How to: Remove Background from a Sketch in Photoshop

A quick tutorial on how to remove background from sketches or line arts using Adobe Photoshop.

In this tutorial, I am going to show you how to remove the background from a pencil sketch inside of Photoshop. Some of you might be wondering why do we need to get rid of the background of the sketch or a line art?

Actually, after removing the background from the sketch you can easily see through and paint the layer underneath it but this is not necessary and it’s totally depends on your workflow and approach.

There are lots of ways that you can use to extract the sketch from the background but I like to do it this way. Let’s get started.

Step 1

Desaturating the Image

I am using one of my old pencil sketches to demonstration this technique. Let’s first desaturate the sketch to remove tints and tones from it through Image » Adjustments » Desaturate or by pressing Shift + Ctrl + U hotkey.

In simple words, desaturating an image is taking away all of its colors and making it greyscale or Black & White.

Note: You can also adjust the levels, brightness and contrast of the image if necessary.

Step 2

Let’s get rid of the extra space around the character. Use Erase (E) tool with soft brush to erase the pixels.

Erasing the Extra Space

Please note that the sketch I am using here is on a regular Photoshop layer. If you have your sketch as Background layer, then convert it into the normal layer by right clicking on it and selecting Layer from Background… option from the pop up menu.

Step 3

Loading Channel as selection

Go to Channels panel and select any channel and click on Load channel as selection button located at the bottom of the panel.
Invert the selection by pressing Shift + Ctrl + I keys on your keyboard.

Step 4

Now, go to Select menu and click on Refine Edge… (Alt + Ctrl + R) to bring up the Refine Edge dialog. There are lots of options inside this floater that we can use to refine the selection but for this case we want just few of them to work.

Using Refine Edge option

Set the Contrast value to 70 % and Edge Shift to -8% to get the tight outlines. Inside Output group, set the Output To: option as New Layer with Layer Mask. Hit OK button when you are done.

Note: The given values work fine for this case and may vary depending upon the image. Feel free to play with these values to get the desired result.

Step 5

Applying the Layer Mask

Now, we have our sketch on a new layer with its background masked out by a layer mask. Right click on layer mask and select Apply Layer Mask from the pop up menu to permanent the layer mask information. You can keep the layer mask if you want.

Click here to read more about Layer Masks.

Step 6

Final Sketch without Background

Here is the final sketch with two different backdrops just to make sure that the actual background has been completely removed.

I hope you enjoyed this short tutorial. If you have any query, suggestions or ideas just drop me an email or leave your comment below. Thanks!