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.
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 following video tutorial will walk you through 5 different ways in which you can delete a background with GIMP:
Continue on for the written instructions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Grab the Select By Color tool by clicking on the icon highlighted above, or by simply pressing Shift + O on your keyboard.
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.
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.
Grab the Paths tool by clicking the icon indicated above or by using the keyboard shortcut, which is B.
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.
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.
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.
Once you’re finished, you can toggle the preview setting to see how it looks.
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.
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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