You might have heard “background removal” called a background knockout, cut-out, silhouette, etching, clipping, or masking. Drawing clipping paths and layer masks don’t necessarily remove the background, but it’s a common approach to take, and a good background removal service should offer to do so.
In this guide we’ll cover what you need to know about background removal in general, and then the questions you should ask when comparing background removal services.
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Table of Contents
- What’s the difference between a clipping path and background removal?
- Why should you remove the background?
- To sell on marketplaces like Amazon
- To create consistent imagery for your website
- To reduce file size
- To remove distractions
- To replace it with another background
- How can I remove the background from product images?
- Why Pixelz exists
- How to compare background removal services?
- Communication / Interface
- Shadows & Basic Image Editing
- Pixelz removes the background for you
What’s the difference between a clipping path and background removal?
In Photoshop, a clipping path is a vector graphic that outlines an object, like a trace around its edges. Clipping paths are usually used for one of two purposes: cutting an object out or wrapping text around it.
If you choose to get your images clipped, your clipping service will return you an image that looks the same as what you sent them. The background is still there! But if you open it in Photoshop, there will be a line drawn around your product that will let you quickly remove the background yourself if that’s what you need to do.
A clipping path gives you flexibility for the future, but if you know you want the background removed, you might as well go all the way off the bat. Or use a service that does both: for each input, outputs a clipped image and an image with the background removed.
Why should you remove the background?
To sell on marketplaces like Amazon
Amazon, eBay, and others require white or neutral backgrounds. If you cut-out the original background, you can replace it with a pure white that is both compliant and looks good.
To create consistent imagery for your website
Even if you have a professional photo studio taking your e-commerce photos, there will be differences in imagery from different shoots. Removing the background creates a consistent, easy browsing website.
To reduce file size
Removing the original background and replacing it with plain white reduces the image’s byte size. Smaller images, faster loading, better experience.
To remove distractions
Even when shot on a plain white background, there might be footprints, props, or add shadowing visible in the background. You don’t want anything distracting from your product.
To replace it with another background
Usually, that means white. But it could also mean using different colored backgrounds for pop, or placing a product in a different context. For example, taking a photo of a car in a parking lot and then replacing the parking lot with an open road.
How can I remove the background from product images?
Yourself, with software
How: Photoshop is the obvious tool, but you can do it with native or free apps like Mac Preview, GIMP, or Paint.Net.
Pros & Cons: The tools are free or low-cost ($10/mo for Photoshop), but cost in time.
Hire a freelancer
How: You can hire remote retouchers through services like Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelance.com. If there’s an ongoing need and you want someone local, you can hire contractors through Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor.
Pros & Cons: You can luck into talent, but hiring is usually a trial-and-error gamble and management is a pain. You have to repeat onboarding each time you hire someone new.
How: You can hire a local retoucher through the same job sites as a local contractor (Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor).
Pros & Cons: You get consistent results, have good communication, and maintain control. But it’s expensive, and because image volume comes in seasonal bursts, your retouchers are often either overloaded or idle.
Use a retouching service
A retouching service like Pixelz lets you upload product images and get them edited according to your needs, including background removal. You can find them through Google or referral from a photography professional you trust.
Pros & Cons: You typically pay a per image cost and have agreed upon turnaround times and revision processes. A good service will provide consistent results with simple online management, predictable low costs, and scale seasonally. The challenge is finding the right service: a bad one will be just like hiring a freelancer, only adding a management middleman.
Why Pixelz exists
Pixelz as a retouching service exists because our e-commerce agency founders found the first three background removal options (DIY, freelancers, and in-house) unsatisfactory, and couldn’t find a good retouching service.
The outsourcing world is full of broken promises, and no one was using technology to create a real, scalable post-production system.
It was just hustling business managers promising to cut-out backgrounds for a nickel, then desperately packing freelancers into a warehouse with Photoshop if they got hired.
So we built an easy-to-use frontend for order management, and then developed an assembly line system to efficiently and consistently retouch images. But rather than just brag on ourselves, let’s consider background removal and retouching services in general.
How to compare background removal services?
Search results are going to be littered with Indian clipping services promising the world. “1 cent an image! 1 million images in 1 minute! 111% success rate!” They’ll promise anything to get the deal.
But the best predictor of future results is past results. So check who the service is actually working with and what they say: look for reviews, case studies, testimonials.
There might be a wall of logos. That’s alright, but take it with a grain of salt: those may be taken without authorization, or maybe they edited 5 images for a minor department 3 years ago. A testimonial says a lot more.
For example, Pixelz customer reviews page includes authorized quotes directly attributed to individuals at the brands, with case studies backing them up. You can also check our 800+ image editing reviews on Trustpilot, an independent third party review service.
Communication / Interface
For your background removal service to be easy to use, there needs to be a well thought-out and designed online interface. Cobbling together dropbox folders, email, skype calls, and spreadsheets just doesn’t cut it. The idea is to save time, not shift it from editing images to managing people editing images.
This is particularly true when it comes to placing orders, requesting revisions, and managing delivery of orders.
For example, at Pixelz, we have guided setup for “specifications,” which are basically style guides for how we’ll edit your images. After your specifications are setup, there’s easy order placement through online upload, FTP, or a url list in a variety of formats.
After an order has been edited, you’re notified and able to review your order online. Markup tools allow you to highlight any problem areas and send them off for revision, if necessary.
A 24-48 hour turnaround is a common promise, and quite fast. There’s no real reason to settle for less than that.
What you should also consider is the need for rush orders from time to time. How will you put a rush on?
Calling or emailing can be a problem with outsourced services, as those methods rely on highly alert customer support. Even if you’re able to connect immediately, the service may not have a method for rushing orders beyond the manager walking around, finding editors working on a specific images, tapping them on the shoulder, and saying “not that one, do this one now.”
An online expedite system, where you simply click an image or order to put a rush on it, is much simpler. It’s the type of feature made possible by having an automated traffic control system. Pixelz proprietary production system, S.A.W.™, is what enables us to offer 3 hour expedite on a select number of images a day.
Shadows & Basic Image Editing
It’s best if you can preserve the original natural shadow your product cast when photographed. A good background removal service should keep the shadow when cutting out the rest of the background.
If you don’t have a nice original shadow or you’ve got a different look in mind, a good service should allow you to add natural shadow (“natural” meaning it falls naturally, even if the product didn’t cast it), drop shadow, or reflection shadow.
You should also be able to get fundamental image edits like cropping, compressing, alignment, padding, margins, etc.
By “retouching” I mean crease and wrinkle reduction, shape, symmetry, smoothing, dirt removal, skin retouching, composites like stacking and invisible mannequin, and other more advanced retouching techniques.
Even if you don’t have retouching needs right now, it’s a good idea to take the possibility into account when selecting a background removal service.
That way, if you want to add it in the future, you won’t have to change services and rejigger your workflow.
Consider your future needs. Which leads us to...
Maybe you only need 50 image processed today. But what if you need 500 in a week, 5000 next month, and who knows how many a year from now?
Make sure your background removal service can grow with you.
That means you should consider questions like:
- How long does it take them to onboard new photo editors?
- Is there a system in place to keep the management burden down as your volume increases?
- Does the service display the mindset and technical ability to introduce new tech solutions?
For example, Pixelz uses AI to constantly drive down costs and turnaround times while increasing quality. We also use online instructional tools to onboard photo editing specialists much faster than traditional outsourced retouching.
Make sure you consider the Total Cost of Operation (TCO). That means the per image price, of course, but also factor in onboarding time, time to market, scale, and management time.
It’s easy to get caught up in that race to the bottom on per image pricing. But you’re going to regret it if you simply take the lowest bid.
First, they’re probably not going to be able to deliver. At all. Not on time or on quality. And second, it’s likely to be a nightmare onboarding and management scenario where you end up losing more time managing the service than you gain in background removal time.
Here's an image editing service TCO case study featuring Bestseller, a fast-fashion company with over 20 individual fashion brands, 3000 chain stores, and selling in over 15,000 multi-brand and department stores.
I’m sure security isn’t your first concern at this stage, but it’s something you should consider as you scale. You don’t want to risk image theft, trade secret theft, infection, or hacking. You can use our free vendor risk profile resource to evaluate potential vendors.
Pixelz removes the background for you
Pixelz was built to be an easy, efficient, reliable background removal service. Our founders operated an e-commerce agency and couldn’t find a service that met their needs, so they spent a decade developing Pixelz.
Automate Background Removal
- 30M+ images retouched
- Next morning delivery
- 10 images edited free
Our hybrid of specialist product image editors and artificial intelligence, with all editing conducted on a Photoshop assembly line, produces unmatched results. It’s quicker, cheaper, and higher quality than any other background removal service. We also do much, much more than just background removal—if you need it. And it’s built to scale.