Okay. I've done tutes on removing backgrounds. But sometimes you find an image where someone's already done it for you even if you don't realise it....

There's the image you want (be it an object or a person) on a plain white/black/other background. These are ridiculously easy to get rid of and here's a tutorial showing you how.

Step 1: Find a base image with a one-colour background - in this case, the charming, blue-eyed Mr Craig. Here, we have a publicity photo on a white background. The essential thing is that it is a single colour (in this case, white has the html value of #ffffff - look it up if you don't understand. It's very important to understand this principle.)

Step 2: Make a copy of the background layer by pressing the "Copy" button (blue arrow). (In case you don't know, this is because you can't make original backgrounds transparent.)

Step 3: Make a white layer. Just press the "new layer" button (blue arrow) and then select the "white layer" option (pink arrow). If your background is black, pick a black layer instead. If your background is #f9CC22, then make a new layer of colour #f9CC22, etc..

Step 4: Move white layer down (blue arrow) and delete the ORIGINAL background layer (pink arrow). Make sure you've selected the right layer for each of these operations. If you delete/move the wrong one, don't panic, just press Ctrl+Z to undo. When you're done, you want your white layer under your copy of the "Daniel" layer.

Step 5: Make the white vanish. Okay, the exciting bit. Click Layer-->Transparency-->Color to Alpha.

Step 6: The Colour-To-Alpha dialogue box appears. (You can enlarge this image right now by clicking on it. Have a look at my screen capture and the clarifications I wrote on it.)
Basically, you want to delete any part of the image which is the same colour as your background. In this case, I just have to pick white (blue arrow), and then press okay (pink arrow).

Step 7: Selecting the outline. Okay. Make the underlying white image invisible for a moment (blue arrow).
"ARGH!" (I hear you cry.) "Daniel is transparent! I don't want that!"
Yeah. Breathe.
This is the really clever bit.
When you made the white transparent, you made ALL the white in the image transparent, including things like skin or clothes. Here's how you fix it:
Right click on your "Daniel" layer. Now pick the Alpha-to-Selection option (pink arrow). You have just selected everything that is NOT transparent in that layer.

Step 8: Close-up. See the marching ants around Daniel? It means he's the only area selected in his layer.

Step 9: Deleting the inverted selection from the white layer. Without changing your selection:
  1. Make "Daniel" invisible (blue arrow).
  2. Make sure you've highlighted the white layer (pink arrow).
  3. Invert the selection (Ctrl+I, or see previous tutorials).
  4. Delete.

Step 10: Deleted Selection. You should have something that looks like this. Any bits that are still transparent (sometimes happens) can be painted in quickly.

Step 11: Flatten image. You want to merge your white layer, and your top image. There are several ways of doing this. My favourite is to right click on the "Daniel" layer and pick the "Merge Visible Layers" option (blue arrow), but the two pink arrows are alternatives.

Now that you have your cut-out, do anything that your whimsy dictates. :)


  1. Anonymous on March 24, 2008 at 12:20 PM

    Genius! It seemed like an easy enough question for me to ask but i spent a significant amount of time trying to find the right answer, so you have my thanks. Also tutorial was very clear. Keep up the good work.

  2. CJ on March 24, 2008 at 4:16 PM

    Thank you so much. It's lovely to know when someone finds these useful. x

  3. Chevas on April 29, 2008 at 8:34 PM

    This is the best tutorial of its kind out there...a true GEM. This method addresses the leftover debris around the edges of your foreground object that most other tutorials do not address OR require 10x more steps to accomplish. A+

  4. CJ on April 30, 2008 at 10:08 AM

    Bless! Thank you. (Sometimes I wonder if these tutorials make enough sense, but your comment is reassuring. :)

  5. addonovus on April 30, 2008 at 11:55 PM

    Awesome! Thank you so much :) Fantastic clear instructions that took GIMP frustration away...

  6. WishfulSerenity on May 6, 2008 at 12:03 PM

    Hi. In Step 9, the toolbar that allows me to make the the selected object invisible isn't present in my GIMP. Could you tell me what that button is called so I can find the function? Thanks, great tutorial :)

  7. CJ on May 6, 2008 at 8:29 PM

    Umm - it's the eyeball symbol.

    This tutorial was created in GIMP 2.2, but the more recent versions that I have seen also use an eyeball symbol. I have no idea what your version might have instead... :o

  8. chevas on May 21, 2008 at 12:59 AM

    I already commented on how helpful this tutorial is because it worked great, but for some reason I'm having trouble repeating it. I'm getting this weird issue where I still have transparency on the part of the image I want to be visible. When I try to erase the inverted selection of the white-only layer, it still erases sections that are not contained in the inverted boundary. I show a screenshot here:


    Any help is great!

  9. CJ on May 21, 2008 at 6:57 AM

    Hi - I think I know the problem you're describing.

    If you look above at step 7, it describes how any white in the image gets erased. (For some reason, this doesn't happen with all images and I don't understand why.) When it does happen, you just have to work through the additional steps 7-11. Essentially these are:

    1. Erase the white. Don't worry if things become partially transparent.

    2. Replace the white, but only in the areas you need it. I do this on a second, underlying layer. Then I merge the partially transparent layer with the one underneath - and the white gets replaced.

    There are so many ways of doing part 2, that I'll let you try them. Write back if you're still stuck.

  10. Brendan on June 10, 2008 at 6:10 PM

    Hi there,

    Great tutorial, however I'm having some problems,

    Steps 9/10 confuse me a little, should there be an instruction to delete/clear the inverted selection?

    Also before this is done, do you need to 'sharpen' the selection? When I clear the selection I get a semi-transparent white outline of my selection, see,


    Moreover, the 'select by alpha' in GIMP seems to regard quit a lot of my image as being white, particularly light grey areas. Is there a way to tweak the 'select by alpha' tool?


    For reference, here is what the original looks like,


  11. Brendan on June 10, 2008 at 6:26 PM

    Hi again,

    Solved the problem in a slightly different way (for the above linked image anymay).

    1.) If your background layer does not already have an alpha channel, click Layer->Transparency->Add Alpha Channel (this works when editing PNGs, will have to perform steps 1-4 for other types)

    2.) Use magic wand with additive selection to select all background regions

    3.) Select->Grow (1 pixel)

    4.) Select->Feather (2 pixel)

    5.) Edit->Clear

    et voila!

  12. CJ on June 11, 2008 at 10:23 PM

    Glad you solved your problem before I even got round to reading it! :)

    Will try your suggestion. Sounds interesting. Thanks.

    Glad it was useful.

  13. Ronald on July 10, 2008 at 12:20 PM

    Thanks CJ Awesome little tib bit on GIMP.

    Ah, but I do like a bit of gorgonzola!

  14. coji on July 15, 2008 at 11:26 AM

    i do like your tutorial! very clear and concise :)

    immediately after i have succeeded with one of my own pictures, i asked myself whether the same would work with objects on a background other than white ... i admit that i completely overlooked your remark saying "If your background is #f9CC22, then make a new layer of colour #f9CC22, etc.."

    so what i did instead of your step 3 was to
    3.1: use the colour picker tool to pick the background colour of my object (which will then become the present foreground colour)
    3.2: create the new layer using that foreground colour as layer fill type

    the only case i can think of where your suggested method won't work is backgrounds more complex than a single colour

    hats off! keep up the good work :)
    thanks also to brendan for his input.

  15. Anonymous on July 19, 2008 at 3:15 PM

    Ok this is a really helpful tutorial, but I am stuck on step 5. When I go to layers>transparency>, my "color to alpha" option is grayed out, along with all the other top options except for "remove alpha channel.

    What should i do?

  16. CJ on July 19, 2008 at 4:12 PM

    I'm fairly sure I know what your problem is. Are you still working on your original background image?

    Look back at Step 2. It's important to make a copy of your original image and then get rid of the original. The "background layer" doesn't allow for alpha channels.

    Try that.

  17. Wyatt (aka anonymous) on July 19, 2008 at 4:44 PM

    No I definitely am on the copy. My two layers are exactly as shown in your tutorial: background copy and then new layer

    If it matters I did delete most of the image before I started your steps, to get only the cutout I wanted

    Thanks for being so quick, I need to get this done by this wednesday

  18. CJ on July 19, 2008 at 6:06 PM

    Okay - first thing I would check would be that your image has an alpha channel:
    Image 1

    If not, add an alpha channel (I know you may have already done this, I'm just covering all bases):
    Image 2

    Third, check your image is in RGB mode:
    Image 3

    Finally, perhaps the file type you're using is what's causing the problem. Make sure you're using a file type like a jpeg, bmp, Gimp xcf, and not something peculiar...

    Other than that, I'm a little stumped as to what your problem might be being caused by. :)

  19. Wyatt on July 19, 2008 at 6:56 PM

    Ok I had my image in indexed form. I got through all the steps ok, so thanks a lot

    One last thing though. Even though in GIMP I have my cutout and then the rest of the image is that black and grey checkerboard pattern, when I try to use the image or when I view it from my desktop, the background is black. How can I make it clear. I just want the cutout, not the black square behind it

  20. Wyatt on July 19, 2008 at 7:09 PM

    I get either a black square background or a white square background depending on whether I select "flatten image" or "merge visible layers" when I save the image and have to export it

  21. Wyatt on July 19, 2008 at 7:18 PM

    just some other info: I can only press save, not save as or save as a copy. If I press those a grey screen pops up.

    Secondly, if I reopen my supposedly now transparent background image in GIMP, it has a white background, just like when I started

  22. Wyatt on July 19, 2008 at 7:24 PM

    nvm I did a blind click save as and found I can reopen it with the transparent background, but still when I open it outside of GIMP it has a black background

    sry for all these posts

  23. CJ on July 19, 2008 at 7:40 PM

    Sounds like your main problem got fixed - which is great!

    As for saving an image with transparency - only certain file formats can do that. Try saving your image as eg: a .png-24 file or a .bmp.

    Try these pages for more information:

    Yahoo answer
    Transparent GIMP stickers

  24. forgetms on July 25, 2008 at 6:41 AM

    I have spent 2 days trying all the steps for numerous number of times only to get the picture with the white background retained. Taking this photo as an example


    , I did these:

    Layer -> Duplicate Layer

    Layer -> New Layer (Choosing "White" from "Layer Fill Type")

    Hightlight "Background" layer and
    Layer->Delete Layer

    Hightlight "Backgound Copy" layer and

    Layer->Stack->Raise Layer

    Layer->Transparency->Color To Alpha

    Hightlight "New Layer" layer and

    Layer->Transparency->Alpha To Selection


    Hightlight "Backgound Copy" layer and

    Layer->Merge Down

    File->Save a Copy (and type in "a.jpg"

    What have I missed to yield the photo with white backgound not trimmed? The resulting photo is always a rectangular photo with white background in it!

    Help will be much appreciated!

  25. CJ on July 25, 2008 at 12:31 PM

    Read the instructions again really carefully. I think you're missing a step.

    You have to "alpha to selection" on the "background" layer BEFORE you select the white layer, and it looks like you're "alpha to selection"ing on the white layer. All's this does is select the entire white layer. And then when you "invert" you're just deselecting the white layer. Thus, it sounds like you're deleting nothing.

    Do it again. Notice when your image stops looking like my image. That'll tell you where you're missing your step.

  26. Wyatt on July 26, 2008 at 10:40 AM

    one more thing, now i'm trying to do an image with a colored background, except for some reason the eyedropper tool on my mac is crazy. It seems to pick the same 3 colors no matter where I click.

    I've been trying to pick my bg color by eye, but it's not working

  27. Roger on August 5, 2008 at 2:07 PM


    I am right there with you on this tutorial until step 9. When I invert the selection, I don't see anything like step 10. I just see the same image as step 9 (white background with outline of image). The marching ants change around the image though as I press CTRL-I though.

    It seems like I am missing a step between 9 and 10.

  28. Pavel on October 11, 2008 at 1:36 PM

    Thanks so much for putting this together. I've been banging my head trying to do this, and you made it all perfectly clear!

  29. CJ on October 11, 2008 at 1:45 PM

    You're welcome! Glad it helped.

  30. Anonymous on December 21, 2008 at 1:22 AM

    I couldn't make any sense out of this tutorial or any other tutorial online that explains how to make a white background transparent with any program. The problem is that you show menus that do things like add layers and modify backgrounds, but you jump over the steps that would've explained how in the world to open those menus in the first place. I can't even get past step 2 because I don't have the first clue how to begin locating those menu options.

  31. CJ on December 21, 2008 at 7:34 AM

    Anonymous - I was very careful to include every single step and button. If you look at the pictures more carefully (click on them to make them bigger) you will see every necessary button and menu is circled - and has a big, colourful arrow pointing at it.

    Unless you're talking about trying to open a picture as an initial layer... but I think if people are struggling with that step, these tutorials are probably beyond them.

  32. lklemme on December 29, 2008 at 3:11 PM

    Thanks for this 'how to' for GIMP. What a lifesaver. Your steps worked great.

    Also love your byline and learned a new word, "peripatetic."

    From the dictionary, "Of or relating to the philosophy or teaching methods of Aristotle, who conducted discussions while walking about in the Lyceum of ancient Athens."

    Great description.


  33. Anonymous on January 10, 2009 at 4:58 AM

    Help me please. Whenever I outline the image, it doesn't invert it the way that it does in your image. Probably, the only thing that it does is put a faint yellow border around my image ants.

  34. CJ on January 10, 2009 at 12:19 PM

    Are your ants marching? If not, you've haven't pressed Enter yet.

    Are your ants marching but the selection won't invert? In this case, press Ctrl->I.

  35. cmschube on January 27, 2009 at 8:45 AM

    After the step where you Invert the selection, make sure you hit the "delete" button. At least that's what I had to do.


  36. mamazee on February 27, 2009 at 5:57 PM

    Thank you so much for your tutorial i'm trying to create a block of handwriting for scrapbooking, and make the background all transparent, and your tutorial a/ was so easy to follow b/ was very complete and c/ the comments at the end addressed the problem i was having PERFECTLY (i was set on indexed mode) - i'm so happy i found your page!

  37. mamazee on March 4, 2009 at 11:59 PM

    yikes! now i'm doing it with scanned ephemera to add to my scrapbook and instead of getting marching ants, the whole tag or flower goes stripey with black and white and the whole program slows massively down... what am i doing wrong? I can get the picture transparent, but i can't select the tag to get that part to go non transparent - please help?

  38. CJ on March 6, 2009 at 10:54 AM

    Okay - I'm not sure exactly what's happening, but here are some pointers:

    1) You say your machine slows down - what is the file size of your image? (Look at the bottom bar of the image window.) If it leaps up to 100+Mb due to a massive image with a huge amount of transparency, it may simply be that you need:
    a) to use a more powerful computer,
    b) or shrink your image to a much smaller size.

    2) It's not clear what your problem is but I think you're describing areas that have gone transparent when you didn't want them to. If so, check out Step 7.

    Good luck.

  39. Kaela on March 26, 2009 at 5:05 PM

    Hello, I am unable to get past the seventh step. trying and retrying, i can't get these "dancing ants" to appear. I click on the alpha to selection piece, but nothing happens. If you can help out please, thanks!!

  40. Gimp Lover on March 29, 2009 at 9:16 AM

    Hi, Kaela. Troubleshooting steps:

    1) Have you selected the right layer?
    2) Does it already have transparency in it? (Otherwise the dancing ants might be around the edges of your entire image and not be noticed.)
    3) Do you have a different version of GIMP? It may be that the ants in newer versions don't 'dance'?
    4) Has your layer got an 'alpha channel' - without which no transparency is possible? (Check by going to your layers panel, and clicking on the tab that has a little stack of colours - there should be four channels: red, green, blue, and alpha.) If not, add an alpha channel.

    Try that, and see if it helps.

  41. Anonymous on July 8, 2009 at 4:07 AM

    Hi, it's a great tutorial, and I was careful to follow the steps, but every time I invert the selection it somehow just expands the selection to the entire image... could it be because the outline of the image isn't clear? Because it's not.
    Gimp is so frustrating >:[

  42. Marge on September 17, 2009 at 1:30 PM

    Hi - I think I'm close.. however when I get to steps 7-8 I have problems. The ants are marching around my image, but also within my image – around any white inside the image. I don’t see Daniel’s shirt collar/cuffs outlined, on the interior of the image. I think this causes me problems on the final steps. Any ideas? Thanks!

  43. Gimp Lover on September 20, 2009 at 6:44 PM

    Hi, Marge.

    "Hi - I think I'm close.. however when I get to steps 7-8 I have problems. The ants are marching around my image, but also within my image – around any white inside the image. I don’t see Daniel’s shirt collar/cuffs outlined, on the interior of the image. I think this causes me problems on the final steps. Any ideas? Thanks!"

    The problem is quite simple. When you erased your colour of choice (probably white) you erased anything in the center of the image that was also that colour. This means that there is an area in the interior of your image which is transparent.

    I know this isn't what you want... but if you look at Step 10, I mention that you can paint those bits in manually. Be sure to clear your selection first (I think the shortcut is Ctrl+Shift+A, but I don't have a copy of GIMP with me to check). The reason you must clear all selections first is: as long as a selection is still active (marching ants are still visible) you cannot paint outside of it.

    Good luck! :)

  44. MagnoliaSouth on October 16, 2009 at 9:24 PM

    Eons ago I followed a tutorial for the alpha channel back in the mid 90's and that was just way over my head. I was new to graphics then and evidently I just wasn't ready. Because of that, I have avoided alpha channels altogether. Think of it as a food that made you sick when you were a child so when you were grown you still didn't want it. Anyway, I just happened upon this one and am both very happy and disgusted all at the same time. Happy because it's so easy and you wrote a great tutorial and disgusted because I cannot ever count the wasted hours I spent doing this manually.


    Ah well, thank you for this and I'm now off to learn more about alphas.

  45. Tim on November 1, 2009 at 10:14 AM

    Thank you very much. I usually have this problem when I'm drawing my cartoons, but this was really helpful. Thanks!

  46. carl on November 16, 2009 at 10:34 AM

    This was really good, thanks. You forgot to say at the end of step 9 that you have to press Delete on the keyboard. It had me stumped, but now I have a perfect icon file for my desktop with a nice transparent background. Thanks :)

  47. Lindsey Willyson on November 29, 2009 at 5:36 PM

    THANK YOU SO MUCH! You rock and helped a ton! I was near to tears until I read this! Thanks again!

  48. Anon on November 29, 2009 at 11:00 PM

    Carl - thanks for that. It was in the point title and must have been so obvious to me that I completely forgot to actually state it... :)


  49. Brian Pearl on December 16, 2009 at 1:10 AM

    Is it possible that the above tutorial won't work in GIMP 2.6.7? I'm having a horrible time getting it to come out right...and I'd like to stop pulling out my hair before it's too late! :-)

  50. Anne Witton on March 17, 2010 at 10:16 AM

    Very clear and helpful tutorial - thank you so much!