5 Easy Ways To Delete Background To Transparent with GIMP

5 Easy Ways To Delete Background To Transparent with GIMP 800 470 Nick Saporito

In today’s tutorial I’ll be demonstrating how you can use GIMP to delete an image’s background to transparent while leaving the subject in place.

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There’s a variety of ways to accomplish this with GIMP, but I’ll be covering the main methods that are easiest to apply as a beginner. The method you should use depends on the type of image you’re working with and how comfortable you are using GIMP to delete backgrounds to transparent.

If you already know how these methods work but are having trouble with making your image delete to transparency instead of white, black, or some other layer’s properties, be sure to check my post about erasing to transparent using GIMP.

Using GIMP To Delete Background To Transparent

The first step is to create a selection from either the subject or the background. Whatever is easiest is what you should choose. Also, be sure to check out the video tutorial at the top of the page where I demonstrate how each of these works!

Method 1: Fuzzy Select Tool

According to GIMP’s documentation, the Fuzzy Select Tool allows you to select areas of an image based on color similarity. This method works great if your image’s background has a different array of colors than the subject you’d like to crop out.

GIMP Fuzzy Select Tool

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Grab the Fuzzy Select Tool by clicking on the icon highlighted in the above image, or simply press U on your keyboard.

With the tool selected, click and drag on your subject to create a selection. Drag the cursor to the right to increase the size of the selection and to the left to decrease it. You can add to your selection by holding Shift and clicking on another area, and you can remove unwanted selections by holding Control and clicking on them.

Created selection from Fuzzy Select Tool

This will create a dotted outline around your subject known as a selection. If you created the selection by clicking on the background, simply press Delete on your keyboard (or go to Edit > Clear if using Mac) and you will have successfully used GIMP to delete your image’s background to transparent.

Background deleted to transparent with the Fuzzy Select Tool

If you created the selection by clicking on your subject, you’ll only have your subject selected. Since you want to delete the background and not the subject, simply go to Select > Invert. Nothing will change visibly on the screen when you do this, but what happened is you inverted the selection so that you now have the background selected and not the foreground. Once you’ve done that, simply press Delete.

Method 2: Select By Color Tool

An even simpler method — similar to the Fuzzy Select Tool — is the Select By Color tool. Once you click on a specific pixel with this tool, it will create a selection around it and every other pixel with the same color. This tool works great if you have an image where your background consists of just a single color and maybe a few different shades of it.

Select By Color tool

Grab the Select By Color tool by clicking on the icon highlighted above, or by simply pressing Shift + O on your keyboard.

Selection created by color

As previously mentioned, simply click on a segment of the image that contains the color you’d like to delete. You can increase the size of the selection by clicking and dragging to the right, or decrease it by clicking and dragging to the left. You can also select additional shades of the same color by holding Shift and clicking on them as well.

Once you’d created a selection from your background, press Delete on your keyboard, or go to Edit > Clear if you’re using Mac.

GIMP background deleted to transparent by color

If it’s easier for you to create a selection from your foreground/subject instead, go ahead and do so, then just go to Select > Clear before deleting the selection.

Method 3: Paths Tool

This is the method that requires the most skill and takes the most time, but it’s also the best method of using GIMP to delete background to transparent in my opinion because it produces the cleanest, most professional result. This is the method that was used to crop the bird image in the header of this post — the Paths tool.

The Paths tool allows you to create a selection by manually placing smooth lines and curves via node placement. This is the ideal method to use if there is simply not enough contrast between your image’s subject and background for the previous methods to work.

Paths tool in GIMP

Grab the Paths tool by clicking the icon indicated above or by using the keyboard shortcut, which is B.

Path nodes

Since this method is far too nuanced and complicated to try explaining via written text, I’d suggest watching the following video tutorial I created a while back. The video has voice narration and step-by-step instructions that even a first-time used can follow along with.

Skip to the 3:59 point in the video for the segment about using the Paths tool to delete backgrounds to transparent using GIMP.

Method 4: Layer Masks

The final method I’ll be outlining isn’t necessarily a tool, but rather a series of functions. The idea behind this method is to strip down your image to black and white, then adjust the color curves to create some separation between the foreground and the background. Once that’s done, we’ll use layer masks to define the transparent areas.

Cropping with layer masks in GIMP

This method is ideal for cropping out subjects with fine details like fur or strands of hair. However, it’s the most complicated method of the 4 I’ve over, so it’s much easier for me to explain it via video…

Bear in mind that this method won’t work for all images. There has to be some degree of contrast between your subject and the background.

Method 5: Foreground Select Tool

The final method that I’ll be going over is the Foreground Select tool. This method would also be a good choice if your subject has a lot of fine details, like strands of hair.

To get started, grab the Foreground Select tool and manually draw a rough outline around your subject. Don’t worry about it being precise, this is just meant to be a very rudimentary tracing. This will create a dark blue area over your background and a light blue area over your foreground.

Blue outline

What you can do now is manually brush in the areas of your subject, making sure not to get too close to the boundaries. You can increase and decrease the size of your brush by using your left and right bracket keys. Again, don’t worry too much about this being a precise tracing. This can be a simple, rudimentary outline.

Fully brushed in

Once you’re finished, you can toggle the preview setting to see how it looks.

A preview of what will be deleted

If you’re happy with how it looks, press Enter on the keyboard to convert it into a selection. Then, invert the selection by going to Select > Invert, and then press Delete on your keyboard to remove the background.

Finished design

And that should do it for this tutorial about deleting backgrounds to transparent with GIMP! If you have any questions just leave a comment below. As always, thanks for watching!

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Want to learn more about how GIMP works? Check out The GIMP Series – a comprehensive collection of over 60 videos where I go over all of the major tools, features and function in GIMP and explain what they do, how they work, and why they’re useful.

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Nick Saporito

Nick Saporito is a Philadelphia-based graphic designer who specializes in branding-specific design. A full portfolio and information regarding services offered can be found at LogosByNick.com.

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11 comments
  • Sean Hyland

    Kept deleting to grey for me. The way I got it work was by creating a transparent layer (Layer>New Layer) which I then rearranged as the bottom layer (below my image layer), and then deleted the white background with my image layer selected. Might want to update the article with that info.

  • Mark

    Didn’t work. The area I want to delete is highlighted after using the fuzzy select tool, but hitting delete or edit-clear doesn’t work. It just doesn’t do anything, just shows that the areas are still selected. Frustrating!

  • Derek

    Hello: First I want to say a special THANK YOU for taking the time to create and publish this article for the FREE benefit of the general public. It took me several hours overall to digest it so I can’t imagine how long it took you to create, edit and publish it. Thank You!!!
    I had a few problems getting to the final result. Some of what you did didn’t work for me.
    First was your image showed up as a Pasted Layer whereas mine showed up with the filename dot jpg. It took me a while to duplicate that one. I had to copy my image and “Paste” it into a new window (Ctrl+Shift+V) as a new one. That got me the pasted layer in the layers dialog box. Don’t know if that had any significance or not but it wouldn’t work properly until I did that.
    Next I got to the Edit/Paste part … no matter what I did I got the “Floating Section” as Pasted Layer copy #2 and it was 2nd from the top whereas yours was at the top of the layers list and was Pasted Layer Copy #1.
    After that nothing worked. I got a FULLY transparent image when I did the Color / Invert.
    Eventually I juggled things to get to where you were.
    Next in the Colors/Curves I had to move the lower left corner node almost to the top – NOT to the right.
    Anyway, thought I’d pass that on to you as much for the benefit of others as to see if you had any comments.
    Thanks again for you taking your time to share. Derek.

  • Nancy Cooper

    Hi – I have successfully dropped the white background from my logo and rid some of the type with trapped white space. But so many of the features I try to use in adjusting our logo are coming across with the X and circle around it – the ghostbusters symbol that it is not available. For example, I have a few pixels I would like to clone white or turn white, but none of the tools will let me. I would appreciate your help with this. I can send you the file, etc. written on 1-30-19

  • PMae

    Thank you so very much for mentioning that Mac users can’t use the delete key. I wasted hours today wondering why no transparency tutorials would work for me. (I also needed to convert my jpg to a png.) On the flip side, I discovered a super fast way to invoke transparency after a selection has been made (and inverted if need be) – I just went to Color/Invert and my transparency was done. Yay!

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