In today’s Photoshop tutorial, I am going to be covering the basic principles surrounding transparency and cutouts as well as an overview of the tools required for the process.
Topics included in this article are as follows:
- Photoshop’s opacity tool
- How to make a picture see-through (how to adjust opacity)
- How to change a white background to transparent (how to create a cutout)
But first, let’s address the elephant in the room.
Is there a transparent tool in Photoshop?
Yes, there is a transparent tool in Adobe Photoshop. It’s called the Opacity Tool, and it can be applied to individual layers as well as individual layer styles.
It can be found in both the Layers Panel and in the Layer Styles window. The setting is indicated by a percentage.
A setting of 0% means that the item is fully transparent. A setting of 50% means that the item is 50% transparent. And a setting of 100% means that the item is fully opaque.
Pro-Tip: If you don’t own the full-blown version of Photoshop, it may be helpful to know that there are also transparency and opacity tools available in Adobe Express, a free online photo editor.
How do you make a picture see-through?
Making a picture see-through or transparent in Photoshop is a piece of cake. Here are the steps:
Before you begin, make sure that you are working with at least one unlocked Photoshop layer. By default, a new Photoshop document typically includes a single locked background layer. To unlock it, simply select the layer and click on the Lock icon. Alternatively, you may want to just create a new layer. For the sake of this tutorial, I will be working with two layers: a background layer (the watermelon) and an image layer (the female model).
1. First, select the layer you wish to make transparent in the Layers Panel.
2. Next, click on the Opacity Tool dropdown menu (located at the top of the Layers Panel).
3. Finally, move the slider to change the opacity percentage, or manually enter a new number (0% = Transparent, 100% = Opaque).
Voila! You now know how to make an image transparent in Photoshop.
How do you change a white background to transparent?
Next, let’s talk about how to remove backgrounds and create cutouts in Photoshop.
There are a variety of ways to delete a background – or create a transparent background – in Photoshop. But for the sake of this tutorial, I will briefly touch on my two favorite go-to methods.
Before we dive in, I want to briefly mention that I am purposefully excluding the Magic Wand tool from this tutorial.
Sure, the Magic Wand can, in very specific instances, be moderately effective at selecting and removing backgrounds. However, this usually produces a poor-quality result ripe with jagged edges and pixelation. And with so many better options available, there’s really no excuse to continue to use this outdated and unpredictable tool on cutouts.
Method 1: Photoshop’s new Select Subject tool (easy)
In the newest versions of Photoshop (2019+), I recommend using the Select Subject tool. To use the Select Subject tool, simply follow these steps:
1. First, click on the layer thumbnail you wish to the cutout in the Layers Panel.
2. Next, click on any selection tool on the toolbar (Object Selection Tool, Quick Selection Tool or the Magic Wand Tool)
3. Then, in the top menu, click on Select Subject. For best results, choose Cloud from the dropdown menu.
4. Next, click Select and Mask.
5. Refine your selection to taste in the Selection Properties panel. If you’re dealing with a subject with fine edges like hair or fur, you may benefit from the Refine Hair option. Click OK when done.
6. Finally, click on the Add Vector Mask button in the Layers Panel.
And just like that, you should now have a clean cutout. Don’t forget to save your file as a .PNG or .PSD to preserve transparency on export.
Method 2: Photoshop’s Pen Tool (advanced)
If the Select Subject tool fails to produce the desired results, you may benefit from performing a manual cutout using the Pen Tool. However, I will offer this word of warning: This method isn’t designed for beginners. It usually takes a bit of practice to properly master this tool. And I rarely recommend attempting the Pen Tool on any cutout with soft edges like hair or fur.
But for hard-edge inanimate objects, there’s no cleaner way to produce a quality cutout.
If you’ve never used the Pen Tool before, I highly suggest checking out Adobe’s formal training materials on the subject before proceeding.
Here are the steps:
1. First, click on the Pen Tool in the toolbar and begin tracing the image. Make sure Path is selected from the top menu dropdown.
2. To create straight lines, position the pen where you want the line to begin and click the mouse button. The first anchor point will appear. Reposition the pen where you wish the line to end and click the mouse button again. This will create a straight line.
3. To create curved lines, position the pen tool where you want your curve to begin and hold down the mouse button. The first anchor point will appear and your cursor will change to an arrow. Drag to set the slope of the curve you’re creating, and then release. This will create a curved line.
4. Repeat this process, alternating between straight and curved lines as needed while working your way around the object edge until you’ve created a Path.
5. Next, close the path and select (Command button on a Mac, Windows button on A PC) the new path in the Paths panel (Window > Paths).
6. Then, return to the Layers Panel, and click on the layer you wish to cut out.
7. Finally, click the Add a Layer Mask button.
And that’s it – you’re done!
Again, don’t forget to save as .PSD or .PNG file to preserve transparency on export.