Digital Art How to Remove Backgrounds in Adobe Illustrator

How to Remove Backgrounds in Adobe Illustrator

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You are working on a design in Adobe Illustrator. You have decided it is time to bring in another image from your stock files. The problem is the image you would like to use as a background, and you want to remove this background. How do you do it?

Usually, when you hear about transparent backgrounds, you do it in Photoshop.

While Photoshop is clearly better equipped to manipulate and edit photos, there is certainly a way to do it in Illustrator too! I love Illustrator and a lot of illustrators would rather just remove backgrounds directly in Adobe Illustrator

I’m going to show you different ways to remove your background in Adobe Illustrator and turn your images into vectorized versions. You must keep in mind that the quality of your image matters.

For this, check the resolution (PPI). The higher the pixels, the better the quality. You can also zoom in on your photo and check that the details are intact. 

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Using the Image Trace feature

Open a fresh document in Adobe Illustrator and select your preferred size document. Place an image File>Place like the one below. I chose this cute cat illustration on a clear white background.

Let’s remove the background. It’s quick and easy. To do that, you will need to vectorize the image. From the overhead menu, choose Window>Image Trace.

A panel called Image Trace appears (see below). Select Mode:color. Make sure the color is set to 30. You can play around with the other settings, but in my case, I didn’t need to change anything. The image was already in high resolution.

Click Trace and wait a little bit for it to do its magic. It’s working hard right now! 

Once the progress is completed, go to Object>Expand to turn the picture into a vector so you will be able to remove the white background. 

Make sure both Fill and Object are selected and press OK.

If you notice that some areas were not removed, with the Direct Selection tool (A), select an area you would like to remove. 

You can also turn your background into a transparent background by going to View>Show Transparency Grid, or Shift + Command/Control + D

Remove any extra areas. As you can see in my image, there is some more white that I would like to remove. 

And there you go! You can now have any background you dream of! You can place it on another image. You can change its color too. Simple and Effective!

Save it as PNG (a format that can keep the transparency of your image).

Using the vector Pen and Clipping Mask

There is another way to remove a background from an image using the Clipping Mask and Vector Pen tool. This method takes a little more time, but it’s as efficient as the Image Trace, especially with a raster image. Let’s take this ice cream cone photograph on a white background. 

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Place again the image in a new document. 

Choose the Pen tool (P) from the side menu. Try to be as accurate as possible when you use the Pen tool. You can learn more about how to use the Pen tool in another tutorial. 

Trace the image and close the path.

 Below is what your path should look like when you’re done. 

Select both the paths you created and the image. Remember, you must close the ends of your path, otherwise, you will not be able to use it as a Clipping Mask.

Select both the path you created and the image. 

Right-click and select Make Clipping Mask.

And there you go! View>Show Transparency Grid, or Shift + Command/Control + D for a transparent background.

You can go ahead and save it as a PNG again.

Things to Keep in Mind 

Using the Pen tool to remove the background is better in Photoshop. You will find more features to enhance the way you extract a raster image, especially when your image has a lot of small details.

With this being said, I’m glad Adobe Illustrator has a way to extract images without having to go through Photoshop. It cuts back on time! 

The Image Trace works best with illustrations and drawings since they don’t include many details.

Try it yourself! It’s worth experimenting.

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