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Removing Backgrounds and Maintaining Transparency in Graphics Software

How do I get rid of the background in my picture?

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Erasing the Background

Erasing the Background | View Larger

© S. Chastain

Probably the most often-asked question regarding graphics software is, "How do I get rid of the background in my picture?". Unfortunately there is not one simple answer... there are a number of approaches you can take. The one you choose has a lot to do with your software, the particular image you're using, final output (print or electronic), and the desired end result. This broad overview links you to several articles with information relating to removing backgrounds and maintaining transparency in graphics software.

Vector vs. Bitmap Images
When vector images are layered there are no background issues to worry about, but when a vector image is imported into a bitmap-based paint program or converted to a bitmap format the image is rasterized--destroying its vector qualities. For this reason, it's important to always use an illustration program when editing vector images, and a paint program when editing bitmapped images.

 
  • Image Editors and Illustration Software

    Transparency and Image Formats

    The most common web graphics formats, GIF and JPEG, are bitmapped graphics. This means they will always have a background. "What?", you're probably saying... "surely you've seen images on the web with transparent backgrounds!" You're absolutely correct; this is possible due to the GIF89a format. GIF89a images have the ability to designate a single color in the image as transparent.

    PNG images also support transparency, but unlike GIF, PNG allows you to define more than a single color as transparent. Another advantage of PNG is that it supports millions of colors, whereas GIF is limited to only 256 colors. The problem with PNG is that not all browsers support it, and those that do are inconsistent in their support of it.

  • About JPEG
  • About GIF
  • About PNG

    If you're planning to export an image as a transparent GIF or PNG, you must make sure that the program you are going to be importing to will accept that format. In general, you should only use GIF or PNG for transparent images you plan to use on the screen. For printed output, you should learn some of the other methods for creating transparency.

  • Transparency From Here to There

    Continued: Masking and Clipping Paths

    Questions? Comments? Post to the Forum!

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