How to Remove A Background In GIMP

A common use for the popular Photoshop alternative

Lifewire logo with the background removed from half

There are multiple ways to eliminate the background from an image using the popular Photoshop alternative, GIMP. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, meaning that you should choose the options that best fits your situation. For instance, if you’re trying to cut an image away from a solid background, using the Fuzzy Select Tool will be vastly easier than some of the other options. None of these methods are particularly difficult to use, but some can be tedious and time consuming. That’s why picking the right image (if you can) can save a lot of time.

If your image background isn't removed by pressing Delete on any of these, copy and paste the image into a new layer, and try again.

The Fuzzy Select (Magic Wand) Tool

The Fuzzy Select Tool is ideal for situations where your image has a solid color background. The Fuzzy Select Tool can highlight contiguous regions of the same color, so if you set the tolerance correctly on it, you may be able to remove an entire background in just a few clicks.

  1. Select the Fuzzy Select Tool in your Toolbox. The icon resembles a magic wand.

    GIMP Fuzzy Select
  2. Click in the solid space that you want to delete from the image. Did it get everything? Too much? That’s what the Threshold settings is for.

    GIMP Fuzzy Select background selected
  3. Turn your attention to the lower left corner of the screen. That’s where your tool options are. Find the Threshold. This option allows you to adjust how far off the clicked color you want to grab with the tool. So, increasing the Threshold grabs more similar colors, and decreasing it restricts the colors selected.

    If, when you first click the background, there are parts that don't get selected, increase the number in the Threshold. If you grabbed too much and highlighted areas within the foreground, decrease the Threshold number.

  4. With the entire background selected, press the Delete key to eliminate the background.

    GIMP Fuzzy Select background removed
  5. If for some reason the background doesn't disappear, create a new transparent layer and place it behind your image. That should allow you to remove the background.

The Scissors Select Tool

The Scissors Select Tool lets you draw a path around the foreground of your image, regardless of what’s in the background, and use that to cut out what you want. The Scissors Select Tool will try to automatically detect the edges of the object that you’re outlining, and fit your path to it. As long as there’s enough distinction in color between your foreground and background, this can be a solid option.

  1.  Select the Scissors Select Tool from your toolbox. Its icon is a pair of scissors.

    GIMP Scissors Select Tool
  2. Start clicking around the edges of the image foreground. Try to stay directly on the edges and keep your points reasonably close. The Scissors Select Tool is fairly good at detecting edges, but it gets much less effective over longer spans.

    Creating a path with Scissors Select in GIMP
  3.  Click all the way back around your image, then click on your first point to finish.  

    GIMP Scissors Select path completed
  4. After you’ve connected back to your first point, click somewhere inside the foreground area you just closed off. This will convert it to a selection.

    GIMP Scissors Select selection
  5. If you want to cut out the foreground and move it someplace else, you can copy and paste it now. To delete the background of the current image, choose the Select menu.

  6.  Now, find and select Invert to select all the area outside of your foreground.

  7.  Press the Delete key to remove the background.

    GIMP Scissors Select background removed
  8. With the background removed, you should see transparency around the foreground.

The Foreground Select Tool

The Foreground Select Tool is fairly similar to the Scissors Select Tool. You can use it in situations where there’s a decent amount of contrast between the foreground and background of your image. The Foreground Select Tool is a bit more precise than the Scissors Select Tool, but it relies on a difference in colors between the foreground and background.

  1.  Select the Foreground Select Tool. It has a portrait icon.

    GIMP Foreground Select Tool
  2. Click down, and while holding the left click, draw a path around the borders of the foreground. Try to keep as much of the background out as possible. Loop all the way around, and connect back to where you started. At the end, you should see a line enclosing your foreground.

    GIMP Foreground Select path
  3. Press Enter to begin selecting the foreground. As soon as you hit Enter, you should see the image turn blue.

    GIMP Foreground Select blue mask
  4. Click and hold to draw a line through the foreground. Try to zig-zag and select every color in the foreground of the image. GIMP will use these color values to determine the difference between the foreground and background.

  5. After you’ve collected all the foreground colors, press Enter again to preview your selection.

    GIMP Foreground Selection color set
  6. The foreground will lighten up, and only background parts will be blue. If you’re happy with what you have, press Select in the small Foreground Select window.

  7. Your foreground will now be selected. To delete the background, choose the Select menu.

  8. Choose Invert.

  9.  Use the Delete key to remove the background.

    GIMP Foreground Select background removed
  10. With the background gone, you should have the foreground of the image against a transparent background.