How to Get a Transparent Background on a Facebook Profile Picture
By Josh Fredman
Transparency in images allows them to be partially invisible, letting you see through the gaps down to anything that might be below them. Using a transparent image background in your Facebook profile photo allows your face or logo to appear on top of the Facebook page background as it transitions from your cover photo into white space. If you manage this well, it will seem like your profile picture rises out of the cover photo toward the user, creating a sense of depth.
Modifying a Photo
If you want to use a photograph for your profile picture, as opposed to creating graphic art from scratch, you will have to modify the photo yourself because most cameras won't automatically create transparent backgrounds for you. Open the photo in the image editor of your choice. Zoom in so that the part you want to keep (your face, for instance) fills up the screen as much as it can without spilling off the edge. Then, using the custom selection tool, very carefully draw an outline around the part you want to keep. Be as precise as you can about this, and start over if you mess up. Once you have a precise outline, copy it.
Creating a Transparency
Create a new image in your image editor, and set the image background to transparent. The steps for doing this vary from editor to editor, but you can look up how to create a transparent background in their help guide. Many editors represent transparency by using a white and gray checkerboard effect, so if you see something like that, you'll know you have it right.
Saving the New Image
Once you have a new transparent background image open, paste the copy of your outline from the photograph onto it. Collapse the image into a single layer if you posted the outline onto its own layer, and then save the image as a PNG, GIF or WEBP file. These are the only file formats that both support transparency and are supported by Facebook.
Uploading to Facebook
Click on the pencil icon next to your profile photo to edit it. Choose to upload a new photo, and select the one you just created. Carry out the upload and then check out your results once it finishes. If necessary go back and make changes to fine-tune your work, and then upload again.
Noting Facebook Policy Developments
In April 2013 Facebook announced support for Google's WebP image format, and has since begun serving images in WebP format to users whose browsers can support it -- mainly Google Chrome users, although Opera and a few niche browsers also support it. According to media reports in CNET and Ars Technica, Facebook will continue to emphasize this new image format as it becomes more widely available, and so to minimize the quality loss on your photos you should consider saving images in WebP format if your image editor supports it. Also, be sure to check for updates for your image editor, as many developers are likely to add support as the format becomes more widespread.
Josh Fredman is a freelance pen-for-hire and Web developer living in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, studying engineering, and worked in logistics, health care and newspapers before deciding to go to work for himself.