Magic Eraser

The Magic Eraser is a tool that can completely remove a background, thereby isolating one part of the image that can be saved and used over and over or simply have a new background added.

To work properly there needs to be good contrast between the background and the part of the image you want to keep.

As long as this criteria is met then the background removal will quick and effortless despite the fact that some clean up is often required.

When you use the Magic Eraser you set the limits and the parameters and then let Photoshop Elements handle the brute details although you're not going to get away scott free with this tool.
magic eraser icon
First we will look at the settings and options, then a couple of sample images and finally we'll see how well this tool really works.

Settings and Options

This is the options bar when the Magic Eraser is selected (it lives with the Eraser and the Background Eraser and its keyboard shortcut is E).

magic eraser options

From left to right the options are ...
  • Tolerance - this defines the range of colors that will be erased.  A low number will erase pixels with a color very similar to the color selected and a higher number broadens the range of color erased.

  • Anti-alias - this setting smooths the edges that have been erased, giving a more natural look.

  • Contiguous - when this is checked only pixels adjacent to the one that is selected.  When its unchecked then all pixels in the picture that are similar to the one that is selected will be erased - which means the Magic Eraser will jump over barriers (like strands of hair and tree branches).

  • Sample All Layers - the Magic Eraser will sample pixels from all layers.

  • Opacity - this setting defines the strength of the eraser.  A setting of 100% erases to complete transparency and lower Opacity erases to less than  100% transparency.

The Optimum Image for the
Magic Eraser

All of the options are well and good but the question is - what kind of image is best to modify with this tool?

Lets look at a few ...

magic eraser plane
This photo will react well to the because there is good contrast between the airplane and the sky.
magic eraser bubba
Bubba is also a good candidate to be isolated with the Magic Eraser, however there were a few challenges and problems that needed fixing..
magic eraser max
Surprisingly my little dog, Max, is not a prticularly good candidate.

While there is good contrast between Max and the grass the wide variety of contrast within the grass means there is a lot of clicking ahead!


This shot was just waiting for the Magic Eraser - in fact it took only six samples with the tool to eliminate the sky and cloud background (which really was quite boring in the original shot).

After the initial selection the Background Layer is converted into a normal layer by Elements which means it can be moved around in the layer stack.  To get a better idea how the procedure is going this is how I proceeded ...

  1. First click to get started which converts the background layer to Layer 0.

  2. Create a new layer above Layer 0 and then drag it below Layer 0.

  3. Fill the bottom layer with a color which will enable you to see how the eraser is doing.

magic eraser airplane
magic eraser airplane layers
After a couple of selections
The Layers

The white areas in the photo are some left over clouds that need a click or two.  Interestingly, if Contiguous is unchecked then the top of the airplane (which is a similar color to the some of the clouds) will also be removed.

After a couple more clicks the background was totally gone so I did a crop job (using the Golden Mean Overlay in Elements 10) and then ran Filter > Render > Clouds on the bottom layer.  The colors I chose were a darker blue and white to give the appearance of a cloud filled sky.

Here it is ...

magic eraser final plane

Another options is to save the isolated image (in this case just the airplane with no added layers) as a .png file.

A .png file saves the picture and has a transparent background which can be quite useful because you can add it to another image.

magic eraser png file

See - really useful ...


There were some challenges removing the incredibly boring background but they were easy to resolve.

I had to lower the Tolerance to 25% and made sure that Contiguous was checked because ...
  • The white in Bubba's hat started to disappear, and
  • The hair around his temples also disappeared.
For Bubba, I added a nice green layer under Layer 0 which made it really easy to spot the problems after using the Magic Eraser  ...

magic eraser bubba problems

There's no doubt that these little problems are easy to fix.  Just grab the normal eraser, zoom in and eliminate the left over ghost things left by the Magic Eraser (no one said it was perfect).  Also zoom in realy close and go around the outside of the part of the image you want to keep to fix any problems that may be hiding there.

After a few repairs a new background that's more in keeping with his unique style can be added below Layer 0 or he can be saved as a .png file and placed as a new layer in different images.

In the following he got himself a full spectrum radial gradient and then his name with some layer styles added - things like drop shadows and glows and such ...

magic eraser Bubba gradient

Well be danged if Bubba doesn't look a whole lot better with that crummy background removed and all of this added.

Little Max

One often learns more from failure and struggle than one learns from instant success.  It's that way in life and also in digital editing.

Let's look at this shot of Max ...

magic eraser max

While this looks like a relatively easy item to erase, the grass presents its own unique problems.

There is just so much contrast between the different areas of the grass that multiple taps of my Intuos pen couldn't get them all.  Here's the picture after about 40 pen taps ...

magic eraser max

The grass finally succumbed to the combination of the Magic Eraser and the Normal Eraser to arrive at this result ...

magic eraser max end

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Optimum Image

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