How to Make a White Background Transparent in Photoshop

By David Weedmark

White backgrounds aren't always ideal, especially when you want to embed an image in a Web page or document with a different page color. Using a transparent background ensures the image will blend into any page. Changing a white background to a transparent background is a relatively simple task in Photoshop. First, you need to isolate the white background. Then you can remove the white and save the image in a PNG, TIFF or other image format that supports transparency.

Working in Layers

Background layers in Photoshop don't support transparency, so if you open an image and see only a Background layer in the Layers panel, you need to replace it. The fastest way to do this is to simply drag the "Background" layer in the Layers panel onto the "Create a New Layer" button at the bottom of the panel. This creates a "Background Copy" layer that does support transparency. Delete the original "Background" layer by selecting it and pressing "Delete" or by dragging it into the "Trash" button in the Layers panel. Once this is done, you can then isolate and remove the white background.

Selecting the Background

While you can simply use the Eraser tool to remove a white background, this seldom works well around corners or complex lines. It's far easier if you isolate the background first. Using the Quick Selection tool or the Magic Wand tool from the Toolbox, you can click on the background to select it. If there are different shades of white in the background, hold down the "Shift" key and click on any areas the tool missed the first time. Another method is select "Color Range" from the Select menu and then click the white background with the Eye Dropper tool.

Tracing Around an Image

In some cases it may be more efficient to manually trace around the objects in your image rather than trying to select the background. For example, if you have a white object in front of a white background, it may be difficult to select the background without also selecting parts of the object you want to leave intact. You can use the Pen tool or any of Photoshop's Lasso tools to trace around the object. Once the object is enclosed, click the "Select" menu, then "Inverse" to select the background instead of the object you traced.

Getting the White Out

Once you have selected the white background, you can now eliminate it from the image. The fastest approach is often to simply press "Delete." All selected areas of the photo are removed, leaving you with a transparent background. However, on some images you may get jagged edges on the remaining border. If this happens, take a step back by pressing "Ctrl-Z" to undo your work, and then increase the Tolerance or Feather levels of the selection tool you used. A technique that doesn't destroy any pixels and that may leave you with smoother borders is to select "Layer Mask" from the Layers menu and then click "Hide Selection."

Saving Your Work

In order to preserve your transparent background, it's vital that you don't save the image as a JPG file. JPG doesn't support transparency and will convert all of your hard work back to white again. First, save your work as a PSD file. This preserves all your layers so if your final image doesn't look quite right, you can easily go back and modify it. You can then use the "Save As" or "Save for Web" options found under the File menu in Photoshop CC 2014 and select a suitable format, like PNG, GIF or TIFF.