Steps To Remove Backgrounds from Stock Images

Written by Trina Rimmer | Jun 1, 2010 4:46:09 PM

Have you ever found yourself struggling to find a stock image with a transparent background?  Or, maybe you’ve wasted hours of your time trying to remove the background from an image?  You’re not alone in being annoyed by this problem. In fact, whenever I mention being a PowerPoint junkie and online training developer, I always get the same question:

“What’s the easiest way to get rid of backgrounds on stock images?”

As I researched this topic, I quickly discovered why we’re all so frustrated: there is no silver bullet technique for background removal.  On the one hand, removing backgrounds from photos can be tedious and time-consuming work—often with only so-so results.  On the other, if there’s any one thing that sets apart a standard-looking presentation from an exceptional-looking presentation, it’s the visual integration of images into the slide background. 

So where’s the sweet-spot between the amount of glory realized from a slick-looking design and the amount of effort put forth to achieve the look? (I call this balance the “glory-to-effort" ratio, i.e. the amount of glory one is likely to receive relative to the amount of effort required to achieve said glory.)

Because your "glory-to-effort" ratio probably changes on a case by case basis, it's great to have a range of tools & techniques at your fingertips—from quick-and-dirty to highly professional. Listed below are ratings and video tutorials for 5 tools that I commonly use:

1. PowerPoint (Quality: Medium, Ease: Simple!)


2. (Quality: Low, Ease: Simple!)

3. (Quality: Medium, Ease: Average)

4. GIMP (Quality: High!, Ease: Takes some effort)


5. Aviary (Quality: High!, Ease: Takes some effort)

While there may not be a silver bullet,  there are plenty of cool shortcuts, tricks, free tools, and tutorials. Using any of the tools and techniques I’ve highlighted here means that you don’t need to take a class, buy Adobe Photoshop, bribe a graphic designer, or have any real expertise to seamlessly integrate stock images into your presentations or training. 

Of course the quickest and easiest fix is to buy stock images that already have transparent backgrounds.  Check out the drop & go character packs from and – both of whom sell images of characters in different poses and with different expressions – all of which are on a transparent background.  Sweet! 

So what design challenges stump and annoy you?

Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training solutions. When her training skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own design muscles. Contact Trina at