Free Chroma Key Software and How to Use It

Updated on March 16, 2020
Wondering how to use Chroma Key software? You're about to find out.
Wondering how to use Chroma Key software? You're about to find out. | Source

If you want to remove a green background from a video, you need a video editor with a very specific tool on board. It's called “Chroma key”.

Many video editors are capable of "chroma keying", but if you’re on a budget and looking for a free program, the choice gets a bit narrow.

In this post, I’ll review 3 programs that will help you replace green background in a video and happen to be available at zero cost:

  1. VSDC Free Video Editor
  2. Openshot
  3. Shotcut

The first software runs on Windows only; the other two are cross-platform and work on Linux and Mac as well.

Now, before we get to review the programs, let’s answer a couple of common questions related to Chroma key.

Notice, this is the picture of studio light projectors from  the beginning of the article, but the green background has been replaced
Notice, this is the picture of studio light projectors from the beginning of the article, but the green background has been replaced

How does Chroma key software work?

Wondering what exactly happens when you use the magical “remove background” button?

Technically, the video editing program picks the pre-selected color (chroma) and removes (keys out) it from the scene. And because the default color for Chroma key software is green, when you have a green background in a video - it just disappears entirely upon click.

As a result, you get a video with a transparent background. Therefore, when you overlay it on a new image or a video, the latter fills up the transparent parts and forms a new background.

In other words, the software doesn't really distinguish whether you want to remove a background or any other part in a video. It's all about color detection.

With that in mind, you should always remember that a person in a video should not wear clothes of the same color as a background.

What is the best color for Chroma key?

Speaking of colors...

Traditionally, video producers use green backgrounds when they are planning to replace it during post-production.

Green is the easiest color to key out without much effort because unlike many other tones, it doesn't overlap with the color of human skin or hair.

If you, however, need to wear green in the video, or if there are green items that need to be present, you can use other colors. Remember, the software isolates a color that needs to be removed - not an object.

The most popular alternative to green, in this case, is blue. For example, according to the Comicbook Movie magazine, the scenes with the Green Goblin in the Spider-man movie were shot with a blue background for this reason.

Green Goblin scenes being shot against a blue background
Green Goblin scenes being shot against a blue background | Source

Examples of Chroma key software in action

Even though Chroma key is most commonly known as a tool to remove background from videos, there are other creative ways to use it (and I'm not talking about Hollywood-level special effects).

Below are a couple of ideas that might come in handy.

"Never wear green in front of a green screen"
"Never wear green in front of a green screen" | Source

Leave the background - make the person disappear

Remember that rule about not wearing green in front of a green screen if you're planning to use Chroma Key? Well, that is only true unless you want some parts of your body (or probably the entire body) disappear in a resulted video.

This trick has been a long-time joke among meteorologists who accidentally chose a wrong outfit (yes, weather forecasts are shot in front of a green screen), but it is deliberately used by some creators to achieve mind-blowing effects.

For example, if you're a fan of Harry Potter and you remember his invisibility cloak... guess what? You can buy one just like that with a green cloth inner side and replicate the disappearance trick in a video using Chroma key software.

Replicate the disappearance trick from Harry Potter
Replicate the disappearance trick from Harry Potter | Source

Place any video or image on a device screen

Chroma key software is widely used for promo videos, business presentations, and demos.

On stock websites, you'll find tons of footage with all types of devices having solid green screens. Using video editing software featuring Chroma key, you can easily place any image or video on that screen.

You can replace both the device screen and the background
You can replace both the device screen and the background | Source

Sift through stock green screen videos for inspiration

And since we've mentioned stock websites, green screen footage available there is definitely worth checking out, because you'll get plenty of ideas for your projects.

For instance, instead of shooting yourself in front of a green screen, you can take a ready-made video of something (or someone) already shot in front of it, remove the background, and add it to your video.

Free video stocks like Videvo, Videezy, or Pixabay have lots of footage of people, animals, and objects in front of a green screen. On Giphy, you'll be able to find even celebrities recorded in front of a green screen.

Use these videos to get the hang of the effect and test the Chroma key software of your choice, and then incorporate them into your projects.

Videezy results for the "green screen" search
Videezy results for the "green screen" search

3 pieces of free Chroma Key software

Now that you (hopefully) have your creative juices flowing, let's see how exactly Chroma key works in 3 different pieces of software. Feel free to download and test any of these programs - no need to worry about watermarks or any other unpleasant surprises at the export.

VSDC Free Video Editor

VSDC is a free video editing software for Windows PC that also includes screen and video capture tools. The editor provides a full-featured free version with a solid video background remover on board.

The free package, however, is able to isolate and remove green color only (not blue or the alternatives).

Here is exactly how to replace video background in VSDC.

  1. Launch VSDC on your computer
  2. Use the "Import content" button on the start screen to select your green screen footage from the PC.
  3. Next, go to Video Effects --> Transparency --> Background remover

VSDC Chroma Key Software
VSDC Chroma Key Software

4. Once you apply the background remover, the green screen should disappear automatically. If it hasn't, use the eyedropper tool to help the software detect the background color precisely:

  • Make a right click on the Background remover layer and select Properties from the menu.
  • In the Properties window, find Chroma Key color, click the eyedropper, then click anywhere on the background to detect the color.
  • As a result, the green background should become transparent (black)

Green background removed
Green background removed

5. Use the Add object button from the menu at the top to select a new background from your PC. It can be an image or a video.

6. Once you import the new file, make sure that it is below the main image.

7. Adjust the size and position of the two files in the scene if necessary.

8. Use the Preview button to make sure everything looks exactly as you planned, and save the video using the Export project button.

Notice that the main video file is one layer above the background image
Notice that the main video file is one layer above the background image

OpenShot Video Editor

OpenShot is another free software that can help you replace a video background easily. This is an open-source project that works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Here is exactly how the Chroma key feature works in OpenShot.

  1. Launch the video editor on your computer and make sure the Project Files tab is activated on the left.
  2. Drag the two files you are going to work with to the Project Files window.
  3. Next, place the files to the timeline. Again, notice that the green screen footage is placed on the top track.

OpenShot Chroma Key software
OpenShot Chroma Key software

4. Open the Effects tab and type "Chroma key" in the search field.

5. As the Chroma Key effect appears, drag it over the green screen video - you'll notice a "C" icon in the top left corner of the file.

6. Make a right-click on the "C" icon and select Properties.

7. Make a double-click on the "Key color" parameter to open a color selection window.as illustrated below.

The color selection window helps the software identify the color that needs to be isolated and removed
The color selection window helps the software identify the color that needs to be isolated and removed

8. Use the "Pick screen color" button to select the green screen in the original video.

9. The green screen should disappear automatically once you do that.

10. Increase or decrease the Fuzz value in the Properties window to achieve better results. Use it if you see that the green hasn't disappeared entirely.

11. When ready, use the "Ctrl + E" hotkey combination to export the file.

Use the Fuzz parameter if the green color hasn't disappeared entirely
Use the Fuzz parameter if the green color hasn't disappeared entirely

Shotcut video editor

The last Chroma Key software in this review is called Shotcut. It is a cross-platform tool that works on all three major operating systems. You'll be able to test it whether you're on Windows, on Mac, or on Linux.

Here are the steps you need to take if you need to remove green screen in Shotcut.

  1. Launch the program on your computer and upload the file that will serve as a background first.
  2. Use the "Ctrl +I" hotkey combination to add a new Video track and drag the file to the track.
  3. Next, upload the green screen video file, add a new Video track (it should be placed above) and drag the file there.

Import both files and place them on video tracks
Import both files and place them on video tracks

4. Select the green screen video with a click and activate the Filters tab (main menu at the top of the interface).

5. Hit the "+" button, search for "Chroma key", and select "Chroma Key: Simple"

6. The result should be available in the preview window right away. If the green color hasn't disappeared entirely, adjust the "Distance" parameter.

7. Use the Export button to save the video in the desired format.

Use the Key color and the Distance parameters if the green screen hasn't disappeared entirely.
Use the Key color and the Distance parameters if the green screen hasn't disappeared entirely.

Which Chroma Key software are you going to choose?

As the world of amateur video editing is evolving, so does the software. Today the Chroma Key software that used to be a privilege of Hollywood video producers is available to anyone who has a decent computer. It's free, easy-to-use, and there are thousands of ideas on the Internet to spark your creativity.

Go ahead and try it for yourself.

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