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How to Remove an Image’s Background in Photoshop CS6

The Background Eraser tool is probably the most sophisticated of Photoshop CS6’s eraser-tool lot. It erases away the background (in the composition of the image, not the Layers panel) from an image and leaves the foreground untouched — in theory, anyway.

Like the Magic Eraser tool, the Background Eraser tool erases to transparency on a layer. If you drag on the background, Photoshop converts the background into a layer.

To use the Background Eraser tool, you need to carefully keep the crosshair that appears in the center of the cursor, also known as the hot spot, on the background pixels while you drag. Then Photoshop deletes all background pixels under the brush circumference. But, if you get close to a foreground pixel with the hot spot, that pixel is gobbled up, as well.

As you can see from the example, the edges of the Kathakali traditional dance actor aren’t very clean and precise.

[Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Aleynikov Image #5865097]
Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/Aleynikov Image #5865097

Here’s the rundown on the options, found on the Options bar, for the Background Eraser:

  • Brush Preset picker: Provides various settings to customize the size and appearance of your eraser tip. The size and tolerance settings at the bottom are for if you use a pressure-sensitive drawing tablet. You can base the size and tolerance on the pen pressure or position of the thumbwheel.

  • Sampling: The three settings (represented by icons) determine what areas should and shouldn’t be erased. The default Continuous setting allows you to sample colors continuously while you drag through the image. The Once setting erases only areas that contain the color you first clicked. If the background is pretty much one color, you can try this option. The Background Swatch setting erases only the areas containing the background color.

  • Limits: The Contiguous setting erases similar colors that are adjacent to one another. The Discontiguous setting erases similar colors to whatever’s under the brush tip, regardless of whether they’re adjacent. The Find Edges setting erases contiguous pixels while retaining the sharpness of the edges.

  • Tolerance: Works just like the Magic Eraser Tolerance setting.

  • Protect Foreground Color: Prevents you from erasing areas that match the foreground color.

  • Always use Pressure for Size: Again, if you have a pressure-sensitive drawing tablet, you can select this option. If not, the Brush Preset controls the size.

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