Remove the Background from Any Illustration Using Pixelmator | Kendyll Hillegas | Skillshare

Remove the Background from Any Illustration Using Pixelmator

Kendyll Hillegas, Artist & Illustrator

Remove the Background from Any Illustration Using Pixelmator

Kendyll Hillegas, Artist & Illustrator

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7 Lessons (30m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Groundwork

    • 3. Magic Selector

    • 4. Quick Selector

    • 5. Magnetic Selector

    • 6. Troubleshooting

    • 7. Wrap up

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About This Class

If you create traditional media artwork and want to work professionally as a commercial illustrator, you'll need to have some basic digital editing skills. Knowing how to remove the background of an image (sometimes called "clean cutting" or "clear cutting" in industry speak) is a simple but vital skill to have in your toolkit. 



In this class we will go over 3 different ways to remove the background from a drawing or illustration and will discuss when each approach works best. Once you've completed the class, you'll be able to remove the background from any illustration. This is the first step to using your traditional media artwork in repeating patterns, on merchandise or in many print applications.



This class is best suited for Mac users, as we will be using the program Pixelmator -- a low-cost, one-time-purchase Photoshop alternative. If you don't have Pixelmator yet, you can get a free trial here.

Meet Your Teacher

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Kendyll Hillegas

Artist & Illustrator

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My name is Kendyll, and I’m an artist and commercial illustrator working in traditional media. My background is in classical oil painting, but I’ve been working as an illustrator for the past 5 years, completing assignments for Real Simple, Vanity Fair France and The Wall Street Journal. 

My illustration is used commercially in packaging, on paper goods and clothing, and in editorial applications, as well as displayed in private and corporate collections worldwide. My work has been featured in Supersonic Art, Anthology Magazine, Creative Boom, DPI Art Quarter and BuzzFeed.

I try to create work that is realistic, but still full of vibrancy and feeling. I'm probably best known for my food and botanical illustration, but I lov... See full profile

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1. Intro: If you work in traditional media and scan your work into your computer to get a digital version of it, there may be some times that you want or need to remove the white background that surrounds your illustration. Removing this white space and the texture of the paper around it can make it much easier to reproduce your illustration as a fine art print. It also opens up a whole new world of creative possibilities like using your work as logos or as icons on a website, or making repeating patterns out of them, or even putting it on merchandise like t-shirts, phone cases, all of that fun stuff. If you're aiming to work as an illustrator, many clients will ask you to do this before you submit your work. It's industry standard for a lot of types of commercial illustration, so it's a really important skill to have in your toolkit. If your drawing and painting for fun, you might just prefer that really clean crisp look aesthetically. There are lots of reasons for wanting to remove that background from your illustration. In this class we're going to talk about three different approaches for how to achieve that, and when and why it's best to use each approach. We will be working with the program Pixelmator, which is a really user-friendly and very affordable Photoshop alternative, and since we'll be using pixelmator, this class is best suited for Mac users since Pixelmator is really only supported on the Mac ecosystem. Once you've completed this class, you'll be able to remove the background from pretty much any illustration, which will unlock a whole new world of creative possibilities for your traditional media artwork. 2. Groundwork: Welcome back. For this class you will need an illustration of your own that has been scanned in at least 300 dpi. If you don't have a scanner, you should be able to take your illustrations to place like Staples or a local print shop. Most of these places have a scanner and they'll offer scanning services that you can just pay for all at cut. If don't know yet whether you want to buy your own scanner, that's a great way to get started. Just be sure that when you drop it off, you ask for at least 300 dpi. I'll be using these three illustrations and I've already gotten them all scanned in so they are ready to go. You'll also need the program pixelmator. As I mentioned in the intro, it's really easy to use alternative to Photoshop, is very affordable as a onetime purchase of $30 in the app store, they have a few different versions. They just came out with a newer pro version which is more expensive and that's not the version that I'll be using, I'll be using the most up-to-date regular version, I think it's 3.7.3. But you can either purchase it for $30 on the app store or you can go to their website and do a 30-day free trial of the pro version. I will include the link in the class materials and I'll try to put it here on the screen as well, but those are both good options. If you are like me and you mainly work in traditional media and this is really the only digital editing you do, removing the background and just some basic cleanup, then pixelmator is more than good enough for your needs. You don't have to do Photoshop. However, if you already are a Photoshop user or you already have Photoshop, most of these functions have their own. The ones that we're going to go over in this class have their own versions in programs like Photoshop or even Affinity Photo, they would just be called different things and have different little icons. Once you've got your scanned illustration and pixelmator, we are ready to dive in. 3. Magic Selector: Welcome back for lesson one, we are going to go over the magic selector tool. This is the one that looks like a little wand and the magic selector tool is great for objects that one have a really nice clear separation between the subject of the illustration and the background of the illustration. They either have really strong, heavy line work or there's a really bright and intense color. It's very clear where the subject is and where the background is and it also works well for objects without a lot of little tiny pointy details. I'll be using this illustration as the demo for the magic wand tool, the magic selection tool, and the reason I've chosen this one is because it fits those criteria. It doesn't have any really pointy tiny little details and it's a pretty clear separation between the subject of the illustration and the background color. I'm just going to take my file, the scan, and I'm going to drag it right into Pixelmator. Got my tools over here on the left, and I'm going to go for the magic wand tool. It's actually the color selection tool, that's what they call it. Basically, it's the same thing as the magic wand, I'm just going to take it and click and drag and as you can see, the more I drag, the more it grabs from the selection. What's happening is the area where I've clicked, that becomes the color that the magic wand is grabbing. It gets everything that it thinks is similar to that color so that's why the more you drag it, the more the tolerance goes up, the more it grabs other colors as well. This is a pretty decent starting point. The amount that you'll have to drag it will depend on the scan that you're working on. I've got that and now I'm going to go over here to edit and I'm going to choose refined selection and now I'm going to zoom in and I can see how, because of the texture of the paper, even though this is a smooth paper, the selection is a bit rough. I'm just going to take the shape roundness, sudden and move it up a little bit and you have to be careful not to overdo it because then you'll start losing some of the details. Just, I think about, I think about 20 percent is pretty good for this one and I'm also going to knock the edge softness up just a tiny bit and what that will do is add a little bit of a blur around the edge of the selection. That will just help it sink into the background better and it will make it so there's not such a harsh transition between the image and the pure white background and then we'll hit okay. Right now I have all of this white area selected and as you can see, there are some parts that didn't make it into the selection, like around the edges and this part here with the shadow of the paper. I definitely still need to take care of those, to do that, I'm going to grab the rectangular selection tool and I'm going to change my setting up here to make sure that I'm adding to selection. I'm not doing a new selection I'm adding to the selection that I have and I'm going to go up past the borders and I'm going to grab it and do a big square selection right down to the edge of my image and that's making sure that I get everything that is on the edge, all included in the selection. Now at this point, I'm going to zoom in one more time and just take a look, make sure everything is where I want it and then I hit delete and then command D to deselect. Now my layers palette, I'm going to add another layer over here, and I'm going to just make it a pure white background layer and now I'm zooming in on my image to see if there's anything that I want to clean up. I'm just going to grab the eraser tool and I'm just going to clean up a few of these little things here. Now it's up to you how much of this you want to do. I just like to grab any spots that seem like they're obviously paper to me and I'm just doing this with my trackpad. It is a little bit tricky, we'll talk about how to do this clean up with more complicated selections in the upcoming lessons. But for now, since this is a fairly simple selection and I'm just doing a fairly simple clean up. I'm just going ahead and using my trackpad. When you're cleaning up your selection this way and using the eraser tool, you want to be careful to make sure that your eraser isn't too hard. If you have the hardness set all the way to 100 percent, it's going to be a really sharp edge and it's going to look pretty obvious. Having a softer edge, something in the like 75 percent range, we'll just make it look more like the rest of the edge of the scan and to get this little window to pop up on a Mac and doing control-click. I think that's about all I'm going to do for the clean up on this one and as you can see, I've got the image completely separated from the background. I'm going to go ahead and just crop it down to the actual size, closer to the size that it was as a scan. I don't need all this extra white space and there it is. 4. Quick Selector: For our second background removal method, we are going to talk about the quick selector tool. Now the quick selector tool is great for subjects that maybe don't have as much separation in terms of value or color from the background, so I'll be using this illustration here since you can see there are some areas where it's really similar in color to the background. You can use this method for the same types of illustrations that we use the Magic Wand Tool for, but it just takes a little bit longer. Works greater in either case, but this is just a little bit more time-consuming than the Magic Wand Tool. If you have an illustration that it's really light in color, and it's close in color to the background, then this is a great place to start. We're going to drag this scan into Pixelmator, once again pops up in a new window, and this time I'm choosing the Quick Selection Tool instead of the Magic Wand Tool, and I'm going to double-check and make sure that my mode for selecting is on add to selection, because we're going to do multiple selections this time. It's not going to be just like one to start with the way that it was with the Magic Wand Tool. We're going to be doing several different selection, so make sure it's set on Add To Selection. Otherwise you'll keep making new selections over and over again. You won't ever get anywhere and you'll wonder what's going on. So to use this tool, I'm first going to try to get all the way around the edge of my object, and as you can see, as I move it around here, it's smart. It finds the edge of the object, and since it's not just matching a color and you're not just turning up the intensity, the tolerance of the selection. It's better choice for objects like this where there is not a lot of color difference in some areas between the object and the background. To get a nice clean selection, I'm going to zoom in a little bit and I can see it's pretty much along the edge of my object there. There's a little spot where it's into my object, but I can fix that, and I'm just going to zoom around clicking to create my selection. Now the closer you get, the harder it will be to avoid selecting some of the object as well. So you want to stay a little bit further away. This is a tricky spot because it is pure white there, and if you can't get it all, don't worry about it. We can refine that in the next step. Again, we're going to go up and choose refined selection, and remember what we're selecting is the background. Everything that's white here is what we've selected. The red is not part of the selection, so anywhere I click will be removed from the selection, and that's obviously way too much. We're going to have to fix that, but I'm just going to leave it for now. Again, I'm going to smooth out some of those edges with the shape roundness, and I'm going to add a little bit softness. I'm going to go ahead and delete the selection, de-select command data de-select, and I'm going to clean up a few things and then we'll talk about another way to remove all of this background stuff. Zooming in here, and as you can see, there's just this teeny tiny little line that was separating the figure from the ground, so it's pretty tricky for this electrode to see where that is. So I'm just going to go in here with my eraser, and since this is nice and smooth, it's not too complicated. This is pretty simple to erase, and I'm going to get this little bit right here. I need to make my eraser smaller and be able to reach in and grab it, and then this little bit over here. Now to get rid of all of this, we're going to try another technique. We're going to grab the Polygon Lasso Tool, and we're going to just draw a really quick and sloppy line by clicking all the way around our object, the subject of illustration here. All right, now what we've selected is actually the image itself. We're going to go up to file and edit, and choose invert selection, and now even though we've drawn our line around the object, the selection has been flipped. So everything that's not the object is what's selected, and now you can just hit "Delete" and once again, Command D to de-select, and now there you have it, your object completely separated from the background. I'm going to do the same thing that I did on the previous illustration. I'm going to add an all white background and then crop it. At this point I can see that there's actually a little bit more than I want to tweak. This bit right up here, looks sloppy to me. I'm going to do another technique. I'm going to use the same tool that we just used to grab the background, the Polygonal Lasso Tool, and I'm going to try to make a nice straight line on my selection here. Just going to clean up some of that edge, it's coming off. All right, that looks better to me. I think I'm going to do it right here as well. Sometimes when you're working with objects that have really straight lines, it could be nice to just do those in a really clean tidy way. Now I think that's done. All right. There it is. All separated from the background, nice and tidy and ready to go. 5. Magnetic Selector: For our third and final method of removing the background, we are going to talk about the Magnetic Lasso selector. Yes, the Magnetic Lasso selection tool, that's what it's called. This tool is great for objects that have a lot of little tiny pointy details. I'll be using this illustration. If you can't see in the details here, these little raspberries have not only the pointy leaves, but they have lots of little filaments and hairs coming off of them. You'll be able to see it when I do the on-screen demo, but that is why I've chosen this illustration. Once again, I'm going to drag the illustration in the scan into pixel later. As you can see, this illustration has lots and lots of little tiny details. If we were to try to use this selector that we had just been using. You can see it has a really hard time differentiating. We could get in a little bit closer and try to grab it that way, but it's pretty sloppy and we would have a lot of clean up to do. I find with these kinds of images, often the best option is the Magnetic Lasso, also called the magnetic selector I guess. Again, you want to make sure that your selection setting is set to add to selection. I'm going to zoom in here. It's pretty cool. You can see that after I've clicked, a little line pops up and that line is going to try to snap to the edge of what it thinks the thing you're selecting is. So right here it's going to be pretty easy because it's nice and dark. I have a relatively clean mind. I can almost just do it out really far and it's going to grab all of that. But as you get into closer detail, smaller details are things that are lighter. You're going to have to go just a little bit at a time. But to make it a nice long selection, you can do a click and then drag or select it out. You can see how far it will go. See if I drag it this far, there's a whole bunch of stuff that's outside of the selection. So I need to do a smaller selection. To having a hard time with this little light pink area. Just click, click, clicking my way all the way around. Every time I click, it releases a new anchor. Again, I'm back to a relatively big, easy areas. I'm just let it grab the whole thing there. I may speed this up a little bit here so that you guys don't get too bored, but you can get the basic idea. I'm just testing the limits of the selector to seeing how far it will let me go in making a selection. If I have to go a little bit by little bit, then I go nice and slow. If I'm able to do a big area then I go for it with a big area. You'll get a feel for this once you've been using the tool for a little while. Like right now, I know that it's not going to be possible for me to just stretch the selector. You can see it, it left all those little nuns out. I'm just taking my time going over these things. But yeah, when you're first getting started with, it may take you a little practice to figure out how far you can stretch the selector depending on what it is you're selecting. But once you have it down, it becomes pretty intuitive. It's much nicer. Oops I overdid that part there. It's much nicer to do this. I find anyway then to just erase around the entire thing because this at least gives you a starting point. I'm not having to be too careful. I I'm tracing around it. I'm not directly going in a line all the way around the object, constantly focusing on making sure I don't erase something that should be kept or vice versa. I'm more or less just dragging this thing around in almost a little bit of a sloppy way and letting this selector decide where the line ends up. Now I've just got a big stretch. It's nothing but purple berries. I can just do a nice big selection there up to the top of this little filament. Once I made my way all the way around, I just hit on that final point to the point that I started to finish the selection. Again, with this method, we have selected the object itself. So we go up to File, excuse me, Edit and refined selection, we can see that what is in the selection is the image. All the red stuff is not in the selection. I'm going to do some of the same settings I did before. I'm too tiny to the shape roundness. Now you can see on this one I have to be way more careful with how much shape roundness, because even just like six percent and I'm already starting to lose some of the little filaments and some of the edges there. I think I'm going to go up to about six percent. Maybe a tiny bit of edge softness again, really light on both of those edits. I'm going to hit Okay. As you can see, there are still some little bits that shouldn't be deleted. So before I delete, I'm going to do another method for refining. I'm going to hit the shortcut queue to put up a quick mask. When you're in Quick Mask Mode, it shows you've got your same selection here. So all the black berries, that's what selected and all the red is what's not selected. If you want to add or take away from your selection, you go to the brush tool and the color white will add to the selection, and the color black will take away from the selection. Since we want to add to the selection, we want to make sure that this little bit is included here. I have the color white set, and I'm just going around checking to see if there are other things that didn't make it into the selection that need to make it into the selection? Looks pretty good. I'm just going to hit Q again to exit Quick Mask Mode. Again, we have to invert our selection because what we have selected is the berry. File and Invert Selection, and now I can hit delete and there goes the background. I deselect. Even though it looks like we have gotten everything since we refined the selection and softened the edges. Sometimes that can mean that there are little tiny bits of the selection that end up around the edge of your piece. I'm just going to grab the square Selection Tool, select and invert again, and delete once again. Now there should be nothing around, nothing on the edges. I'm going to add my white background, crop it. I'm going to take one more look here and see if there's anything that needs to be erased. We definitely have a few little sloppy areas. It's going to get rid of some of this. Personally I find it's a little bit easier to get a nice smooth line if you erased with a somewhat larger brush, which may seem counter intuitive, but I only shrink the brush when I actually need it to be really small to get into any little details, but to get a smoother line, I find that having the brush that to a larger size proportional to your subject is much easier. Since we weren't able to smooth out the edges of the selection as much, there are some parts that ended up a bit rough and bumpy. I'm just going over some of those doesn't have to be perfect, but just taking a few minutes to knock down some of the things that are sticking out and looking rough will really help make it look more polished. Don't get too caught up and having it totally perfect because remember that we're zoomed way, way in right now. Once you're zoomed out, in this illustration is in context for whatever it's going to be used for. You really won't even notice most of these little bumps, especially if you've kept your eraser nice and soft. As you can see, this is definitely more time-consuming than the cleanup for any of the other methods that we've used. That has more to do with the complexity of this illustration than it does on this particular method for removing the background. But I'm not doing it right now since I'm trying to do the most basic version and not have you guys need to buy a bunch of equipment to be able to do this class. But sometimes if I were to do an illustration like this, has a lot of little points, I would use a tablet. That just really helps make this thing that erasing over every little detail in and out between all these little details that just makes it a lot easier. But I'm doing all of this right now with the track pad so it can be done. There it is. 6. Troubleshooting: These three methods that we have just covered, those should be more than enough for most scenarios for pretty much anytime that you are just going to be cutting your workout from the background, and putting it onto a new white background. Any of these three methods should be able to get you what you need for that scenario. However, there may be other ways that you want to use your work that would require a little bit more background removal, a little bit more precise background removal. For example, if you want to take an illustration like this that was done on a white background and put it onto a colored background, especially a really dark background, like maybe a black background. Or if you want to use it on top of other illustrations or objects like text. In those scenarios, you may need to do a little bit more, a intensive hands-on clean up. I've got my red high-heel illustration, opened up once again, and the background has been removed already. But if you want to use this over a dark background or potentially want to layer it over the top of another illustration. You need to be a bit more refined and even more perfect in this selection and erasing process. To double-check that, I'm just going to change the background color from white to black. Then I'm going to zoom in. If you're a perfectionist, this part will make you totally freak out because you're going to see what a mess the selection actually is. Don't get too stressed about this. Because if you're wanting to work in commercial illustration or even if you're just doing this for your own personal Instagram or something like that. In most cases, you're going to use these images over a white background. That's why you're removing the background so you won't have to do this very often. I hardly ever have to do it to this extent, but it is good to know how. Basically we're just going to use a combination of the different selection methods, to get rid of the little bits and bops around the edge. First I'm going to choose the Polygonal Lasso again. I'm going to really describe this nice straight edge. Take it right down to there. Anywhere where there is a straight edge, I'm going to use this. This is mostly a straight edge. There are a few little spots where it's not. I can't go all the way up otherwise I would lose that curve, which I want to keep. I can just go up to about there. I think I can use it here a little bit as well. On top of this bow, again, I have to make sure to not go too far. I just want to do the very top part of it. Nowhere else I can use that, unfortunately. Now I have to switch to the eraser. Again, this would be an instance where it would be much easier if you could use a tablet, but I'm just trying to use my track-pad to show you all that it can be done. I'm just going around cleaning up those edges. It looks like we're taking a lot away because we're zoomed way in, but we're really not, we're just taking a little bit away. We also want to make sure to have the hardness on your eraser set not to a 100 percent, but a little bit harder since the selections are all very hard lines. Always zoom out every once in a while to just make sure that you're not going overboard or getting caught up in something that really isn't that big of a deal. This is the spot that really stands out to me when it's zoomed out. Don't be afraid to tweak the hardness inside pretty regularly on your eraser to get it to look the way that you want it to look. Now you can see it looks much tidy or on the background. If I were to want to layer it on top of another illustration, having those little white edges gone really helps. 7. Wrap up: At this point we've covered three different background removal methods, so choose the one that works best for your illustration and use it to remove the background. To finish up your project, you could add a colored background, add some text, maybe do an overlay with another image or create a pattern, or you can just throw in a nice bright white background and call it a day. Once you've done that, upload that along with the original scan that still has the background side-by-side, so that we can see what a great job you did removing the background and making something new and interesting out of your already beautiful traditional artwork. I've got an example class project already up for you all to check out so you can see what that looks like and get started in making your own. Thank you so much for taking my class. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram, I'm @KendyllHillegas and if you do share your work on social media please tag me, I'd love to see what you make and I'd love to share it on social media as well. Lastly, if you found this class helpful, please do leave a thumbs up and a review and don't ever hesitate to ask questions in the class discussion section, I will do my best to answer. All right, that's it, thank you again and happy background removal.