I thought as a macOS user for over 15 years, there wouldn’t be anything on Apple’s desktop operating system that would completely impress me. Yet, here I am about to blow your mind with a discovery I just made.
One of the simplest things people get Photoshop or any image editing software for is to remove a background. Maybe you want to cut yourself out of an image and drop yourself into a different background. Erasing an image’s background is a time-consuming manual process and Photoshop’s Magic Eraser can sometimes produce comical results.
What if I told you, macOS’s Finder app — yes, the file manager with the smiley face pinned to the left side of your dock — can instantly remove the background from images? With a single click, you can remove a background without opening another app, especially one as resource-consuming, as Photoshop.
Prepare to lose your mind.
Update: I originally thought this was a feature built into Finder. But as Twitter user Parker Ortolani corrected me, it’s actually an extension from the Pixelmator Pro app. I mean, look at this screenshot. The toggle sure looks native to me and it definitely fooled me. (I apologize for getting too excited to see this setting, even from an extension, and not seeing that it was within the Extensions window which plainly says “Customize your Mac with extensions from Apple and software you have installed.”)
That said, if you have the Pixelmator Pro app, which is awesome for upscaling images and worth $40 for all of its other image editing features, this feature still is one-click, and right from the Finder, and saves you from opening other apps. You don’t even need to open Pixelmator Pro to get it to work.
Once you have Pixelmator Pro installed, in Finder, go to an image that you would like to remove the background from. I recommend changing the Finder view from “icons” or “list” to “columns” or “gallery.” You’ll see why in a second.
With your image selected, you’ll see it appear in the right-side preview window. And below that, you’ll find three buttons: “Rotate Left,” “Markup” and “More...”. Click “More...” and “Customize”. Then, check “Remove Background” in the Extensions window that appears.
Now, go back to the image you want to remove the background from, click “More...” and then “Remove Background” — boom, Finder erases the background from your picture and saves it as a new PNG file, which preserves the transparency.
The results aren’t always perfect. But when it works, it works really well. Like extremely well. Look at the above 42-megapixel image that I took with a full-frame Sony A7R III. It removed the background and preserved the strands —the friggin’ STRANDS — of hair on my head within seconds.
The speed at which the Pixelmator Pro Finder extension performs this black magic is dependent on your Mac’s performance and the size of the image. A smaller image is nearly instant. A larger image like the one above took a few seconds. I tested the feature on both an M1 iMac with 8GB of RAM and an M1 Max MacBook Pro with 64GB of RAM. The faster your computer’s CPU and GPU, the faster the background removal will be.
Now you do need Photoshop or another image editing app (like Pixelmator Pro!) to make a composite with your new picture cutout, but that’s still one less thing to do since Finder did the background removal job for you with one click.
According to Apple, there’s another way to remove the background of an image using Preview and a feature it has called “Initiate Alpha” and dragging over pixels and making selections and whatnot.
It’s not one-click like with the Pixelmator Pro extension within Finder, but that at least is free and built-into macOS without any third-party app.
Long story short: Turns out Finder can gain new tricks with Extensions. The response from Twitter tells me a lot of Mac users didn’t know this either. I’m glad we all discovered another handy computer tip that we probably didn’t know about. (I didn’t until today when I randomly stumbled across it in Finder!) Have a computer tip or trick? Send them to me: firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe I’ll blog it (if it blows my mind).