In today’s tutorial I’ll be demonstrating how you can easily remove the background from an image using Inkscape. This technique, although quite simple, does require a modest amount of familiarity with the Bezier Pen. You’ll be shown everything you need to know about it in the video, but it may take a little bit of practice.
Since Inkscape is primarily a vector-based graphics program, you may be wondering why I choose to use it to crop raster images instead of using something that is intended for raster images, like GIMP.
The method outlined in this tutorial will work just as well with GIMP, but I feel that Inkscape does a much better job with creating paths and allowing you to manipulate nodes and handles. It just feels easier and more intuitive in Inkscape (although they may just be because I’m far more comfortable and familiar with it.) What it all boils down to is that it makes for a more efficient workflow.
I would still say that GIMP is the ideal application to use for doing this though since you can feather the edges and make further alterations once cropped.
How To Remove Image Background with Inkscape
Getting started, the first thing we’re going to do is open a new document with Inkscape, and then click & drag photo onto the canvas in order to import it. If you’re using a Mac, you may have to go to File > Import.
Once prompted, make sure to choose the Embed option instead of Link. If you choose link, Inkscape is just going to create a mirror reflection of the original image file, so any changes you make to it will also be reflected in the original image and vice verse. Also, if you delete the original image, it will return a broken image error within Inkscape. Choosing to embed the image will instead create an entirely new copy of the image that exists solely within that particular Inkscape document.
The upside with embedding is that you get a dedicated, independent image to work with. The downside is that it requires a tad bit more CPU power from your computer while using slightly more system memory, but it’s negligible at best and hardly a concern for most modern machines — even budget laptops. Unless you’re working with an enormous image on a machine from 2011, I recommend embedding for everyone.
Outlining Your Subject
Grab the Bezier Pen and begin to start creating a rudimentary shape that outlines your subject. Make sure to position the anchor points at the peak of curves while allowing for a straight line to run directly through to the next anchor point. It is highly advised that you watch the video at the bottom of the page for this particular step. It’s much easier for me to verbally demonstrate this than it is to type it.
Once you’ve outlined your subject, it should look something like the image below. Don’t worry about the rudimentary shape and parts of the subject laying outside of the shape’s boundaries. We are going to straighten that out in the next step.
Once your image is outlined, we’re going to grab the Edit Paths by Nodes tool, click on the outline to select it, then manually click and drag any of the straight segments of the line. This will curve the line and allow you to shape it according to your subject’s boundaries.
To further match the boundaries of your shape with that of your subject’s, click on one of the nodes. This will bring up handles that you can use to change the size and length of the curve.
Go ahead and repeat this process for the rest of your shape until it perfectly matches the shape of your subject. Once completed, fill it in with a solid color, remove the stroke and set the opacity to 50%. It should look something like this…
Creating A Clipping Path
Now that we have our subject outlined, we’re going to use that outline as a clipping path for the image beneath it.
A clipping path is a vector object that you use as a shape for cutting out a raster image. Think of it like a cookie cutter being applied to a batch of cookie dough.
To use your newly drawn outline as a clipping path, simply select both the outline and the image at the same time, then go to Object > Clip > Set. This will effectively crop your subject and remove the background. Make sure to bring the opacity of your subject image back up to 100% before you do so.
Tip – when making Clipping Paths in Inkscape, always make sure that the shape you want to use layered above the image you want to crop. Inkscape will always use the highest layered selected object as its clipping path.
The beautiful thing about this technique is that it is not permanent — your background (along with your drawn outline) can still be recovered if you end up needing it down the road. Just select the object and go to Object > Clip > Release. This will remove the object from its clipping path bring you right back to where you were before you applied it.
If the steps outlined above were a bit too vague for you to follow, I would suggest watching the video tutorial. In the video I go over everything step-by-step and provide voice narration while doing so. If you have any questions, comments or concerns, feel free to leave a comment below.
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