Delete background to transparent with GIMP

4 Easy Ways To Delete Background To Transparent with GIMP

4 Easy Ways To Delete Background To Transparent with GIMP 1024 601 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.

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.

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GIMP Fuzzy Select Tool

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.

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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.

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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

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  • 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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