PS 23 - How to create a perfect PNG image for old Photoshop users

04 May, 2014

There are many ways to isolate the background pixels from the image in Photoshop. If you have a complicated image like human hair or fence you can use the color range from the Select menu. If you have flat color you can the old school method Magic wand. Some use Lasso or polygonal lasso tool. Very few people (like me) still use the manual brush and erase tool, i don't know why maybe I kind of like the pleasure of removing the pixels slowly and precisely.

Whatever method you are using, the goal is to get a clear picture without background. For this tutorial i'll use the brush method and a new technique to remove any leftovers.

I don't know this technique is new or not, but i haven't seen anywhere and i accidentally found this and been using it for many years.


01. I'll use this image for this tutorial. Since the background is out-of-focus, it will be easy to cleanup also it is a very good example to explain better.

This image is taken from my current project Bowls of life

(fig 1.0)

02. Create an another layer below the image, so if we erase the image we will have colored background instead of photoshop default check pattern. Iam applying Color Overlay to that background layer because we can see the background color change in real-time.

Add Mask to the main image. So we can preserve the original.

(fig 1.1)

03. Select the mask and clean the image using the brush tool.

(fig 2.0)

04. Cleaned up image.

(fig 2.1)

05. Use the Color Overlay (which we applied to Layer 1) to change to different background to check whether we missed anything or not.

Looks like everything is clean? But how do we know?

(fig 3.0)

06. Here comes the trick. Select the image layer and apply 'Stroke' from the Blending option. In the Stroke option set the position to 'Outside' and change the color if needed (keep a contrast color)

(fig 4.0)

07. OK now that is messy. Where did all the dots came from?

Just to explain this i have zoomed in 400 percent (second image) and you can see the left over pixels. Notice the same in the third image after applying stroke we can see some extra pixels. Well where did all those came from?

What really happen is, when we clean up manually we leave some small pixels behind (most of time we do not notice this). Applying stroke will pick-up even the smallest pixels with the minimum color value 1%. If your document size is larger, increase the stroke size.

(fig 4.1)

08. Use the brush tool to clean up the remaining pixels. Keep the stroke, so you can able to see the pixels.

The advantages of Stroke is, it can see the Mask and also smart object.

(fig 5.0)

09. Here's the perfect PNG file

(fig 6.0)

10. You can also use other styles like 'Outer Glow' and 'Drop Shadow'. The effect must be applied outside and not inside like Inner Shadow, Inner Glow, Satin... Adjust the Spread, Size, and Color based on the resolution and the background color of your image.

(fig 7.0)

11. You can also use layer edges from View > Show > Layer Edges. This will also include those smallest pixels and show you the layer boundary.

(fig 8.0)

13. Layer Edges works only if you remove pixels directly from the image. It will not work through mask or smart object.

(fig 9.0)

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