Advanced Editing

Magic Eraser tool

Written by James Jordan

Two features of Photoshop – layers and a tool called the Magic Eraser – make teleportation a reality, albeit a virtual reality.

We’ve all wished that we could be somewhere else when our current locale turned out to be less than ideal. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to instantly transport ourselves to a better place?

Teleportation is possible. Well, photographically, at least.

Viola! The magical Magic Eraser!

Two features of Photoshop – layers and a tool called the Magic Eraser – make teleportation a reality, albeit a virtual reality. An object in one photograph can be superimposed on another quickly and easily with these two tools.

Like its cousins the Magic Wand and Quick Selection Tool, the Magic Eraser selects neighboring pixels in an image based on user-defined sensitivity settings. The Magic Eraser goes a step further by instantly deleting the selected pixels. Whether used on the background layer or an adjustment layer, the Magic Eraser changes the color of the selected pixels to transparent.

Using the Magic Eraser on a background layer converts it to an adjustment layer.

Putting a subject in a new locale

To put a picture’s subject in a new locale, simply make a selection of the subject (using the rectangular or circular selection tool), copy and paste into the background photo. You can then begin to put the Magic Eraser Tool to work to remove the surrounding background from your subject and reveal its new digs.

Magic Eraser location

You can locate the Magic Eraser in the Photoshop toolbar among the other eraser tools. To use the tool, simply click the Magic Eraser on an area of the photo. A number of pixels will instantly disappear.

Unlike the other eraser tools, the Magic Eraser works by clicking, not dragging.

The Tolerance box

You can control the “reach” of the Magic Eraser Tool by adjusting the number in the Tolerance box. The Tolerance is the range of similar colors that the magic Eraser (or any tool that selects on the basis of pixel colors) will grab on any one pass.

A smaller number will select a lesser range of pixels; a larger number will select a greater range of pixels.

Tradeoffs when choosing a Tolerance number

Understand the trade-offs involved in selecting a Tolerance number: A larger number selects more pixels per click, but at the expense of accuracy. A smaller number will select a smaller area, but generally affords more control.

If the background you are erasing is fairly simple and evenly toned, then bumping up the Tolerance number makes life a breeze. Busy backgrounds with many tones may require more care, especially those parts of the background directly adjacent to your subject.

The other settings

  • Anti-alias – Selecting this option will make the edges of a deleted area smoother and more natural-looking.
  • Contiguous – Checking Contiguous will cause the Magic Eraser to delete only those pixels connected to the point clicked. Unchecking Contiguous will cause all pixels of the same value throughout the image to be erased. All Layers will delete pixels from all visible layers.
  • Opacity – The Opacity value controls the amount of transparency applied to pixels. An opacity of 100% will make selected pixels completely opaque. Smaller percentages create ranges of semi-transparency to create a faded or blended background.

As with all editing tools, play around with the Magic Eraser and its settings to see what works best for you and the style of pictures you wish to create.

Oh, and have fun.

About the author

James Jordan

James Jordan, Digicamhelp Contributing Writer, is owner of James Jordan Photography in Elgin, IL. His portfolio includes portraits for families, seniors and corporations, events, products, travel and landscape photography. His work has been published in travel guides and lifestyle magazines in the Midwestern U.S. A series of artistic landscape prints will be exhibited in Door County, Wisconsin in the summer of 2009.