The background eraser tool lives with the eraser tool and the keyboard
shortcut is E.
is supposed to do is provide an easy and
effective method to remove a background.
is most suitable for images with a good contrast between the background
and the object you want to keep.It works by turning some of the colored
pixels transparent and if it is
used with care then an object can be removed from a background.
At its simplest, just grab the Background Eraser, zoom in and start
removing the unwanted pixels. With this procedure the
Layer is turned into a normal layer because you cannot erase on the
Background layer - this is just one of the things that Photoshop
Elements does ...
Intuitively, this seems like a very useful, very versatile tool that is
easy to use and will create great results. In some cases that
true and in others there are much better methods to remove a background.
It's probably best to spend a bit of time looking at the different
options when using the Background Eraser and then try it out with some
Like a lot of the tools in Photoshop Elements, the Background Eraser
has a number of different options and it will react to
the pressure applied to a
Wacom pen (Bamboo or Intuos).
This palette is in the top left corner of the Elements screen (Version
It allows you to change the ...
At the bottom of the screen there are addional options which allow you
to set the size of the brush and the Tolerance to change with Pen
Pressure. There's also a setting for Stylus Wheel if you are
using an Airbrush Tool with your Intuos tablet.
In this screen shot (it seems to be the default setting) both the Size
of the Eraser and the Tolerance will increase with Pen Pressure and
these are the settings I initially started using. Together
were somewhat problematic, however.
Changing size with pressure is easy to understand - press harder and
the size of the area being affected becomes larger.
Tolerance is a different matter. The Tolerance dictates how
similar a color in the circle has to be to the color under the hotspot
to be erased.
A low Tolerance setting means the color in the circle
to be very similar to the color under the hotspot to be erased.
A high Tolerance setting means there will be a much
range of colors similar to the color under the hotspot erased.
Having both of them react to Pen Pressure resulted in some strange
behaviors and I eventually settled on having one or the other set to
Pressure but rarely both.
When you select the Background eraser and move over the pictue this is
what you see.
The cross in the center of the circle is the hotspot and the
circle is the area
that will be erased when you use the tool.
Pixels that are within the circle that are of similar value (depending
on the Tolerance) to the pixels under the hotspot will be
The last thing to look at is the Limits
Contiguous means that whatever color is under the
and within the circle will be erased but the pixels have to be adjacent
or next to one another. The tool won't jump over things (like
strands of hair or tree branches) with the Limits set to Contiguous.
When the Limits is set to Discontiguous it instructs
Elements to erase a color under the hotspot that is within the circle
even if it has to jump over a strand of hair or a tree branch or
whatever - as long as the color is under the circle then it will be
The last setting is the Tolerance and as stated earlier,
Tolerance dictates how similar a color in the circle has to be to the
color under the hotspot to be erased.
A low Tolerance setting
means the color in
the circle has to be very similar to the
the hotspot to be erased.
A high Tolerance
setting means there will
be a much larger range of colors similar
to the color
under the hotspot erased.
The Photoshop Help file is short and succint when describing how to use
the Background Eraser tool which is something that Help files
tend to do. In practice the tool doesn't work quite the same
implied by the Help file.
This tool works best with an image that has moderate to high contrast
between the foreground (that which you want to keep) and the background
- I've used this eraser with many different images and the only times
it works the way I figure it should based on the Help file is when it's
a high contrast image - just so you know.
OK - enough theory - let's look at the Background Eraser in action ...
or is it simple?
Here's a sample that is not suitable for the Magic Eraser but may well
work with the Background Eraser ...
Its actually a busy background with at least eight different contrast
areas betwen the background and the Escalade. The approach
to be modified depending on the contrast of an area.
I started the project in the top left corner of the car where the
bricks meet the top of the Escalade. The settings were as
changes Tolerance with Pressure
After the first pass of the Background Eraser the
Background layer was changed to a normal raster layer and re-named
Layer 0 - all of this was done automatically by Elements. At
point a new layer was added above Layer 0, moved to the bottom of the
stack and a color was added which is a good way to make sure the eraser
is doing what it should (I chose a nice blue).
History Palette was
always open and it was used a lot. I found that the eraser
make mistakes (never me) and it was necessary to go back a few steps.
settings worked quite well. If the Limits were set to
Discontiguous as my Pen entered the dark area at the back of the
vehicle and if the pen size extened over the side window this is what
As you can see the Discontiguos setting will jump over things and in
the situation we don't really want that do we?
After all the Background Eraser has now removed part of the back window.
As you are working with this eraser keep evaluating the areas that will
be done next so the settings can be changed if necessary.
With the Limits set at Contiguous this won't happen.
The next challenge occurred right below this area where the red hose of
the vacuum cleaner in the background can be seen immediately above the
bright red taillight (as you can see from this close up).
This took a lot of very close work with the Tolerance in single digits
and Pen Pressure changed from Tolerance to Size - and even then I had
to go back to it a bunch of times to get it right. It also
to be using an Intuos tablet for this project.
It was good to have the Undo History readily available on screen.
These are the kinds of difficulties you will face when using this
method of background removal. It looks easy but there can be
lot of fiddly work involved and here's and idea - only use the
Background Eraser to outline the part of the image you want to keep and
then use the normal Eraser to do the rest of the job.
Here'show it looks after the first go round with the Background Eraser
closer look at the outline of the Escalade shows some holes in the part
that was erased with the Background Eraser.
This will be cleaned up in the final phase - the clean up of the image.
Getting to this point took a few hours each day for three days which
seems to be different from what is implied in the Help file.
The clean up was done with the normal eraser and the clone tool.
The normal eraser was used to remove the big bits that were not really
involved with the outline of the Escalad and to fix any bits that were
not removed by the Background Eraser
The Clone Tool was used to get rid of that unsightly pole that is
visible through the front windshield that is behind the dirvers door
Clean up took about 20 minutes and as I was working at it, it occurred
to me that it would probably have been just as easy to promote the
Background layer to a normal layer at the start and simply use the
normal Eraser and Clone Tool to do the job right up front - or
simply grab the Selection Brush Tool and make a good selection of the
Escalade and promote it to its own layer. After all, if it
a lot of effort then the effort may as well work easily the first time
rather than having to do a lot of clean up.
In addition, any mistakes made with the Selection Brush Tool can be
Either one of thse alternate steps would, of course, bypass the
Background Eraser entirely which, after using it for a few evenings,
does not seem to be a bad thig. I found the Background Eraser
be frustrating, unpredictable and really slow. Maybe with
use my opinion would change but at this point ...
Maybe it will work better with a more challenging picture.
This is a more challenging job for the Background Eraser ...
One look at this image and you will
immediately notice all of the little areas around the hair that need to
be removed - and it would be a nightmare to complete with the normal
After some initial experimentation these are the setting I ended up
using with this picture ...
Brush size was in the 80 to 120 pixel size.
was 1478 X 2000 pixels so a large brush worked well, especially around
Pen Pressure (with my Intuos5 tablet) was set to
change the Size
The Background Eraser is ideally used with a Pen and Tablet
especially in tight areas where a lot of precision is required.
set to Discontiguous
the Background Eraser to jump over the stray bits of hair).
setting was lowered to 6%
that was based on multiple practise sessions with the tool and this
Before starting I created a new Levels Adjustment
moved up the middle adjustmet to create a bit more contrast in the
wispy bits of hair. The Levels layer will be eliminated after
erasing is complete.
After making the first pass on the background layer
the Background Eraser the Background layer became a normal layer
(called Layer 0).
If there was a technique that is perfect for creating a new image for
and watching the results then this is it
Window For ...
Select View > New
Window For >
Your file name.... and then Window
> Images > Tile
to get the following screen (the Window on the right is zoomed in at
500% and the left is at 25%). As I work on the right image
whatever changes I make there are also seen on the left image.
The advantage is this - what is happening on the right image looks
awful because of the little bits of hair that refuse to pay attention
to what I want but in the big picture (on the left) it looks
fine. If you like to work at full screen then ignore this
I tend to zoom in a lot.
Some of those stray bits of hair on the right certainly look awful but
have no fear - we'll get them where we want them ...
if you're doing this with either a Wacom Intuos4 or Intuos5
professional pen tablet then give the Precision Mode setting a
try. What it does is scrunch the active area of the tablet
small space so a lot of pen movement only goes a small distance on the
image. It is great for working in tiny, confined
takes longer but the end results are better and those tiny little
details ultimately determine how successfully the background erasing
has been completed.
the job is to move around the picture, specifically the hair and
eliminate the background. This can take quite a bit of time
depending on how precise you want to be. With my project it
me about 105 to 2.0 hours just to move around the hair.
When it seemed like it was done correctly I erased the rest of the
background much more quickly - now its time to check my work.
The first thing I did was turn off the Levels Adjustment layer which
returned the picture to its normal contrast.
The second thing was to add a layer above Layer 0. fill it with a sold
color (blue in my case) and drag it below layer 0 What this
is tell you just how effective all your work has been to this point and
here's how effective mine was ...
Well - yikes - that doesn't look particularly good,
does it? Zoomin in makes it look even worse but don't loose
faith - we can fix it up quite nicely.
If this is going on a light background then maybe nothing needs to be
done. If, howver, it will end up on a background
that has a
strong contrast with the primary image then we need to get in there and
clean up the hair.
Incidentally - things like hair and tree branches and bushes - they are
probably the toughest to isolate. To do it effectively
patience and time.
is a screen shot of one part of the hair.
It's easy to see that the Background Eraser did well in some areas and
not so well in in others.
To clean this up I used a combination of the Background Eraser, the
normal Eraser and finally, the Burn Tool
In areas that were outside of the hair area I used the normal Eraser to
get rid of anything that needed eliminating.
In the hair area I zoomed in, selected the Background Eraser and
carefully selected the whitest pixels to eliminate. The pen
set to get larger with pressure so I ended up putting the pen tip on a
white pixel and then pressing the pen into the tablet to get as many of
the lighter pixels as I could with one shot.
After working around the hair once again and getting it the best I
could with the Background Eraser there was still some fringing which
need repair. This was a job best completed with the Burn tool
which did an acceptable job.
The settings for the Burn Tool were ...
Size: Small (and will depend on the size of
The unsightly white part on the edges of her hair were darkened nicely
with the Burn Tool but the hair still didn't look nice or
natural. In this case there were some areas that were still a
This can be addressed with the brush tool, with black as the foreground
color and the brush blend mode set to Overlay.
Maybe this is a situation where the Background Eraser just isn't up to
the job. It just seemed that the more that was done to
the foreground and background the more was needed - a never ending
Out of frustration I decided to pull out the Selection Brush Tool and
make a quick selection of some of the hair. It seemed to go
well and if necessary I could have done the whole project over again
with this selection tool.
Here is a screen capture of just a small part of the hair captured this
You can easily see that this would work but it would also be a lot of
work probably spanning a few sessions.
Point Of View
Gettin perfect hair strands and all of that is difficult but it may not
be necessary depending on the new background for the picture - when the
background is busy enough the angst of not having a perfect cut out can
Here are three examples of the last image on different backgrounds.
The less than perfect selection of her hair really doesn't matter with
this particular background.
The cut out was dragged onto another image, resized, rotated, text
added and the Blend Mode of the cut out and text layers changed to
Overlay - now we've got a nice little tat on this guys arm and the
imperfect removal of the background from her hair doesn't really
matter, does it?
And now here's our friend watching from a window.
When I started writing this I figured it would be quick and to the
point - wrong. The Background Eraser sounds wonderful in
theory but in practise it has proven to be a rather difficult tool to
From my point of view I will probably stick with the Seletion Brush
Tool to make a precise selection, move it to a new layer and then deal
with the background.
Users who have access to a later version of Photoshop will have even
more options as there are some really great masking and extracting
There still is, however one more method to remove a background in
Photoshop Elements - the Magic Extractor (at least in versions 9 and
10). So far it seems to do the job and any clean up required
with this method has all the tools included in the technique.