How to Make Background Transparent in Adobe Illustrator

Cutting an image from the background in Illustrator isn’t as straightforward as Photoshop. However, it is easy to do as well. You can make a background transparent in Adobe Illustrator with the Image Trace and Clipping Mask

Hi, my name is Rita. I have been using Adobe Illustrator for over five years. Trust me, as a graphic designer, you’ll need to cut an image from the background at some point in your design journey. I struggled the first time I tried to do it, but I soon learned how it works.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to make a background transparent in Illustrator using the Image Trace and Clipping Mask tools. 

Key Takeaways

  • Cutting an image from the background in Illustrator may reduce its quality, especially if it is raster. 
  • You can increase the quality of your raster image by making it a vector.

2 Quick Ways to Remove Image Background in Adobe Illustrator

Let’s make this image background transparent.

Note: All screenshots are from Adobe Illustrator CC Windows Version. Mac and other versions may appear different.

Method 1: via Image Trace

The image trace tool is the easiest way to make a background transparent in Illustrator. The downside is that it might make your image appear unreal (I mean cartoonish). 

Step 1: Place and embed your image in Adobe Illustrator. Embedding it makes it a part of the design. 

Step 2: Go to the overhead menu to open the image trace panel (Window > Image Trace). 

Step 3: Select the image to see the options on the image trace panel. Change the Mode to Color and Palette to Full Tone. Click Advanced to see more options. Check Ignore White before tracing. 

Step 4: Click Trace at the bottom right corner of the panel. You will see that your image no longer has a white background.

Did you notice that the image looks different?

Yeah, that’s because it is now a raster. You will get a more realistic result when you use the image trace option on a vector image. 

Although it might be a bit different, it won’t be noticeable. 

Note: This method works if your image is on a plain white background without any gray tint. This method will not work if your object is on a colored background. 

Do you want to make a colored background transparent? Use the clipping mask method instead.

Method 2: via Clipping Mask

Making a background transparent with the Pen Tool and clipping mask works differently from the image trace method. You can retain the quality of your image with this method.

Step 1: Place the image in Adobe Illustrator. We will use the clipping mask to remove the ball from the white background.

Step 2: Select the Pen Tool from the toolbar or use the keyboard shortcut P.

We will trace around the ball with the Pen tool. Zoom in on the image to have a better view, then carefully trace around the image. Try to avoid including the background as much as possible.

Using the clipping mask can be tricky for beginners. Always remember to connect the first anchor point to the last.

For shapes like this, you can skip using the pen tool. Instead, you can use a shape as the clipping mask. 

This method works if the image you want is inside a plane shape. 

Step 3: Select the pen tool stroke and the image. Right-click on the image and select Make Clipping Mask or use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl/Command + Shift + 7.

The white background will be gone once you click on Make Clipping Mask.

That’s it! 

We just made a white background transparent in Illustrator. 

Do you want to save your transparent image for future use?

Save it as a PNG and choose Transparent as the background color when exporting the file.  

Final Thought

Many people are used to making backgrounds transparent in Adobe Photoshop, but it’s not impossible in Illustrator. The clipping mask method is the most effective for making the background transparent in Illustrator. You need to be meticulous to achieve a clean result.

Do you have any questions? Let us know in the comment section.

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