Create a Transparent Background Using Free Graphic Software

by dustytoes

I use a free software program to remove the background from my photos for use at Zazzle and this picture tutorial will show you how.

Stand alone images can be used in greater capacity than ones with cluttered backgrounds. You probably have some great close-up photos that would look nice on a totally blank background, or on a transparent background, but need to know how to get that done.

If you sell photography at Zazzle, adding photos to products such as t-shirts requires a stand alone image to look right.

Once the background is removed, the photo can be used in a variety of ways to make a more interesting design.

So let's get started and I'll teach you with easy to understand, step by step pictures using the free download "Paint.net". It won't cost a thing but your time.

Begin With a Free Graphics Program

You can remove a background without having an expensive program

For those of you who don't own a fancy graphics program like PhotoShop, you can still create images with transparency.

There are a few free graphics programs for download that probably do just about the same types of things, but the one I began with was Paint.NET. (go here to download it: http://www.getpaint.net/)

I do have PhotoShop, but have not taken the time to figure it out, and the free program gives me the ability to do what I need to, for now, when designing for my Zazzle shops.

Removing background images (isolating images) from my photos is essential to my work.  If you take a lot of photos for your Zazzle store, and would to use them as transparent images, I hope this tutorial will help.

This is My Way of Removing a Background From an Image

This type of "stand alone" image is easier to use when creating products for Zazzle.

This is how I remove the background from my photos.  It may not be the best way or even the correct way, but it's what I do.

Once you are in the Paint program, don't forget to size your images at 300dpi for use on Zazzle products.  (I think t-shirts and some other products need only 200dpi, but I always use the 300 setting for a good clear picture.)

To do that, click on "image" in the top bar, to the left, and then choose 300 in the Resolution line.  After that you can choose your preferred picture size.  (Be sure to also click the "Maintain aspect ratio" to keep the image from being distorted.)

 

Begin With Any of Your Favorite Images

Make sure it's a clear, crisp picture and you can see the entire image

Once you have uploaded the Paint.NET program to your computer,  select "open" in the "file" area which is in the top left corner of Paint.NET, and find the picture you will use.

In my example, I will remove the background from a queen conch shell which I photographed on the window sill in my house. 

If I want to add this pretty seashell to products in my Zazzle shop, such as t-shirts, bags or mugs, it will look better without the background.

 

The Lasso and Eraser Tools Are What We Will Use to Remove the Background

The "Tools" bar should be open on your screen.

Once you have your picture uploaded, make sure you can see the "tools" area and can find the lasso (marked in green) and the eraser (marked in blue).  You will need to use these along with the scissors image in the top bar (shown in the next picture below) to remove the background.

If you don't see the "Tools" bar, click on Window at the top (underlined in red) and open it. Once it pops up, you can move it around.  Just click, hold and drag it into an out-of-the-way position on your page.

Then you are ready to begin the process of removing the background from your photo.

tools window

How to Use The Lasso Tool

Take away the large background areas first.

cut away

With the lasso you will trace along the perimeter of the image in small, manageable sections and then click the "cutting" scissors icon in the top bar.  To do this, click on the lasso and then position your mouse on the page and hold down the left button while your move the lasso over the image.  Wherever you stop, the lasso will attach to itself to make a loop.  Go right off the "paper" to make sure and erase all of the edge.

In my example to the left, you can see how I used the lasso to follow the edge of the shell and then after making the cut, a checkerboard pattern shows which indicates that the area is transparent.

Continue doing this until your image has all of the background cut away, except for the part that is close to the item you want left. If you can't get very close to parts of the image, don't worry, they will be removed with the eraser.

Erase the Remaining Edge With The Correct Size Eraser

Find the eraser in your Tools bar

using the eraser tool Click on the eraser tool and then select a size.

Zoom in to work close up on the image. (Use the magnifying glass in the Tools bar to do so.)

Change the eraser size as you come to narrow areas that need removing, and use a larger number for other outlining.

I've found that following a bit inside the actual image will create a cleaner look so don't worry if you cut away a bit of the edge.

After The Image is Isolated Check For Quality

This is an extra step I have learned to do to catch little background specks I may have missed.

Once my image is singled out and it looks to me like the entire background is transparent, I add a layer of white or black (choose a color that is different from what the background color was) to check for small areas I may have missed while erasing.  It will also show any jagged edges that need to be smoothed out.

It's tedious work, but your end product can be used in many ways, when done correctly.

Save Your Picture as a PNG to Keep The Transparency

Choose a place in your picture file and save your image

It's important to save your image as a PNG image which will keep the background transparent. 

HOW:  In the upper left corner choose "save as" in the File section.

Find a place to save it (I use Picasa), and name the image so you can find it, then choose which type of image you will save it as (in the dropdown area).  If you accidentally choose JPEG the background will appear white instead of clear.

**It's a good idea to do this save when you first begin the process of removing the background and then as you work, click the "save" to make sure it's updated. Then if you lose your connection or whatever, you'll have the work saved up to date.

 

Photobucket

Using the Image at Zazzle: Florida Conch Shell Tank

This tank top design is one way I have used my transparency image of the Queen conch shell

Are You Ready to Play With a Free Graphics Program?

You have nothing to lose and you will most likely learn a lot while "playing".

Paint.NET
Free program for graphic design

GIMP
Another popular graphics program to download for free

A Real Life Success Story

Due to unfortunate circumstances I needed to quickly find a way to make some income, I never dreamed it would be so much!
I've been selling products on the Zazzle site since 2007, and my earnings continued to increase to the point that I was able to buy a home in 2011.
Updated: 08/14/2016, dustytoes
 
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dustytoes on 03/19/2013

Heehee... have fun Glor!

Glor on 03/19/2013

OMGosh! I have been trying for years and can never figure out how to do the transparency with any program.. YOu have made it so easy, and I do have the Paint.Net on my computer. I just did a second try and, Wow! What can I say! You are my BFF Graphic Angel! Thank you so, so very much for sharing this with the world.. Absolutely, generous of you and the best tutorial ever! Two thumbs up and then some! I love it.. I am so happy now! :)

dustytoes on 01/08/2013

@Tasos - they've changed it to this: http://www.getpaint.net/
I've added the link in my page above also. Thanks and have fun!

Tasos Gramozis on 01/07/2013

What should I download ?? I click on the link and then what ?

dustytoes on 10/12/2012

Glad it was helpful for you Brenda - have fun!

BrendaBarnes on 10/12/2012

Thank you for a wonderful tutorial. I can do this. The step by step instructions are perfect for people like me who have not done these things before. You rock!

dustytoes on 10/11/2012

It gives you a lot more options for using images. Have fun!

Tina (minx267) Shaskus on 10/11/2012

This is extremely helpful can't wait to try it out.

katiem2 on 08/25/2012

Thank you so much for your help on such imaging details. Oh the time, you save us so much time. Thanks for all the many lessons you teach us. Much Appreciated. :)K

lobobrandon on 06/07/2012

Certainly, looking forward to doing just that :) I tried doing it with photoshop some weeks back and I literally struggled it's basically the same way, but I found it much harder


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