The best way to display products online is to show them against a pure white background. And the best way to create a white background is to remove your product from its original background.
And there are lots of ways to do that. So, which is the cheapest way to cut out a product and put it on a white background? And is the cheapest option the best one?
Below, we’ll talk about all your options, along with the pros and cons of each. You’ll be able to make the best decision for your budget and quality standards.
Table of Contents
- Why do need to remove an image from its background?
- Option 1: Choose an online automation tool
- Option 2: Learn how to remove backgrounds in Photoshop
- Option 3: Assign image editing to an employee
- Option 4: Hire a production assistant
- Option 5: Outsource background removal to a freelancer
- Option 6: Outsource background removal to a photo-editing company
- Choose which option is best for you
Why do you need to remove an image from its background?
When you showcase your product images on an ecommerce site, it’s common practice to isolate the product from its background so you can place it against a pure white background. In fact, Amazon requires your product photos to have pure white backgrounds, and most fashion brands use some form of white background.
How many fashion brands use white background product photography on their ecommerce site?
Showing your product against a white background also helps consumers see product details, ensures consistency (important: three-quarters of consumers expect this), and makes your product look more professional because it follows the same product photo standards your customer is used to seeing.
But removing a product image from its background takes time, money, and energy. And while you can find cheap background removal services and apps, the quality and reliability of these services may not always be up to your standards. After all, the last thing you want is for your beautiful product to look inferior from a bad editing job.
Option 1: Choose an online automation tool
You can easily find online and mobile applications to remove your background at the click of a few buttons. Programs like these are quick and easy to use, even by someone who has never used image editing software before. These programs are also inexpensive.
Problem is, they rely on automations and algorithms instead of human skill, so you might find that part of your product gets removed when you didn’t want it to, or that a portion of your background still remains visible even after you’ve tried to get rid of it.
Most of these automation tools offer ways to tweak your image after the initial background removal, but trying to fight against the algorithm to fix the image can become such a hassle that the program is no longer quick — nor easy — to use.
If you don’t take the time to finesse product images after the initial background removal, you could end up with an inferior image. And even if you do continue to edit your images, you may not get the results you desire with these limited tools.
Remember, consumers have a ton of options when shopping online, so showcasing your product with high-quality, professional images is key to driving sales.
- Very inexpensive
- Easy to use
- Can be quick
- Difficult to produce a high-quality image
- Could end up costing you more in time and money to fix images you edited with these tools
Option 2: Learn how to remove backgrounds in Photoshop
Adobe Photoshop CC is the professional, industry standard software for image editing and manipulation. Once upon a time, Photoshop was a very expensive piece of software. Today, however, Adobe offers a monthly plan that gives you access to just Photoshop CC and Lightroom for only $9.99/month.
Photoshop allows you to remove a background many different ways, depending on what type of product you are working with. The ability to work with clipping paths, masks, selections, and layers gives you maximum flexibility and the ability to tweak your image’s tiniest details, pixel by pixel.
With all that power, however, comes a steep learning curve. Photoshop can take years to master, and if you have other things to worry about besides editing your product images (which you probably do), this might be the last thing you want to add to your plate. And, removing images from their backgrounds still can be very time-consuming, even for skilled Photoshop professionals.
Here are a few helpful tutorials to get started with:
- How to Remove the Background from an Image With Hair
- How to Use the Magic Wand Tool to Remove/Replace the Background
- How to Create a Transparent Background
- How to Change the Color of the Background
- Save money by DIYing your image editing
- Potential for high-quality images
- Huge time investment to learn software (you can browse more tutorials here)
- Huge time investment to edit photos
Option 3: Assign image editing to an employee
If you have a team working for you, you might consider assigning photo-editing responsibilities to one of your employees. This is often ideal because an internal employee knows your brand inside and out, and can make edits accordingly.
Carla Kabbabe, owner and founder of Claurete jewelry, built a three-person team who collaborates on product photography for the brand. “I understand if someone is earlier in their career, but talented and going to excel in the future,” she says.
If you have someone who has expressed an interest in learning Photoshop, this could be a great opportunity for them to learn a new skill. If you already have skilled graphic designers on staff, they probably know how to remove backgrounds from product images.
But if you have a large quantity of product images that need to be adjusted, asking one person to take on all photo editing responsibilities — in addition to their regular duties — is a huge time burden.
As mentioned above, even skilled Photoshoppers might need a lot of time — up to an hour per image — to remove the background from a product photo. If you have to add the time (and cost) of training a new employee on Photoshop, you could be looking at a significant net productivity loss for that employee while they learn the software.
And while spending all day cutting out product images might sound like a lot of fun, it isn’t. It is tedious, boring, and sometimes stressful. Make sure your employee really wants to take on this responsibility before you try adding this to their plate. And, check in regularly to make sure they’re still happy with the work. You might consider adding additional incentives (such as bonus pay based on number of edited images) to ensure they don’t become disgruntled.
- Save money by bringing photo editing in-house
- Give employees an opportunity to learn new skills
- Huge time investment for both skilled and new Photoshop users
- Tedious; can cause employees to become disgruntled
- Takes creative energy and time away from other business tasks
- Can create excess costs if employee needs extra incentive
Option 4: Hire a production assistant
Because background removal is such a tedious task, it can easily become a full-time job. Companies often opt to hire individuals called production assistants to take on these roles.
Whereas graphic designers tend to spend most of their time creating layouts, choosing colors and fonts, and helping design your overall branding, production assistants spend the majority of their time importing content into design templates, making edits to existing designs, or editing photos.
Production assistants are often in the beginning of their career — in many companies this role is considered a stepping stone toward a job as a graphic designer. As such, an entry-level production assistant (with 2 years experience or less) can command a salary of about $15–19/hour, or about $31,000–$39,000 a year.
If you hire a full-time production assistant, you might also have to provide benefits and paid time off. You can choose to go with a creative staffing agency where the agency takes on the burden of benefits, but you may pay more per hour for the employee, and you risk employee turnover because you are, after all, hiring a temporary worker.
Also, production assistants often take positions with the hope of moving into a design role, so they have the expectation that they won’t be removing backgrounds from photos forever, especially if yours is a smaller company where there are many opportunities for them to take on additional responsibilities. Keep that in mind when you select your candidate so that you aren’t faced with your production assistant leaving your company for a more glamorous job.
- You have one person dedicated to editing all of your images
- No training required
- Significant, additional costs of an employee or temporary staff member
- Time cost of recruiting (and keeping) employee
- Risk of turnover
Option 5: Outsource background removal to a freelancer
There are plenty of skilled individuals out there hungry for work, and they will happily edit your photos for you. The great thing about outsourcing to a freelancer is you pay per image or per hour; you are not paying salary or benefits, and you pay only for what you need.
Freelancers charge a bit more per hour than an in-house employee to compensate for the lack of benefits. AIGA’s most recent design salary survey from 2014 reports freelance yearly earnings to be between 30–40% higher than those of in-house junior and mid-level designers. Even with higher rates, paying a freelancer could work in your favor as you pay only when you need the work done, without having to keep someone on payroll during lull times.
Remember that freelancers have limited capacity. If you only have a handful of images per week, a freelancer will likely have the bandwidth to handle your request. But one person can’t edit hundreds of images in a short timeframe. At least, not edit them well. So if you have a backlog of images that need backgrounds removed, a freelancer likely won’t have the bandwidth.
Also, you aren’t that freelancer’s only client. When you request work, you’ll likely end up in a queue with other clients, and your photos will be edited in turn. This might mean several weeks before you receive your edited shots. They might offer quicker turnarounds for a rush fee, but that’ll cost you.
Furthermore, freelancers are human beings. They get sick. They go on vacation. They move. They switch careers. All of these factors can affect how quickly you can get your images edited, and whether that same freelancer will still be serving you 5 years from now.
- Pay as needed
- Can hire someone who specializes in background removal
- No need to provide benefits, workstation, or software
- No need to provide training
- Can easily fire freelancer if it doesn’t work out
- More cost per hour than in-house employee
- Freelancer can only accommodate what her bandwidth will allow
- Slower turnaround
- May not be able to serve you through entire company’s lifetime
Option 6: Outsource background removal to a photo-editing company
Companies such as Path specialize in removing backgrounds from product photography. When you use a service, you pay for image editing as you need it, as you would with a freelancer.
The difference: A company can accommodate more images at a time. Plus, these companies usually have very quick turnaround times. At Path, we send your images back in as little as 6 hours.
Photo-editing companies employ many skilled designers and production assistants, so there’s always someone on staff who can get your image right. And because these people have the same training as an in-house designer or freelancer, edited images are high quality and professional.
Companies also typically have more longevity than an individual, so once you find one you like you know you can continue to use them as long as you need.
When choosing a company for outsourcing, look at several factors to help you make your decision:
1. How much does the company charge per image?
Price is important, but keep in mind that it shouldn’t be the only factor. Remember that poor quality images can hurt your sales.
2. What is the guaranteed image turnaround?
How quickly do you need your images? Make sure that the company you choose can deliver according to your schedule.
3. Which services are offered?
If a company doesn’t focus on photo editing alone, they may not be the best fit as they likely have more expensive offerings they want to focus on.
However, if a company only creates white backgrounds for product images, they may be too limiting for what you need. Look for companies that offer background removal (either with a clipping path or with an image mask) and can do other specialty tasks such as adding drop shadows and optimizing images for ecommerce sites.
4. How long has the company been in business?
Longevity says a lot about the quality of a company. A company that offers poor quality product will not stay in business for long. Path for instance, has been in business since 2002.
5. How many people work at the company?
High-quality, fast turnaround can only be achieved with a large workforce. Does the company employ a handful of people, or are there many skilled associates on staff that can handle your request as soon as it comes in?
Choose which option is best for you
Depending on your needs, you have a variety of options when choosing how to edit your product photography. Remember, the cheapest option may not be the best option, because poor quality images can actually harm your business growth. Also, just because it won’t cost you extra dollars to do it yourself, it will cost you time and ability to grow your business in other areas.
Outsourcing your background removal to a photo-editing company can give you the flexibility to receive high quality, edited images in a short amount of time. If you choose to go this route, make sure you research the company thoroughly to make sure they can accommodate your needs to your satisfaction.