Looking to remove a background in Affinity Photo? Fortunately, it’s pretty easy!
You do need to make sure you choose the right image; backgrounds that are distinct from a well-defined subject are much easier to remove. If the subject has fuzzy or indistinct edges, you’ll struggle to get a good result.
In this article, I’ll walk you through a step-by-step process for removing backgrounds in Affinity. Note that you have a few options, but I’ll outline the main procedure and offer helpful tips along the way.
Removing the background in Affinity Photo: the basics
If you are new to editing photos and changing backgrounds, I recommend you start with an easy image featuring a clearly defined subject. If the subject has fur, wispy hair, or other indistinct edges, you’ll probably become frustrated. Instead, pick a subject that has clear, smooth edges to make the process more straightforward.
For this article, I’ll demonstrate background removal using a photo of a yellow parasol:
Step 1: Start with the Selection Brush tool
To begin, choose the Selection Brush tool. You’ll find this in the tool panel usually located on the left-hand side of the main window. (You can also hit “w” on your keyboard.)
Make sure the mode is set to “Add,” then adjust the size of your Brush until it’s relatively large. You can do this via the square bracket keys, [ and ]. Tap the left bracket key to make the Brush smaller, or tap the right bracket key to make the Brush larger.
Alternatively, you can use the slider in the toolbar labeled “Width.” In the same toolbar, check the box called “Snap to edges.” Affinity Photo will detect when your Brush is near an edge and adjust the selection automatically.
Step 2: Select your subject
It is often much easier to select your subject than to select the background. Start by painting with the Selection Brush on the main subject of your photo.
Notice that, as you come close to an edge, the selection line will snap to cover it.
If the selection is not precise at this stage, don’t worry. In the next step, you’ll learn how to refine the selection so it only contains the right areas.
You can adjust the Brush size at any time using the square bracket keys or the Width slider. This may be necessary if you need to select small parts of your subject (like the points of the parasol in my example).
To handle the parasol points, I made the Brush smaller and zoomed in for greater precision.
Step 3 (Optional): Remove part of the selection
At times, the Brush may select parts of the background. This is easy to fix.
Zoom into the affected area and hold down the Alt/Opt key. Alternatively, click the “Subtract” mode button on the top toolbar:
Paint with your Selection Brush over the areas you don’t want to be selected, and they’ll instantly become deselected.
Step 4: Refine your selection
The next step is to check your selection and refine it as needed.
Look to the right of the Mode and Width options in the toolbar. Here, you’ll find the Refine button, and when you click it, a new panel will appear. The unselected areas of the image will be filled with a semi-opaque red color.
Zoom in, particularly around the edges. Look for parts of the background that aren’t covered by the red overlay. In the Refine Selection dialog box, select “Matte,” then paint over the affected area.
Work around the edges of your selection. Make sure you stay zoomed in at a level where you can comfortably see any problems. Paint over the problem areas. You can adjust the Brush’s feather, smoothness, border width, etc., as needed.
Once you have finished this part of the process, click Apply. The selection will be modified and the red overlay will disappear.
Step 5: Invert the selection and delete the background
Now that you have your subject selected, you’ll need to invert it. After all, you want to keep the subject and remove the background, not the other way around!
To invert the selection, choose Select>Invert Pixel Selection in the top menu. (Alternatively, tap Ctrl/Cmd+Shift+I.)
Once you have your selection inverted, simply hit the backspace key, and the background will disappear!
Alternatively, you can keep your subject selected, then copy it (Ctrl/Cmd+C) and paste it (Ctrl/Cmd+V). This creates a new layer with your subject, and you can then hide the original layer by checking the box on the right in the Layers panel.
(To deselect the subject, hit Select>Deselect or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl/Cmd+D.)
Step 6: Add a new background or save a PNG
At this point, you should have a subject with a transparent background, so you can either add a new background or save your photo as is.
If you want to save your subject with no background, turn off the background layer. Then use File>Export to open the relevant dialog box:
At the top of this panel, you’ll see a row of icons. To save your image so the background appears transparent, you need to select PNG. Then click Export. Your image will be saved with a transparent background!
To add a background instead, simply drag and drop your chosen background image into Affinity Photo. Position the new background below your subject layer in the Layers panel. Resize it until it looks just right. Then save the new image.
Advanced tip: Use a mask to refine the selection
If you’ve edited in Photoshop, you will be familiar with layer masks. You can also use these in Affinity Photo to refine a selection.
Here’s how it works: Make the selection the way I described above. But don’t delete the background layer; instead, click the Mask icon in the Layers panel. This will hide the background layer but won’t delete it. If you turn the layer mask off, you’ll see the background again.
Use the regular Brush tool to refine the edge of your selection. To reveal areas of the background that are hidden, paint with a white brush:
And to hide areas that are revealed, paint with a black brush:
With some patience and plenty of zooming, you can carefully extract a subject from its background.
This method can be the easier and more accurate option when working on images with complicated subjects.
How to remove backgrounds in Affinity Photo: final words
Learning to remove the background in Affinity Photo is easier if you start with a well-defined subject. But as you practice, try to pick images that are progressively more challenging. This will help you build up your skills and learn to make the most of Affinity Photo’s tools.
The level of accuracy and clarity you desire will determine how long you’ll need to spend editing each image. If you’re only using your images for social media, you don’t need to be especially precise. But for images that you plan to print or post on an e-commerce or stock photo website, you’ll need to be more careful.
So give yourself plenty of time to practice. As you build your skills, the process of removing the background in Affinity Photo will become easier, quicker, and more enjoyable.