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How To Separate Things From A White Background In Photoshop

Separating things from a white background is a really useful Photoshop technique to know for a host of design jobs. Whether you're creating a business card, a website logo or even a creative photo collage just for fun, you'll often need to do this. Some things are easy to select with the basic selection tools, but unusual shaped objects can be a real challenge. Luckily, there's an easy way to isolate tricky objects and apply a new background in a few simple steps. Let's see how it's done...

1. Create a channel selection

So, open up a document with a white background and some unusual shaped areas that you'd like to isolate.

Go to the Channels panel, which is normally located next to the Layers and Paths panels. If you cannot see it, open it via the Windows menu.

Depending on whether you're in CMYK or RGB mode, you'll notice there is a composite channel (RGB or CMYK) and each of the individual channels. Cmd/Ctrl click on the composite channel, which will make a selection of it (it does not matter whether you're in CMYK or RGB mode).

Don't worry if the selection does not appear to be very accurate in your image. It's a really subtle selection and the marching ants don't always give an accurate impression of which areas have actually been selected.

We now need to invert the selection by going to the Select menu and choosing Invert. The shortcut for this is 'Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I'.


2. Turn the selection into a mask

Go to the Layers panel and make the Background a layer by double clicking on it, and then hitting OK when the New Layer window appears.

Add a mask to the layer, which will be of your selection. You should now see all of the unusual shaped objects against a transparent background. But there's a problem: the colour is very faded. So we need to bring back the colour to the intensity it had in the original image.

Here's the quickest way to do this: Alt click on the layer mask to display the mask on the full image.

We want all of the areas that are not black to be pure white. So press 'Cmd/Ctrl + L' to create a Levels layer, and drag the highlights and midtones sliders to the left until any gray areas appear pure white.

Now alt click on the mask again and you should see the colours back to full intensity.


3. Add a new background

We have now isolated the objects from the original white background. To add a new background you can either create a new layer and apply the colours/designs to it that you wish, or drag an image into the document from an open file or MiniBridge. Be sure to move your new background below the isolated objects in the layers panel, so that it doesn't hide them.

Another alternative is to select the objects by hitting Cmd/Ctrl + A', choose a split screen document layout and drag them across on to another image.



So that's a really quick and easy way to select difficult objects and set them against a different background. The simple steps of using a Channel selection and then creating/editing a layer mask take a few seconds to complete but come in useful time and again. I hope this was helpful.

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