Are you wondering how to use the Photoshop Eraser Tool? And more importantly, are you wondering when you should use it?
You’ve come to the right place. In this guide, I’ll show you how the Eraser Tool works – and I’ll give you some tips that’ll help you master it. You’ll also learn when to use the Eraser Tool, along with several helpful alternatives.
Let’s get started!
The Eraser Tool: 3 different versions
Nearly every tool in Photoshop comes in several different versions; to reveal these options, click and hold a tool icon. A menu will appear with each tool variation:
In the case of the Photoshop Eraser Tool, you’ll find three variations:
- The regular Eraser Tool
- The Background Eraser Tool
- The Magic Eraser Tool
Let’s see what each can do and how they are different from each other, starting with the standard Eraser Tool:
1. Eraser Tool
The standard Eraser Tool is as straightforward as it gets. It erases the pixels underneath the cursor – whatever they are.
You can determine whether to use the Eraser Tool as a Brush, a Pencil, or a Block. For the Brush and the Pencil, you can choose the size, hardness, and opacity of your cursor’s brush.
Click once, and you’ll erase whatever is underneath the cursor (though a big brush will delete more than a small brush, of course).
Make sure the layer you’re working on is unlocked, and that transparent pixels are unlocked, too (the transparent pixels can be locked or unlocked via the checker icon on top of the Layers panel; see the circled icon in the image above).
2. Background Eraser Tool
The Background Eraser Tool tends to confuse and disappoint Photoshop beginners. The name suggests that it automatically erases the background of your image, thus eliminating the tedious work of selecting – but I’m afraid that’s not how it works.
Instead, the Background Eraser Tool samples whatever is underneath the middle of the cursor (marked with a +) and deletes areas that match the sampled color.
You can adjust how the Background Eraser Tool conducts its sampling. Continuous Sampling means that it will update the sample as you move the cursor. On the image above, for example, I can drag the Tool along the edge between the sky and the trees and it will delete only the blue from the sky. However, if I touch the branches, the Background Eraser will start deleting the trees.
Switch the sampling to Once, and the Background Eraser will erase anything with the color it sampled upon your first click. This is ideal when you want to remove intricate areas like sky between leaves.
Finally, the Background Swatch sampling mode will delete anything matching Photoshop’s current Background Color. This is best used with solid colors because a graduated blue – like the one in the sky, above – will leave a lot of areas untouched.
The Background Eraser Tool is only available as a brush, but you can adjust the Limits and Tolerance to fine-tune according to your needs.
3. Magic Eraser
The Magic Eraser works like the Magic Wand selection tool, except it erases pixels instead of selecting them; one click, and it erases anything that matches the color under the cursor.
You can adjust the Tolerance to delete more or fewer shades of the sampled color. You can also determine if you want to erase only adjacent areas or if you want to delete anything with that color, regardless of its location in the image. Check the Anti-alias option if you want to minimize jagged edges.
How to use the Eraser Tool: the basics
Using the Photoshop Eraser Tool is dead simple. Just follow these steps:
- Unlock the layer you want to eraser. Make sure transparent pixels are unlocked, too.
- Select the Eraser Tool you want to use (regular Eraser, Background Eraser, or Magic Eraser).
- Customize the tool. Depending on the type of Eraser you’ve selected, you’ll have different customization options.
- Click and drag to erase the desired area.
- Check for any remaining pixels. If necessary, go back and erase over areas again.
- Save the image as a PNG file to preserve the transparency of deleted pixels.
Tips for using the Photoshop Eraser Tool
Now that you’re familiar with the Eraser Tool basics, I’d like to share some simple tips and tricks to improve your results:
1. Always keep an original backup
The Eraser is a destructive tool. In other words, if you delete pixels, they’ll be gone for good. You can bring them back with the Undo command, but that’s only if you haven’t closed and re-opened the file.
So before using the Eraser, always, always, always make a backup of your work.
For instance, you can duplicate the layer you plan to Erase; that way, if you mess up, you can always delete your worked-on version and start over with the duplicated layer.
Another option is to work with a copy of your file, rather than the original. Then, when things go downhill, you always have the original to save the day.
2. Use the keyboard shortcuts
To move more efficiently through your editing process, you can use the ‘E‘ key to activate the Eraser Tool.
Then tap ‘Shift + E‘ to toggle between the different types of Erasers.
3. Erase to History
If you’ve saved a state or made a snapshot, the Erase to History option will erase the changes made since that last save.
You can find this feature in the Options bar of the Erase tool.
When should you use the Eraser Tool in Photoshop?
The Photoshop Eraser Tool has limited applications. But for those few times when you need it, you’ll be happy it exists!
Here are several situations when the Eraser Tool can make a big difference:
1. When you need transparency
Sometimes, it’s not enough to hide pixels in the current document – you actually need to keep the area empty and transparent for use on images elsewhere.
This can happen when you’re preparing several images for a photo composite, or when you’re creating a logo to place on top of other images.
(Remember to save your file as a PNG. Otherwise, the transparent areas will be filled with white pixels by default.)
2. When you need to fine-tune channel masks
When you make a layer mask, you’ll notice that a new channel is created.
If you head to this new channel and use the Eraser Tool in Block mode, you can make adjustments to the black pixels to modify the mask (though make sure you zoom in for better results).
Eraser Tool alternatives
Not sure if the Eraser Tool is the right way to go? Here are several alternatives to the Eraser Tool that will help you achieve similar results.
1. Layer masks
Layer masks are a non-destructive way of “erasing” parts of your image. Technically, you’re not deleting those pixels – that’s why it’s non-destructive.
Instead, you’re just hiding the pixels you don’t want. If you change your mind and decide to make them visible again, you can disable the layer mask – or unmask the parts that you want visible.
2. Auto Erase
Despite the name, this isn’t a feature found as part of the Photoshop Eraser Tool. Instead, you’ll find it in the Pencil tool.
When you activate the Pencil and enable the Auto Erase option, you paint – with the background color – any pixels that have the foreground color. And if you paint over an area that doesn’t have the foreground color, you replace that color with the foreground color.
The Photoshop Eraser Tool: final words
I hope this article clarified your doubts about the mysterious and often underestimated Photoshop Eraser Tool. Go ahead and test it out the next time you’re in Photoshop. See how it goes. Yes, it has something of a niche effect, but it’s occasionally very helpful.
Now over to you:
Do you have any tips or advice for using the Eraser Tool? Share them in the comments below!