How To Remove Artefacts from Transparent PNG

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How To Remove Artefacts from Transparent PNG
Do your print-on-demand stickers have weird artefacts, smudges, spare pixels etc. around them, and you don't know why? Wanna fix it, but don't know how? I've got the simple answer for you.

Intro: Big Trouble With Little Pixels

Artwork of a whale inside a spherical terrarium which is leaking water
Here’s a scenario for you, using artwork from the talented Nathan Jauregui: You’ve labored for hours and hours on your latest artwork of a whale in a terrarium. It looks absolutely perfect when viewing in Photoshop, or when saved onto your computer… anywhere with a white background, basically.
But once you upload it to Redbubble, and put it on a sticker, something goes amiss.
Whale artwork when uploaded in Redbubble editor for stickers, showing a lot of white artefacts in the background
Whale artwork when published to Redbubble stickers, showing a lot of white artefacts in the background
Whale artwork on Redbubble sticker on a waterbottle, showing a lot of white artefacts in the background

What is all this white crap doing around the edges of your art?

It turns out your “transparent” design was not so transparent after all.

Is this a complete disaster? Do we have to throw out the design and start again? No, of course not!! This is fixable, and more easily than you might expect. I’m going to show you how right now. This tutorial will use Photoshop 2019 because that’s what I use the most, but the steps should work across any software that has layers.

How To Remove That White Crap

Step 1: Open Artwork

Open up a copy of the artwork file [so we don’t mess with the original] in your art editing software. If your file has many layers, delete any unused layers, and merge the rest of them, so we are working with just one layer.

Whale artwork opened in Photoshop, showing a seemingly transparent background

Step 2: Duplication

Duplicate your artwork layer about 10 times.
Underneath all the duplicates, make a new layer, and fill it with a very contrasting colour [in this case, I used neon green]. Now your ‘invisible’ smudges will be very visible. This artwork happens to have a lot of marks in the transparent area. But that’s okay, it’s still easy enough to fix!

Whale artwork duplicated 10 times and with a neon green layer behind it, showing artefacts clearly

Delete that green background layer and  Merge all the duplicated artwork layers. (I’m leaving the green layer on so you all can see what is happening better.)

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Step 3: Selection

Make a selection of just the artwork that you want to keep.

You could do this in many ways. In this example, because of the simple solid blue edge around the artwork, I used the Magic Wand tool to select that area. I used the following settings:
Tolerance: 50, Anti-Alias: on and Contiguous: on. These settings will vary depending on your needs and the type of artwork (more noisy areas may need higher tolerance, for example).
I then used the Lasso tool wile holding Shift key to manually select everything within that selected boundary.

Whale artwork being selected using magic wand and lasso tools in Photoshop

Step 4: Deleting

Select the inverse of your current selection by right-clicking and choosing ‘Select Inverse’. This will make it everything EXCEPT your art is selected.

Then, press Delete on your keyboard, and the messy pixels will vanish!

Whale artwork in Photoshop, with artefacts selected and deleted
Delete the green background layer (of for some reason you hadn’t done that earlier), and save your artwork as a .png with transparency enabled.

Pro Tip: Canvas Size

The transparent area of the canvas will NOT be factored in to the size of the sticker. Redbubble will crop all transparent area around your artwork. Your sticker will look normal if you even upload the artwork with lots of excess canvas area, like in the design above. [Though the preview on the upload page may make the sticker look smaller, it will look fine when published]

However, if you miss even one semi-transparent background pixel, Redbubble’s auto cropping with stop at that spot, potentially making your sticker smaller when printed.

Now that we’ve cleaned up the artwork, you can very easily crop the excess transparent area from your artwork, which is what I like to do. Just use the Crop tool and drag the handles in from each edge. If you have Snapping enabled [View -> Snap To -> Layers], the handle will snap to the very edge of your artwork. Then click the tick, or hit Enter, and it’ll be perfectly cropped.

Whale artwork in Photoshop, being cropped

The Final Product

Here is what Nathan’s artwork looks like now that it is all cleaned up.
Whale artwork when uploaded in Redbubble editor for stickers, now free of artefacts
Whale artwork when published to Redbubble stickers, now free of artefacts
Whale artwork on Redbubble sticker on a waterbottle, now free of artefacts

What an improvement! There are no more random markings or semi transparent pixels around the artwork. It will look exactly as it should when printed on stickers and magnets, which makes it much more likely to sell and be enjoyed by the buyer. 

Conclusion

I hope this tutorial will be helpful for people making stickers on Redbubble, Society6 or any other print-on-demand websites. If any steps need clarification, just leave a comment!
​And also, big thanks to Nathan for letting me use this artwork for this demonstration. Check out more of their art on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nte.arts/(deactivated).

Peace, love and sunshine,

Handwritten calligraphy-style signature that says 'Jessica' with a heart dotting the i

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