How to decide whether to build or buy a background removal tool

Udo KajaUdo Kaja·November 29, 2023

High-quality images and assets are essential for communicating product details to customers, providing an accurate impression of the product's quality, colour, and condition. Essentially, they lead to increased sales. One method to enhance image quality is by eliminating unnecessary clutter, maintaining a uniform background for optimal browsing, and creating a consistent visual/aesthetic website or app experience.

An illustration of how Photoroom can upgrade your images

Options for high-volume background removal

If you're dealing with hundreds or thousands of images daily, you might want to streamline your image workflow. This can mean fewer instances of receiving images via email or other sharing tools, downloading the images, and then using a photo editing tool to give them a consistent look to match your brand's aesthetic before re-uploading them to your website or app or sharing with partners. There are several ways to remove image backgrounds:

  1. Manual edits with mobile or web photo editing tools,

  2. Integrate a photo editing tool through an API or create your own background remover tool, usually open source like U2Net,

  3. Outsource your photo editing process to a third party, who may manually edit the images or incorporate a photo editing tool into their workflow.

The first option works if you’re not processing a high volume of images. Because we’re focusing on optimising workflows for companies processing a large volume of images, we'll concentrate on the second option as it provides the opportunity to conduct in-house batch image processing. However, the insights are applicable to third-party providers who are deciding whether to develop a tool or integrate a third-party photo editing tool into their image workflow.

Compelling reasons to integrate a background remover tool

Incorporating a photo editing tool via API can be crucial for companies that require thousands of high-quality images for their product information and/or for end users. Therefore integrating a photo editing API is beneficial for their customers, partners, e-commerce channels, and advertising assets. In addition to ensuring visual consistency and adhering with brand guidelines.

This type of integration can streamline workflows, minimise the time needed for meeting reseller/distributor/ad campaign platform image specifications and campaign launches, marketing and sales material creation and distribution, and product releases. In addition to time savings and increased speed, integrating a photo editing API into your workflow can also reduce operational costs. In a nutshell, the tangible benefits are numerous for high-image volume businesses.

We accelerated our item approval process by cutting out 1 day. This led to a more efficient service for our sellers and, subsequently, boosted our inventory by +127% between 2021 and 2022.

- Livia Napoleone Founder of intOndo marketplace

Build vs buy: factors to consider

Like many business decisions, key areas to consider when deciding between buying and developing a background remover include required resources and time, operating costs, customisation ability, and image quality. Below, we'll compare each attribute in a build versus buy matrix.

Resources

Whether you're creating or purchasing a background remover tool using open source tools like U2Net models, dedication of staff resources is necessary. Specifically, you need a team of data scientists to create a dataset of images and link them with segmentation masks. While you might already have a team of data scientists, they might be focusing on mission critical aspects to progress your company goals. In comparison, integrating a third-party background removal tool, such as Photoroom’s can be quickly accomplished by one developer and help you significantly cut down the time taken to complete product listings.

Implementation time

Tied to the staff required to build, is the time taken to build compared to buying a background remover. Your team of data scientists will have to construct and train and evaluate a model from scratch, a process that can take at least one month. In contrast, to less than an hour needed to integrate the Photoroom API, clearly illustrating the quicker time-to-market.

Operating costs

Many companies prioritise cost management in their decision-making process, aiming to ensure a comparable return on investment. The estimated costs of building a background removal tool with open source can range from $0.003 to $0.01 per image for central processing unit (CPU) usage.

In comparison, costs from a third-party integration like Photoroom start at $0.01 per image, provided a Photoroom attribution is applied. When processing thousands of images, the costs add up, making a stronger ROI case for integrating a third-party solution. Another unique advantage is our 100% money-back guarantee to customers for inaccurately edited images. We're the only vendor in the market offering this option. This reduces the burden of cost, to shift the focus to driving top-line growth.

“The ability to perform all these operations automatically, with one API and to get the result in near real-time is really a game changer for us. The additional plus of the Photoroom API is its optimal price point for us

- Vincent Paulin, CTO

Image quality/accuracy

Quality is a key consideration in processed rendering, as it affects the amount of manual editing needed. When dealing with hundreds or thousands of images, automation and accuracy are crucial for efficiency. This increases the speed of delivery and allows teams to concentrate on more valuable tasks. According to an independent study by Velebit AI, which compared the background removal rendering of open-source and commercial API solutions, Photoroom topped the charts, more than doubling the accuracy of open-source solutions. Other benefits include the ability to handle cutouts and matting effectively, correctly position images, and deliver an appropriate level of brightness or exposure. As the Velebit study confirms, Photoroom scored highly in these areas compared to other tested solutions. Below, we've added some comparison original and resulting images from the Velebit study.

Original image

Background removal result for Photoroom

Background removal result for the rembg project - U2Net model

Customisation options

Both cases offer customised solutions for automatically removing and replacing image backgrounds.

In conclusion, while building a background removal tool is possible, integrating a third-party API provides several tangible advantages over building one such as a lower investment threshold associated with the required staff time and operating costs, a more superior accuracy or rendering quality, and a shorter time to implement and market.

If you process 500,000 or more images annually and need help understanding how our solutions can drive business impact. Contact us

Udo Kaja
Udo KajaCommercial leader passionate about businesses flourishing. I write about how the Photoroom API can significantly impact businesses.