004

The fun part about it is that once you delete the offending little pixels, the stroke around them vanishes, so you know that you got all of it.

Using a selection tool, in particular, a lasso, to remove the background.

- Nice and clean
- For those who don’t have the luxury of owning a tablet

- Slow if you’re not used to it
- Difficult to get rounded edges or thin details

How to:

This is actually the method I prefer and am used to, so I can go a little more into depth with this one. Moreover it’s only a TAD bit more complicated than the others.

Firstly you need to familiarize yourself with the lasso tool. It’s a tool you use to make a selection on your image. Once you’ve made your selection, anything you do with on the image will only work within the selected area.

There are 3 types, the regular lasso, the polygonal lasso, and the magnetic lasso.

Background Removal Tutorial Tutimg0005

The regular lasso is a click and hold type. Once you click down your mouse button it activates and as soon as you release it, it will auto close. This is only if you have GOD LIKE STEADY MOUSEHANDS. At this time, I’d be questioning as to why you’re not just using an eraser tool instead. This is NOT an ideal tool to use.

The polygonal activates upon one click, and by clicking somewhere else, you can add anchor points of which the lasso will draw straight lines to. Kind of like connect the dots. You can close your selection either by double clicking, or clicking your starting point. This IS the ideal tool to use.

The magnetic lasso acts like the regular lasso with one GIANT difference. It follows colour contrasts and lines. UNFORTUNATELY it is highly unreliable and therefore NOT an ideal tool to use.

By now, some of you MAY be wondering why I don’t just simply use the MAGIC WAND tool. I mean… IT’S *~MAGICAL~* isn’t it? Well no. I don’t believe in using it to remove backgrounds mainly because it is also highly unreliable and NOT an ideal tool to use. :’D

So now that we’ve gotten this far, HOW DO YOU use the polygonal lasso to remove backgrounds?

Usually I start by roughly selecting around the image. If you make a mistake, you can ADD to your selection after you close it by holding shift with the lasso selected, or SUBTRACT from it by holding alt with the lasso selected.

The image I’m working on has something else on it. I will actually be REMOVING it, which I’ll talk a little more about later on. So as you can see, I’ve completely ignored it.

Background Removal Tutorial Tutimg0006

Then I delete everything else. How do I do that? Well, if I press the “DELETE” button you’ll find you’ll end up deleting everything you want instead.

Background Removal Tutorial Tutimg0007

So how do you avoid this? You invert your selection. This process deselects everything you have selected and selects everything you haven’t. You can do this two ways. You can go to your top menu and go: Select > Inverse. Or you can just press shift+ctrl+I. NOW you can press delete. Now that you’re done with that you can go Select >Deselect, or simply press ctrl+d.

Background Removal Tutorial Tutimg0008


Now you can zoom in and start chiselling away at the details. A handy little shortcut to know on Photoshop is that if you hold the spacebar, you can use the hand tool to drag around the canvas so you don’t have to constantly move those pesky scrollbars to get around the image while you’re zoomed in.

What I prefer to do is select section by section, and deleting as I go along.

Background Removal Tutorial Tutimg0009

It takes some getting used to for the details, and curved edges. So at this point, I would recommend not choosing images that are too difficult to edit. Hair also seems to be a challenge for most people. I find it helpful to create anchor points that are closer together when going around curved edges like hair, as it makes it a lot less jagged. Do be careful of accidentally double clicking and closing a selection when you don’t intend to, because that’s a really “FFFFFFFFFFF” worthy moment sometimes. :<

Eventually, you’ll get something like this. (hopefully)

Background Removal Tutorial Tutimg0010

At this point you can just toggle the visibility of the background and save it. The format you want to save it in is PNG. As you can see, however, I chose a more complicated image so with the background removed you can see some flaws.

I won’t go into detail here about fixing it, but if you’re well versed at Photoshop, or if you have good drawing(akaMAGICAL) skills like Yanovi-san, you can fix it or draw it in yourself. Only do this if you’re confident that you won’t make it look like someone slapped something garishly ugly and out of place in an attempt to ‘mend’ the image.

Eventually you’ll be able to go from something like this:

Background Removal Tutorial Seneraraw

To something like this:

Background Removal Tutorial Serenafull

:D (not my best though, I got pretty sleepy/lazy as it's getting late 8D)

I am well aware that I am TERRIBLE at explaining things so please, by all means ask me to elaborate if there is anything you do not understand as this is a tutorial that I HOPE will be able to teach the general YTC populace on how to remove backgrounds which is EXTREMELY handy. I hope this has helped at least a LITTLE. OAO)/

Thanks for reading!

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Location : Canada

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Background Removal Tutorial Empty Re: Background Removal Tutorial

Post by Hikari Fri Dec 23, 2011 4:08 am

This helped a lot!
Thank you. Happy
Keyboard Smasher

Singing Alias : ❄ヒカリ Posts : 1958
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Age : 25
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