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I want to replace the whiteness in pixels with transparency in the same way as described in this question - i.e. for lighter pixels to be made proportionally as transparent. All solutions found via google are based on magic wand or other methods that do not work for my needs. I'm sure there used to be a way to do this in earlier version of photoshop (a simple functions to replace a colour with transparency), but I can't it in CS6. 'Replace Colour' has no alpha options. Grateful for any pointers.

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Why is the question you linked to insufficient? Have you tried Select > Color Range... to create a selection then mask or remove it? – Scott Oct 3 '13 at 14:55
Because I suspect the Imagemagick solution in that link won't work in CS6 ;) The select method is surely also flawed because it constrains the selection. I want the lightness value in all pixels to convert to alpha value. – geotheory Oct 3 '13 at 15:01
Not a full answer, but... maybe it's worth trying to make a b&w copy of the image and pasting that into a layer mask? – Vincent Oct 3 '13 at 15:06
Note that imagemagick is free and open source. You can use the tool to make intermediary images which you can then further manipulate in PS6 or any other image editing software. There is no reason to limit yourself to any proprietary tool. The linked answer however does not sound like the right tool for you in this specific instance because it relies on having the blue gradient background used in the development of the original item as a unique image for the masking process. – horatio Oct 3 '13 at 16:41
I'm really late to this party, but you can use my free "Peel Off White" filter math with Pixel Bender plugin in the pre-CC versions of Photoshop to do exactly what you want. Download it from bergdesign dot com. Because Adobe has now deprecated previous methods to do pixel math inside PS without writing a full plugin (Filter Factory and Pixel Bender), I am about to release a Mac app with all the functionality of the Peel Off filters but as a stand-alone Mac app with some additional functionality to complement the basic Peel Off functionality. – bergdesign Feb 22 at 0:07
up vote 87 down vote accepted

One method is to use the original image/layer as its own layer mask. You'd create a duplicate of the layer, desaturate and invert it, pasting the greyscale result into the original layers layermask.

Update: Here are some step by step instructions:

Start with your flattened image:

enter image description here

Add a Saturation/Hue adjustment layer and turn down the Saturation until the image has no color. If you don't have any gradient in your original image, you can just use a Threshold adjustment layer instead, which will result in 100% black or 100% white results.

(Technically you could skip step, as we'll be pasting it into a layer mask which will convert it to greyscale anyway. This will give you a good visual reference though to tweak the black/white balance)

enter image description here

Add an Invert adjustment layer, then a Curves adjustment layer. Tweak the Curves until everything you'd like to be solid/opaque is white, and everything you want fully transparent is black. You may have to tweak this a few times to get the amounts right.

enter image description here

Now CTRL + A to select the entire image and CTRL + SHIFT + C to copy the combined greyscale result. Create a layer mask on your original layer. Now ALT + click in the layer mask icon to enter direct edit mode. Now paste the black and white image you just copied into there.

enter image description here

Now click back on your original layer to exit the layer mask direct edit and hide all your adjustment layers.

There you have it! If you find your finished result isn't fully opaque (solid) in the areas you like it, you can either tweak the curves and do it again (you'll need more white in those areas), or just duplicate the result/layer a few times until it becomes less transparent (example below).

enter image description here

This also works on black backgrounds, just don't use the Invert layer filter.

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what if the background I'd want to be transparent is blue/grey? – Michelle Nov 1 '14 at 2:15
@Pineapple Under the Sea - It can work on colored backgrounds, but you would need enough tonal contrast. For that reason it usually doesn't work well on mid-tone colored backgrounds. Try a hue/saturation filter on the original image and remove the color, if the background looks similar to the part you want to keep (similar tone in greyscale), this method probably won't work well for you. In that case you'll have to paint or trace it out. This method works by exaggerating the tonal difference of the background vs part you want to keep until it is black vs white... – John Nov 1 '14 at 12:55
...If you can't accomplish that using levels, curves or the threshold filter, then this method will not work. – John Nov 1 '14 at 12:56
@Mich you can do calculations on channels explained here:… – joojaa Jul 14 '15 at 6:13
@joojaa Thank you so much! – Michelle Jul 16 '15 at 13:09

You can use blending to add transparency:

  1. Right click the layer you want to add transparency to, pick the "Blending Options..." (If unable to pick 'Blending options' ensure that the layer is unlocked)
  2. Locate the scale under the "This layer:" that is under the "Blend if" box
  3. Press and hold the alt key while dragging on the white knob, the further you drag it to the left the more transparency is added based on the whiteness of the layer. See the image of how the two white knobs are separated.

"Blend if" box

If you also want the layers below it to have the same transparency as the current layer you can set the "Knockout" under "Advanced Blending" to "Deep". Layers below that are locked will not be affected by this.

I have only tested this in CS5.5, but I think it should be very similar in CS6.

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Extremely simple solution, love it – Jon L. Feb 12 '15 at 19:14
all in one sceenshot – Guillaume Combot Jul 13 '15 at 12:40
This has blown my mind. I've been using Photoshop for maybe 14 years or more years and I didn't know about this feature. I mean, it probably wasn't introduced in the earlier versions, but still, wow. I have seen those sliders but never knew what they did! Cheers Vegard, you wonderful beast. – Matt Fletcher Jul 16 '15 at 9:12
I'm not sure how to do John's answer on my crusty old photoshop 7, so this helped a lot and was way easier! Had to copy the layer, delete the old layer, and repeat the procedure to get rid of all the white. – B T Sep 26 '15 at 22:56

The free "un-multiply" photoshop plugin here does a free, quick, excellent job at this task, though only for blackness in pixels. However, if you invert the image first, run it, then invert the image again, it accomplishes the same thing:

That page is in Japanese (foreign to me ;), though it's easy to find the download links. I believe it comes with an older version of an MSVC dll which must be put in the application root directory of photoshop.

Note also the "unmultiply" filter for filter forge and other means of doing this task, linked from that same page.

Again, while this filter accomplishes this for blackness in pixels, if you invert the image first, then run the filter, then invert the image again, it will accomplish this with whiteness--temporarily inverted whiteness.

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Unmultiply is fine for black backgrounds. For white backgrounds, we'd need an Unscreen. I cannot find a free version, though; so far I've only found – Steven Vachon Mar 22 at 16:19
@StevenVachon please re-read my answer which I've edited for clarity. In a nutshell: you can accomplish an "unscreen" by inverting an image, running the filter, then inverting the image again. I'd personally rather accomplish with a free plugin what it can do in one step than what Photoshop without a plugin can do in several steps. – r_alex_hall Mar 25 at 20:48

Here is a very good way that is very easy:

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Hi Moriah, could you please explain a bit more what we'll find behind the link you provide and why it answers the question? That way, your answer is still of value in case the link breaks at a later time. Link rot is the main reason we really dislike link-only answers here. Thanks for your effort and keep contributing! – Vincent Jan 6 '15 at 10:09

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