Magic Extractor

The Magic Extractor is the third of the background removal techniques that are part of Photoshop Elements (at least versions 9 and 10).

Its the most comprehensive of the three techniques and seems to produce the best results, but is it really amazing - read on to find out!

The power of the technique is that it provides tools to get started and it also provides tools to finish the extraction.  It may be almost as much work as the other two but it somehow seems to be a whole lot easier and more accurate.

Now that's not to say its less work - it still is a lot of work but the end results are worth the effort.

The Magic Extractor seem to be modelled after a Photoshop technique that was in the full version of Photoshop for awhile.  After working with this techniqe its easy to see that Adobe upgraded the Elements making it easier to use and it sure is better than the earlier Photoshop version.

The Three Techniques

The three background removal techniques in Photoshop Elements are ...
  • Magic Eraser
  • Background Eraser
  • Magic Extractor
so now its time to look at the Magic Extractor and how to use it with this image ...

magic extractor motorcyle

This is a good candidate because there are lots of little bits that need removing and lots of little bits that need to remain.   Both of the other background removal techniques would be a nightmare with this.

Tools and Tool Options

The first thing to do is to duplicate the Background layer beause you will probably need it later.  I figured this out the really, really hard way!

In fact, I've made pretty much every mistake one can make with this procedure and also made some dumb decisions.  These observations will save you lots of time and some frustration!

OK - now lets move on with the Magic Extractor.

When you select Image > Magic Extractor ... this is the screen that comes up.

magic extractor screen

The tools are easy to understand and we'll spend some time going over them.

Left Side Tools

Magic Extractor Tool Bar LeftTop Tool - Foreground Brush Tool - this is used to define the area that is to be kept in the extraction. (B)

Second from the top - Background Brush Tool - this is used to exclude areas from the selection - areas that will be eliminated. (P)

Third from the top - Point Eraser Tool - used to eliminate the foreground and background selections.  (E)

Fourth from the top - Add to selection - little brush with a circle - to add to the current selection.  (A)

Fifth from the top - Remove from selection - little eraser with a circle - to remove extra parts from the selection.  (D)

Fifth from the top - Smooth the edges of the selection.  (J)

Bottom two are the normal magnifying glass and the hand tool.

Right Side Tools (Tool Options)

Magic Eraser RightBrush Size:  from 1 to 100 pixels.

Foreground and Background Colors.

Preview ...

Display either the Selection Area or the Original Photo.

Background - with the Selection area selected in Display the background can be changed to ...
  • None
  • Black Matte
  • White Matte
  • Gray Matte
  • Mask
  • Ribylith
Touch Up

Feather from 0 to 250 pixels

Fill Holes - fills holes in the Selection Area.

Defringe - remove fringe colors between foreground and background colors, and the Defringe Width ranges from 1 to 50 pixels.

The Selection

This part (and the rest of the procedure) are best completed with a Wacom pen (Bamboo or Intuos).  You can use a mouse but it will be more difficult than with the pen and tablet.

The Selection is completed with the top two brushes - the top one defines what you want to keep and the second one defines what needs to be removed.  Each brush will paint their own color (the default colors are red to keep and blue to eliiminate).

The Help File suggests that you place little dots all over the part of the image you want to keep so that is what I did (during my preparation I used lines rather than dots - they both work fine).  Using little dots was enormously time consuming and quite annoying.

Keeping Part

So here is the image with the motorcycle selected (with a bunch of dots) as a keeper part ...

magic extractor kept

Eliminating Part

Now the blue part is added - that's the part of the picture to be eliminated.  Rather than using little dots I just painted away with my paen making sure to get between the spokes of the wheels and anywhere else the background could be seen.

magic extractor blue and red

That's pretty much got it covered so the next step is to click on the Preview button on the top right of the screen and we will soon find out if the markup in this step was successful.

Preview and Clean Up


To view the results from the previous steps click the "Preview" button on the top right and wait for a few moments to let Photoshop Elements do whatever its doing in the Magic Extractor screen.

After a bit of assessing, measuring, evaluating, weighing and other technical stuff, Elements will present its results in the same screen.  I can be a bit of a challenge to evaluate because all of the red and blue marks are still visible which may be a bit of a distraction.

Zoom in and use the hand tool to travel around the periphery evaluating the results - at this point be sure to refrain from using any of the clean up tools no matter how tempting that may be!


Because you've only got one level of of undo (that means you can only go back one step) and if you find an area that needs more precise "Add to" and/or "Remove from" then a quick Ctrl-Z/Cmd-Z takes you back where you need to be (thats just before you hit the Preview button).  This means you can add more blue or red to tighten up the selection.

This is just a little thing but if you discover you need to go all the way back to the beginning a couple of times this suggestion will make a lot of sense!

Once you've reached that happy state of being pleased with the initial preview you can erase those useful but somewhat distracting blue and red dots and lines.  Use the Point Eraser Tool to give yourself a nice neat and tidy screen.

Clean Up

The results, so far, have been very impressive with the Magic Extractor and that includes the motorcycle picture and some others I have done some pre-planning and practise with.

magic eraser selected motorcycle

Depending on the accuracy of the red and blue boundary marks, some areas will still have unwanted  background visible while other areas will lose some of their foreground information.

Remove From Selection

One problem that will occur is that not all of the background will be removed.  This will be rectified by using the Remove From Selection eraser.

Here is an axample from the front of the motorcycle before and after using this eraser ...

Magic Eraser detail

The front of the motorcycle immediately after clicking the Preview button.

Some areas were not removed - possibly because the eliminate background color was not placed correctly.
Magic Extractor Details 2
While still in the Magic Extractor screen the Remove from Selection eraser was used to get rid of any background that wasn't removed when the Preview button was clicked.

This could also be done in full edit mode if the OK button is clicked.

Add To Selection

One of the neat things about working in the Magic Extractor screen is that you can replace visual information that was lost when the Preview button was clicked.

Here is an example ...

Magic Extractor details

The Magic Extractor took a little extra bite out of the step on the motorcycle.
magic extractor add to selection
The Add To Selection brush was used to paint back in the missing parts - and thats the really cool part about this method of background removal.

And another example ...

Magic Extractor spare tire

The Magic Extractor took a little extra bite out of the spare tire at the back of the motorcylce.
magic extractor apare tire fixed
The Add To Selection brush was used to paint back in the missing parts.

After clean is finished then you can click the OK button and return to the normal Edit screen where you can do lots of interesting things with your nicely extracted image.

To keep the extracted image with a transparent background save it as a .png file.


Of the three background removal techniques (Background Eraser, Magic Eraser and Magic Extractor) this one may be the best, however its still an amazing amount of fiddly work and can be somewhat unpredictable.

Just goes to show that any of the tools that have the word "Magic" as part of their descriptor may not be hiding any particular "Magic".  That includes the Magic Wand (for selecting) and the two tools in this series of backround removal tools (Magic Eraser and Magic Extractor).

Hers's a different view of the same Motorcycle ...

magic extractor front view

This was selected with the Selection Brush Tool and my Intuos tablet.  It took about as long as any of the other techniques and it was easier to work with because I was in the full Edit screen rather than in a screen designed for Extracting only.

Once the selection was completed the motorcycle was promoted to its own layer, the background was eliminated and the image was saved as a .png file.

Investigating these three methods of background removal has given me a whole new appreciation of the Selection Brush.

If you've not used the Selection Brush then this is where you will find a tutorial.

Page Links

Tools and Tool Options
The Selection
Preview and Clean Up

Enjoy This Site?
Then why not use the button below, to add us to your favorite bookmarking service?

Return to top

Site build It!

Use the Contact Form to ask questions, provide feedback or comments.

Questions are good - so are comments - or requests!

Return to Background Removal from Magic Extractor
Copyright© 2009-2012.