A little background


Q: I tried using Microsoft’s built-in Paint program as suggested in your April 2013 Technology Q&A item “Horsing Around With Paint” (page 84) to remove an image’s background, and I find this approach works well when the background consists of only a few colors. However, when trying to remove the background from images with complicated backgrounds, I find it nearly impossible to individually select the thousands of different colored background pixels using Paint, so this tool does not meet my needs in some cases. Can you recommend a better option?

A: Many versions of Adobe Photoshop contain tools for auto selecting and deleting backgrounds, including Photoshop Elements 12, which I found on sale for $74.89 on Amazon.com. However, I recommend the following alternative solution, which likely will cost you nothing. Word 2013 and 2010 both have a built-in background removal tool that is relatively easy to use. As illustrated in the five screenshots below, you can use Word to remove the background from a complicated image, as follows:

  1. Insert the picture into Word from the Insert tab by selecting Picture; then browse to the desired picture and click Insert.
  2. Click the picture to select it, and then from the Picture toolbar, select Remove Background. This process will auto-select the image’s background, but as you can see in the second picture, this process does not always select the entire background correctly. In this example, the process erroneously deselected the player’s tennis racket and shoes.
  3. From the Remove Background toolbar, click the Mark Areas to Keep button, click the player’s shoes, racket, and other areas you want to keep. Click the Mark Areas to Remove button and click those additional areas you want removed. These additions and deletions are shown in the third image as small dots. These dots are actually small plus and minus signs that are not clearly visible in this smaller size image.
  4. Once the proper areas have been selected and/or deselected, click the Keep Changes button to remove the unwanted background.
  5. To better illustrate why you might want to remove an image’s background, in this example I then set the image’s wrapping to In Front of Text and positioned it atop a new background image of a beach scene.

I find that, in many cases, Word’s background removal tool is faster and easier to use than many desktop publishing removal tools.


J. Carlton Collins ( carlton@asaresearch.com ) is a technology consultant, CPE instructor, and a JofA contributing editor.

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