Power lines

Separating Line Art In Photoshop

This is one of those things that comes up from time to time for me, and each time it does I search around the internet and look for advice on how to do it. So, this time I’m writing it down for my own sake. Future me will come back to this post and say “oh, yeah…thanks”.

I have an image that I want to use on a site, but the background in the wrong color. Most likely, it was scanned in on paper, or the image is from the internet. In any case, it wouldn’t look right with it’s current background and we need it separated out so that we can work with the art.

Of course, there are a few different ways to accomplish this, and with Photoshop, there always seem to be 100 different ways. This, therefore, is what works for me. If you have your own way that works for you, use it instead.

I’m starting with one layer.


  1. Create a new layer above your current layer



  1. Make the new layer black: Select the paint bucket tool, make the color chip black, and then click on the new layer with the paint bucket tool active.



  1. Create a vector mask on the new layer. Then  option-click to select it. This is an important step, if you don’t option-click it, you won’t select the mask itself. Once you option-click the mask, your canvas should turn white.



  1. Return to you original layer, and copy all the info on it by using command-a and command-c. Next, option-click on the vector mask and paste in your selection.

  1. Time to invert the image that’s on the vector mask. Notice I said invert, NOT inverse. This subtle distinction threw me for a while until I figured it out.



  1. Almost there. Now you just need to turn it into a clipping mask, which you can get to by right-clicking on the layer name.



  1. Now you can trash the original layer.

  1. Done! Now it has a transparent background and can be placed in front of anything without the background getting in the way.



A bike in the blurry sky. Perfect for Tumblr if you add vague songs lyrics.



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