Paint Tool SAI:
How to Save Transparent Pictures

For many artists, it's likely that you'll want to save transparent drawings at some point, for their uses in layouts and graphics and otherwise. And given that Photoshop as an expensive investment and Paint Tool SAI (which tends to lack transparency in various versions) is so popular, it can be difficult to know how precisely to accomplish this. This is where I'll try to help!

Checking if your Paint Tool SAI secretly has transparency

SAI can be a bit hard to figure out when it comes to this, but some versions do indeed have transparency support. Here's how to do it when you do have one of those versions:

For SAI 1

[Pictured: SAI 1's layers, with the background layer selected and hidden.]

First of all, make sure any background layers you have are hidden. SAI 1 won't show you any checkerboxes in the background for transparency, but you can check if your drawing is see-through by filling a layer underneath with black (and then hiding it again, of course).

[Pictured: A cute, see-through Nosepass with a black backgroud.]

You can see the black background on this Nosepass, so it's good to go. Make sure you hide that black layer again!

From here, click on File, go to Export as, select .png, and type in whatever filename you'd like.

[Pictured: The File, Export and .png shown as stated above.]

If your SAI supports transparency, the below dialog box should pop up after you save it.

[Pictured: A dialog box for PNG Save Options, showing 24bpp RGB and 32bpp ARGB options.]

You want to select 32bpp ARGB (Each pixel have Opacity) for a transparent image. With any luck, it'll work perfectly!

For SAI 2

Paint Tool SAI 2 makes transparency a bit easier to see. Similarly to above, hide any background layers, and then click on Canvas, hover over Background, and select Transparent (Bright checker).

[Pictured: The Canvas, Background and Transparent options as detailed above.]

If your drawing is transparent, it should show immediately with some grey checkerboxes. For a very high res picture, you may have to zoom in to see them, though!

[Pictured: Nosepass with grey checkerboxes in the background.]

And again, export it and save it. SAI 2 should handle any transparency automatically, as long as you save your file as .png. This is very important, so please make sure it's .png.

[Pictured: Fully transparent Nosepass!]

Congratulate yourself on your luck, your version of SAI supports transparency!

When your version of SAI cannot make things transparent

It's unfortunate, but with so many versions floating around some of them simply can't do it. Here is how you can work around that.

Step One: Ensuring your drawing is appropriate for transparency

Since most art programs start you with a white background, including SAI, a lot of people don't feel the need to fill in white colouring (such as eyes) or clean up any light pixels that may leak from the linework. By creating a temporary background layer underneath everything that's filled with black, you can fix up these instances and ensure they look good on every background.

[Pictured: Identical Wooper drawings on a white and black background.]

As you can see above, there's no pixelly edges or leaky colouring on the Wooper with a dark background, and its eye whites have been filled in. Otherwise, the Wooper would have black eyes and look a little spooky!

Step Two: Preserving your layers in a cross-compatible format

[Pictured: Wooper shown with the layers used to make its image.]

For the sake of ease it's vital that you have an file with layers rather than a flat image. It is still possible to cut out a drawing that's been flattened onto an opaque background, but we'll get into that a bit later.

[Pictured: Paint Tool SAI1's menu, with the cursor hovering on

You will ideally want to export your art as a .PSD, as seen above. While it may technically be a Photoshop file, certain free image programs are compatible with .PSD files and can be used to open and edit them.

Step Three: Alas, you must download one of them

With Photoshop presumably unavailable to you, you'll have to download a specific image-editing software to add transparency. The best choice for this is GIMP, as it's completely free of charge to use and compatible with both Windows and Mac. It may seem complicated at first, but don't worry!

Step Four: Opening files is a struggle

Once you've downloaded GIMP and installed it (presumably with custom settings!), the very next step is opening it up and then opening your .PSD file in it. Be patient, as GIMP can take a while to start. It can also be a bit jarring, since by default it opens several small windows rather than one big window. But as usual, clicking on File and then Open will get you to the file selection prompt. However, I will recommend putting things you want to edit in a small and easily-accessible folder, since GIMP's file viewer has its own interface and lists everything by filename.

[Pictured: GIMP's overwhelming file viewer, with a list of non-specific Nosepass filenames.]

How could this happen to me...

Once you find your image, it should be smooth sailing!

[Pictured: Wooper's layers didn't work as plan, and it looks a little spooky.]

...However, if you use clipping group layers as much as I do in SAI1, you may want to merge those specific ones with the layer underneath when you're prepping the file. Whoops! As of now, I don't know how to fix this in GIMP itself, but doing the needed edits to the .PSD in SAI is easy enough.

[Pictured: Showing a layer with the Clipping Group option selected in SAI, and the layer underneath.]

So to reiterate, merge Clipping Group layers (identifiable by the box being ticked and the pink line on the side as seen above) with the layer they're attached to. If you do it correctly, your image will look exactly the same, except not broken when you open them in GIMP. Simple!

Step Five: It's finally time

Upon opening the fixed file in GIMP, the next step is refreshingly simple: You find the background layer on your picture (whether it's a white background or a temporarily coloured one) and delete it.

[Pictured: The background layer is highlighted on the layer panel, with hovertext displaying

The background of your picture should change to grey checkerboxes, as you can see below. This means it worked!

[Pictured: Wooper with a grey checkerboard pattern background, showing that it's transparent.]

Step Six: Saving your picture

GIMP naturally has an unintuitive way of saving images, too. Here's what you'll want to do:

  • Click on File, then Export As.
  • Your file will display as [filename].psd. Remove the .psd and type in .png instead. You can also click on the Select File Type button at the bottom of the dialog, and scroll through the list to find .png if you prefer that method. It should now be [filename].png.
    [Pictured: Wooper's filename with a .png at the end.
  • A set of options will pop up. Make sure you have Save gamma and Save color values from transparent pixels ticked along with the other defaults.
    [Pictured: The dialog box with these options ticked.
  • Finally export your image and cry a little tear.

With that, your picture should be transparent! You can tell when you click on it in your folders, and the blue selection colour shows through!

[Pictured: Wooper, small and see-through.

From here, it's down to you what you'll use your transparent pictures for. Enjoy your newfound power, and have fun!

[Pictured: The final transparent Wooper!

"But what if my image is flat?"

Not every image is blessed with layers, so for those cases you'll have to do things the hard way. Depending on the style, you can either zoom in really close with an eraser and delete the backgrounds by hand, or a simple selection trick will work.

Step One: Selecting and removing the unwanted space

First of all, please make sure you're editing either your own art or art that is actually official, even if you have to triple-check to be certain. Editing other artists' work isn't cool, whereas official renders and official Pokémon images are available for anybody to use in articles and publications (and by extension, graphics).

[Pictured: Some Global Link art for Pansage.

So, what can we do about this Pansage's official art? The lines are a solid dark colour so it's fairly safe to use a selection tool. For a program like SAI, it's best to make a dark layer underneath (even if it isn't visible at first) and edit your selection settings until you have most of the unwanted colour selected. Anti-aliasing is what you'll need for a smooth edge, but if you're editing pixel art it'll have to be unticked for a pixelly edge.

[Pictured: The same Pansage, with its white pixels selected.

At this point a good trick is clicking on Selection and Increment, and then using Cut to remove the white space. But for a small image like this Pansage, it will more than likely take away a portion of the linework.

Step Two: Quickly fixing the linework

[Pictured: The same Pansage, with some linework missing. It's shown on both black and white backgrounds, and the white one shows the missing lines clearly.

It won't always be a perfect solution, but for a picture like this you can select the outside of the image again, Invert the selection, Increment it (or Dilate Selection 1px in SAI2), and fill it with the outline colour on a layer underneath. You may also have to increment it multiple times until it looks juuuust right. It's not ideal, and for many cases you might want to zoom in and do some editing to get it looking just right. At the very least, it's a quick method with quick results.

Step Three: In-depth editing

[Pictured: The same Pansage, but transparent. However, the edges are a bit jagged.

You may not be fully satisfied with how it looks at this point - this Pansage has some jagged edges along its lines and looks a bit messy. If you are willing to go the extra step, you can zoom in and use a 1px anti-aliased brush and 1px eraser to fix the edges until it looks right to you. If it's your own art you're editing, it's fully down to your discretion.

[Pictured: The same Pansage, but with more smooth edges.

Since this Pansage is Global Link art, I only felt comfortable editing just the edges. It does look a lot better now, though, and it's fully transparent! Just imagine all the cool graphics I could make with such a good, transparent friend.

Above all else, stay determined. You can make all the transparent pictures if you try!

Page last updated on 14th November 2017 at 00:47 GMT.