Use iWork Instant Alpha images in other apps

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One of the more powerful image handling features in iWork ’08 is the Instant Alpha tool, available in the Format menu. Instant Alpha helps you make the background in a given image transparent while not changing the foreground object(s). Once you’ve made the background transparent, the foreground objects can then be placed in front of different backgrounds—you could, for instance, put the Statue of Liberty in the L.A. harbor by removing its typical New York City background and then placing the image of the statue into a shot of the L.A. harbor. Instant Alpha is a very easy-to-use tool; you just click-and-drag to selectively turn portions of the background transparent. While the end results won’t rival what you could do with Photoshop and hours of free time, they are usually quite good, especially for how quickly you can make the background vanish.

Given how easy it is to use Instant Alpha, you might be tempted to use iWork ’08 to prepare images for use in other programs. No problem, you figure you can just use the Instant Alpha tool, select the final image, copy it, and paste it into another application. And if you use Pages or Numbers to create your Instant Alpha images, this will work just fine. But if you use Keynote (which is my preference, as it’s the most graphical of the three apps), you’ll find that when you paste your copied image, you’ll either get the original image, or perhaps the edited image with a white background.

Ken Drake over at has come up with a couple of different workarounds for this issue. First, you can copy and paste the image to Numbers or Pages and then copy it from there to its final destination. Alternatively, you can add a new shape to your edited image. Pick any shape you like, though the rectangle works well, and use the Graphic Inspector to set its fill to None. Position this non-filled object over your edited image, then select both and hit Command-C. When you switch to your destination program and paste, you’ll see that the transparent background has been preserved.

Of course, if you want the best results, you’ll be using Photoshop and a lot of time to make your background transparent. But this can be a very labor intensive process, and iWork’s Instant Alpha tool does 95 percent of the job in about 10 percent of the time, so it’s quite convenient to use. Just keep this little copy-and-paste trick in mind if you want to take your edited images into other applications.

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