Five Tip Friday ~ Instant Alpha on Mac, and more about Preview

One of the things you can do in the expensive, hard to learn but brilliant Photoshop is remove backgrounds to the point they become transparent with so-called ‘clipping paths’. Without Photoshop, though, and some serious time for learning, what options do you have? Preview, the much underused, under appreciated and utterly wonder Apple app – it’s on every Mac, already, tucked away in your Applications folder – I always nominate this to my Dock because I use it a lot.


1/ Open Preview — It’s in your Mac’s Application folder. Click on the Markup button (circled, below right) to reveal the Instant Alpha magic-wand (below left). But you may not realise what those tool icons are (Markup is a little suitcase icon), so hold down the Command key on your keyboard, click in the grey area at the top of the Preview window either side of the title of the file, and choose Icon and Text to show the names of the items, as shown above. (This trick works in lots of Apple apps: choose Customise Toolbar to add and subtract even more options to Mail, Finder windows and more.)


2/ Start selecting — This next part requires a little bit of finesse: click and drag within the background of your image, and as you drag further, Preview will select more and more and will highlight it in pink as you go. Note that Preview uses colour similarity to determine what to select as you drag, this feature is ideal for removing backgrounds that contrast well with the central image, so consider that when you select a photo to use.

3/ Selection — Once you’re satisfied you have the part of the image you’d like to get rid of selected, let go of your mouse or trackpad button, and Preview selects what you highlighted. Tap the Delete key on your keyboard to remove the selected portion (if you’re not working with a file that’s already in PNG format, you’ll have to convert it to this format, but you’ll be offered that option).Convert

4/ Another method — You can choose Invert Selection from the Edit menu to select everything except what you highlighted, which might be an easier way to get what you want. If you then tap Delete, Preview leaves the background while removing the image.

5/ While you’re looking at Preview … Experiment a little. That Markup button revealed other tools: you can add squares, circles, speech bubbles, text and more to JPEGs, PDFs and more. It’s wonderful.