Quick Tip: How to Easily Remove the White Background From Scanned Paper Drawings with Photoshop

In this tutorial, you will learn how to quickly remove the white areas around your scanned paper drawings. It works for watercolor paintings, sketches, ink drawings and handwritten text alike.

Here’s what the final result will look like.

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Difficulty: Beginner to Intermediate

Completion time: ~10 minutes

Tools: Adobe Photoshop CS3 or newer

 

STEP 1

Open up Adobe Photoshop, then open your scanned image.

To do this, go to File -> Open and select your file, or simply drag-and-drop the image into Photoshop.

For this tutorial, we will use this scan of a beautiful watercolor painting, created by our talented colleague Andreea.

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STEP 2

In the Layers panel (F7), click the eclipse icon and select the “Brightness/Contrast” adjustment layer.

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STEP 3

Now you should see a new layer, named “Brightness/Contrast 1”. Double-click its layer thumbnail. A new window will now pop up, with two sliders.

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STEP 4

Push the Brightness a bit (2 to 4) and pump up the contrast to preserve most of the colors.

The idea is to make the paper as white as we can, so we can filter it out later.

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STEP 5

Click the same eclipse icon and select “Curves”.

At the moment, it does nothing, because the default values do not modify the image. Yet.

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STEP 6

Double-click its layer thumbnail to open its settings panel.

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STEP 7

Adjust the curve as below.

The top right corner will pump up the highlights while the curve’s “belly” pumps up the colors a bit more.

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STEP 8

With the “Curves 1” layer selected, press CTRL+ALT+Shift+E. It will now flatten the image and paste the result on a new layer. Rename this layer to “flatten”.

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STEP 9

Click the “eyes” near the adjustment layers’ thumbnails to make them invisible. We don’t need them anymore.

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STEP 10

Click the eclipse again and select “Solid Color”. It will create a new layer named “Color Fill 1”. Hit CTRL+Shift+[ to send it to back.
For now, the layer it’s not visible because it is placed under the “flatten” layer.

When prompted to select a color, just pick a dark gray. It doesn’t matter much, this layer serves only as a visual guide.

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STEP 11

In the Layers panel, select the “flatten” layer and double-click near the layer thumbnail. This action will open the Layer Style panel.

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STEP 12

Hold the ALT key and click-drag half of the white arrow to the left, until you see the background disappearing. Click OK. If you get any white edges on your drawing, you can slide the left half of the arrow just a bit to the left.

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STEP 13

Create a new layer (CTRL+Shift+N), hold Shift and select the “flatten” layer as well, then go to Layer -> Merge Layers (CTRL+E).

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STEP 14

Grab the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) and roughly select the drawing. Once you close in the shape, you will see a “marching ants” effect on its contour.

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STEP 15

Hit CTRL+C to copy it.

Now go to File -> New… and hit OK. It will create a new document with the size of the copied selection from our layer.

Then, paste it in (CTRL+V).

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STEP 16

Press D to reset the foreground and background colors.

Select the “Background” layer and press ALT+Backspace. This action will fill the entire layer with the current foreground color.

To fill the layer with the background color, press CTRL+Backspace.

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STEP 17

Select the “Layer 1” layer.
Now grab the Eraser Tool (E) and clean up any remaining white dots. You can now see them clearly, because the background is black.

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STEP 18

Click the “eye” near the “Background” layer to make it invisible.

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STEP 19

Go to File -> Export -> Save for Web (Legacy) (CTRL+ALT+Shift+S).

Learn to press them with one hand, this command is really useful and you will use it a lot.

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The watercolor image is now ready to be used, without the background.

I hope you’ve learned something new today, and if you did, drop a Like or let me know in a comment, or share this article with someone who needs it.

If you’ve learned nothing new, feel free to leave this page without sharing. I won’t hold a grudge.

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6 Comments Quick Tip: How to Easily Remove the White Background From Scanned Paper Drawings with Photoshop

  1. Joe May 27, 2016 at 21:35

    Very helpful! Great way to pull out the subject matter.

    Reply
  2. Jess Apr 27, 2018 at 01:40

    Great, thank you :)

    Reply
  3. Anonymous Sep 3, 2018 at 12:53

    thank you very much!

    Reply
  4. Kris Sep 17, 2018 at 07:21

    Could someone help me with key commands for Mac? Thanks in advance

    Reply
    1. Kris Sep 19, 2018 at 09:17

      Nevermind, got it! And thank you for the very helpful tutorial!

      Reply
  5. John Sep 22, 2018 at 04:25

    Very helpful, but one question. How ist it possible to remove the white background but not the white parts inside the picture, because I dont want have any transparent parts in the drawing.
    Any ideas?

    Reply

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