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How to remove clothing wrinkles in Photoshop

Clothes will be seriously wrinkled quite often

Oh god, I love clothing wrinkles. All sort of wrinkles. And you should probably love them, too. Otherwise, the job wouldn’t be so pleasant – not with the necessity to spend most of the time on removing wrinkles from clothes and other products. Fortunately, we’re talking about catalogue retouching, not fashion or beauty hi-end retouching, so we won’t have to be as thorough and careful as our colleagues from that area. But still, wrinkles are spoiling everything we’re trying to achieve. We try to make clothes look nice and tidy, and wrinkles make them look sloppy and disarrayed.

What’s even more difficult is the fact that some wrinkles are natural and should be left in peace, while some should be removed partially, and the others – stamped out completely. For inexperienced retouchers, these decisions are quite hard. And there’s no such thing as a single opinion on the matter. Some people will say this, other people will say that. Some will say: “You should remove all the wrinkles until the garment is totally devoid of shape”, and others will say: “You shouldn’t touch them at all as it’s absolutely normal for clothes to be creased and wrinkled. Don’t waste your time”. It really depends on the store you work at and on particular people. But don’t get all disappointed just yet, as I’ll do my best to make you familiar with the problem. I’ll teach you what kind of wrinkles are typically considered good and bad, how to remove them and what’s more important, when not to. The more you know, the easier it will be for you to work, and the rest will come with experience.

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First of all, I want to mention that image size is crucial in wrinkles and other defects removing. It's essential. To prove that, I'll show you this huge image, it's more than 7000 pixels high. The jumper is very dirty and creased. If I couldn't resize it, I would have to spend so much time cleaning all this mess! It's crazy hard to remove wrinkles and white spots on high-res images while preserving the texture. But look what happens when I resize the image so that it becomes 1000 pixels high. Instead of the complex texture, there's just a smooth surface now, which can be cleaned very easily with the Spot Healing Tool. It would take less than a minute to retouch the jumper. So when you are asked to retouch anything, the thing number one you should ask about is the desired image size. Some customers are requesting hi-res images while paying low-res money, which is not a good deal. It's not really evident, but I could fit 20 resized images, 1000 pixels high each, in the original image of the jumper. It doesn't matter when you color correct, but in dirt and wrinkles removing the area of the surface is everything. Make sure you keep that in mind.

I’ll continue working on the green dress image from the previous section where we discussed the process of shape correction. It’s actually a bag image, but who cares, the dress is still there and it has to be retouched, too. If it was a cheap store, I would probably leave it as it is, but for now, imagine that this bag is worth 10.000$. Would you be so eager to buy it if you saw it worn with a wrinkled dress like this one? I don’t think so, even if you did have 10 grand to spend on a bag. So let’s fix it, and fast, as it’s catalogue retouching and I can’t really afford to spend more than a few minutes on images like this one.

It's very important to decide what has to go and what has to stay. The dress has a crease in the belly area, which is not good, as it is not supposed to be folded like this. The sleeve is also creased, but these two wrinkles in the elbow area are natural. They are there because the hand is bent in the elbow, and they should stay there, or it will look weird. The rest of the wrinkles can be removed, but not till they are flat, because anything that looks absolutely flat is suspicious. There are many ways how to work with wrinkles. We will be mostly using the Clone Stamp, the Spot Healing tool and the Frequency Separation method. Frequency Separation is your best friend when something is heavily creased and you don’t have enough surface to use as a stamping source. In this case, when some wrinkles are right on the border between the dress and the background, I’ll use the method on a selected area, otherwise I won’t be able to use the Mixer Brush as freely because it will smudge the edge. When you don’t have to work at the edges, you can use Frequency Separation just like that, on the whole Background layer, but in cases like this one a selection is a must. The problem is that you can’t run the action on a selected area, as it will give you a visible halo around it.

Instead of creating a selection before, I’ll run the action with the basic Radius of 4, and then click on the background with the Magic Wand while on the low frequency layer and expand the selection by even more, like 7 pixels, which is more than the blur radius. If I don’t expand it, it will not come close enough to the edge of the sleeve, as it’s the blurred layer I’m working with, not the original one. And I’m expanding it even more so that when I invert it, the edge of the sleeve will be protected. But let’s deal with the belly crease first. It is basically a light spot on a dark surface, and I can easily remove it if I grab the Brush in Normal or Darken mode and paint over it with a color taken from a nearby, not creased area. The brush tip should be soft and transparent, or the result will be patchy. I use the Darken mode so that the brush strokes do not affect the areas that are darker than my sample, so it won’t hurt the dress, just the crease. The texture is on the high frequency layer anyway, but there’s this dark colored seam and I want to protect it as well. It’s not really necessary to use the Darken mode, as the Normal brush will work as well. The deal is that when I make the creased area darker, it will stop being creased and will become flat, which is exactly what I need.

Now, onto the sleeve. First of all, I’ll use the Mixer Brush to remove the small wrinkles close to the edge. Remember to move the brush from the dress toward the background, or you will bring some background color in. If the selection is obscuring the view, you can hide it by pressing Ctrl-H on your keyboard. Now there’s a very important thing I want to mention. When you’re in the frequency separation mode, it’s really tempting to just grab the Normal brush and paint over the whole area, fix everything once and for all, with just one stroke. It is indeed possible, but think twice before actually doing anything like that. Retouching wrinkles is a subtle work. When you do something like this, like painting the whole area with a single color, it makes it look flat and unnatural. I’ve seen a lot of images retouched like that, and personally, I’m not a fan of this approach. When you work with transparent brushes, pick new color samples every now and then, remove wrinkles little by little and don’t make the surface totally flat, the result is much better. The idea is not to remove every single crease you can find. We just cover them up so that customers don’t get distracted as they gaze upon this expensive bag. So I’ll use the Normal brush with some opacity, like 50%, and carefully paint over the most significant wrinkles. I'll work on the elbow wrinkles, too, but I only want the shadows under them not to be so dark. I’m not planning to make them flat. And that’s it.

I do think that the previous example was a bit too difficult for a start. It’s hard to tell which wrinkles you are supposed and not supposed to remove and why. So let’s first make sure you understand how bad wrinkles look, the kind of wrinkles you are always supposed to eradicate. Some of them cannot be helped, like a bra seeing through a tight dress, but others should be taken care of at the preparation stage. This dress is all wrinkled at the waist, which is pretty normal with the design like this. But higher up, on the back, you can see the outline of a bra. In some cases, it might even look decent, but this time it doesn’t. This is the kind of thing you have to remove. As you can see, there’s this clear texture, which is hard to preserve when using the Clone Stamp. So I’m going to use the Split Frequencies technique. To do so, I’ll run the respective action and pick the standard Radius, which is 4. I’ll use the Mixer Brush to smooth the bra straps. What’s left should be removed on the high frequency layer, with a hard Clone Stamp brush. The last thing to do here is to smooth the big area next to the arm because it looks a bit patchy. I’ll move the Mixer Brush up and down to reduce this patchiness. That’s enough. At 100% scale, you can see that the dress texture is more or less untouched, which is a good result because sometimes frequencies separation can lead to weird texture effects, especially if a wrong Radius was used. But not this time.

Same with this one – you can definitely see something on the backside, and this something doesn’t belong to the trousers. This is actually the blouse she’s wearing is seeing through. And the method of fixing the problem will be exactly the same: the Frequency Separation. This time I’ll pick a smaller Radius, like 3. And then just use the Mixer Brush to smooth the color spots, and finish with a hard non-transparent Clone Stamp brush to get rid of the weird texture. There is also a couple of small wrinkles on the leg, and I should take care of them as well. As for the folds down there, they look natural and I’ll just leave them in peace.

I’m sure you’re enjoying the power of the Split Frequencies. But is this method always good? No, of course not. As I said before, it’s not really efficient on patterns. And sometimes it fails even if it doesn’t seem evident at first glance. I’ll show you an example. This is a fake suede dress or something like that, and it looks patchy. But if you try running the Split Frequencies action, you’ll see that smudging with the Mixer Brush doesn’t work. It just makes the texture look extremely weird and unnatural. It’s not because the Radius doesn’t fit, it’s because this particular material is defined with a combination of small dark and light spots. Smudge them and you’ll get a strange noisy texture. So, in a situation like this, I would rather use the Spot Healing tool. It takes longer and you have to be patient, but it works much better. I’ll remove all the dark spots and leave the rest so that it looks natural. It doesn’t have to be flat at all.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still use the Frequency Separation method on images like this one. You can pick a bigger Radius, like 10, and the texture will look more natural after being smudged. But the spots will go to both high and low frequency layers, and you’ll have to do a double amount of work to remove them.

Some wrinkles are supposed to be removed completely. These jeans were evidently too long to fit the model in a proper way. So the stylist pulled them up and folded like this so that after being retouched, the jeans length will be just right. Now we’re supposed to remove these folds as if they never existed. It’s not a very easy thing to do, but it’s manageable. I’m doing this example to show you how the Clone Stamp tool can be used to remove wrinkles like these. To do it in a subtle, unnoticeable way, you have to make sure that each leg has a distinct edge where the jeans touch the background. This edge should be consistent all along, it shouldn’t be broken or fuzzy. So our main goal here is to ensure that the edge look natural, not as if something shady was done there.

First of all, I’ll make a selection of the background around the legs so that I can stamp these bulges out. I’ll use the Pen Tool because it makes nice straight and curved lines, and it’s accurate. It’s possible to achieve about the same result with liquify, but in this case, I’m killing two birds with one stone: the same selection will protect the background later when I start working on the legs with the Clone Stamp tool. If a selection is in the way and obscures the view, you can hide it with Ctrl-H, it will still be there, just invisible, no marching ants. After finishing with the background, I’ll inverse it and then use the Stamp tool on the folds. The secret is to use a very soft and large 100% brush. It will make a soft transition. Otherwise, there will be a visible spot of the cloned surface. Make sure the seams exist all along the leg. Remember, that the Clone Stamp brush can be rotated by holding Alt and Shift and one of the pointy brackets keys on your keyboard. It takes a while to rotate, so be patient. If you want to reset the angle quickly, access the Clone Source panel by pressing Ctrl-Q or clicking on the respective command in the Window menu. Rotating the brush allows you to connect the source and the destination perfectly. After you’ve finished with the stamp, liquify the biggest bulges, but just a bit, as the whole look is not formal. This is jeans, not a formal suit.

There are different kinds of wrinkles. Some of them form because the material is flexible, it forms many kinds of folds and wrinkles when a person puts a garment on. This image is a good example of natural wrinkles, that are not supposed to be removed. It’s supposed to look like this. The model has her arm bent, and there are a lot of wrinkles in the elbow area, which is also pretty normal. A crease here and there doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong with the image.

We only remove wrinkles that are not supposed to be there. Like this one, on the chest. Why is it even here, all of a sudden, on a flat surface? When you see something like this, it’s only reasonable if you grab the Spot Healing Tool and remove it.

Not all wrinkles can be removed easily. Sometimes it’s just not worth it. Look at this image. You can see the outline of the jeans under the t-shirt. In most online stores it would be okay, you won’t have to make clothes less see-through than they really are. But some people find this kind of thing unacceptable. Personally, I think that it looks better without any outlines, and outlines of underwear such as panties and bras should be removed. But jeans? I don’t really think so. But let’s imagine that you work in a store where it’s a typical demand. I worked in a store like this, so it’s not an imaginary situation, it might happen for real. So how would you remove this outline?

This image is actually very tricky. If you try the Frequency Separation with the standard Radius, it won’t work. The texture is bigger than that, try Radius 4 and you’ll get a noisy surface instead of the real thing. With this kind of material, you should pick 8 or even 10. But there’s another problem with big radii: spots will go to both high and low frequency layers, and you’ll have to remove them twice, once with a brush and a second time with a stamp. Sounds like a lot of work for a lousy outline. So, what else can you do? You can try the Clone Stamp tool, but I assure you, it will not be an easy task. The surface is not even in terms of light, some areas are darker than the others, and stamping them would be a pain. Not worth it, not worth spending many minutes on a trivial task like this one. What to do? There are three ways. First is to take your time and work carefully, do the frequency separation with a big radius and suffer the consequences. Or use the Clone Stamp, very carefully. The second way is to do nothing. So what if you can see the jeans under the t-shirt? Who cares anyway? But if you really have to remove something like this and don’t want to waste time, I know a quick and dirty way how to do so.

I’ll grab the Mixer Brush and use it to remove the outline and make the tone more even. I do it on the Background layer as it is, no separation. It smudges the texture, of course, so my result is quite blurry. After resizing it I’ll switch to the Quick Mask mode by pressing Q and mask the blurry area with a soft 100% brush, and then I’ll switch to the normal mode by pressing Q again. And then I’ll add some noise to the image by using the respective filter, which is called the Add Noise. It can be accessed from the Filter menu, Noise submenu, but I have it on a shortcut I assigned myself. So, I’ll add a bit of noise, about 2, not more, or it will look unnatural. I’ll hide the image for a while and then I’ll show it to use once again, at 100% scale. Now tell me: does it look that bad? If you say: “Yes, it does! My superiors will fire me if they see a sloppy job like this”, okay, this method is not for you. But if you say: “No, it looks okay! No one will ever notice the texture is a fake!”, then this method is for you. It’s up to you to decide if it’s legit or not.

Sometimes you don’t even have to add noise to cover up the Mixer Brush traces. If you are lucky and the garment you are working on doesn’t have a distinctive texture, of course. This dress is very smooth, which is good because it seems to me that someone has forgotten to iron it. There’s also a strange outline on the back, as if something is there, under the dress, like a cardboard label. To fix it all, I’ll start with the Spot Healing brush and remove the most evident wrinkles. They should be removed on the preparation stage, with a steamer or an iron, not like this, but okay, I’ll do it anyway. Then I’ll use the Mixer Brush as it is, no Frequency Separation, and flatten the rest of the wrinkles with it. It’s important to move it while keeping the light and shadow patterns in mind. When you get close to the edges, either protect them with a selection or use the History brush to undo the damage after you’ve finished. Same on the back. If you overdo it, bald spots will be visible, and they will ruin all the impression of the dress, so be gentle. After resizing it looks as if it was always nice and smooth like that.

Okay, this one is the worst. If it was a hoodie and jeans look, it would probably be okay, this is a jacket and trousers look, it can’t be all creased and wrinkled. When you’re dressed like this, you’re not supposed to look shabby. The jacket looks as if it’s too big, it’s all creased, and trousers are even worse, there are two huge wrinkles there, a vertical and a horizontal one. The stylist responsible for the look could just come to the model and pull the jacket and the trousers down. Just a few pulls, a few seconds would have saved me minutes of my time. Just like the red dress before, I would normally reject this image. It’s sloppy. There’s also a problem with color correction – black looks dark gray, the whole thing is noisy. But let’s focus on the wrinkles. So, if I had no choice, if I couldn’t send this back to the people who forgot how to do their job, what would I do?

I’ll run the Frequency Separation action with its standard radius, which is 4. I’ll use the Mixer Brush to flatten the wrinkles on the back first, then I’ll switch to the sleeves. I’ll try to work as fast as possible because there’s a lot of things to do. There’s a seam on the sleeve, but this is the joy of the split frequencies – it’s on the high frequency layer and I couldn’t smudge it on the low frequency layer even if I wanted to. There’s a limit, though. I’m not looking for a perfect result, I'm just trying to cover the most ugly wrinkles. Then I’ll move down and do the same thing with the back of the trousers. Wrinkles like that exist in both realms, so I have to smooth the low layer and then use the Clone Stamp on the high frequency layer to remove them completely. And I have to watch it with the vertical fold, as it’s supposed to stay where it should be. It was ironed in place and it’s a part of the look. I’m leaving all the small wrinkles around, because it won’t look natural and nice if I just flatten the whole thing. I could have done a better job with the right buttock, I admit. But my goal here is not a perfect image, just a normal looking image, where the jacket and the trousers don’t look shabby. After resizing, you can see for yourself – the before, which is horrible, and the after, which is okay. There should always be a balance between fast and good looking. Don’t forget that we’re working in catalogue retouching, after the jacket has been sold out, the images will be gone forever. There’s no reason in spending 10 minutes while zooming in and making sure you fix every little crease. Remove the ugly ones and you’re good.


The dust, dirt, and wrinkles removing action set is available in the shop.

Let’s now sum it all up. There are wrinkles that are always supposed to be removed. Those are all the folds and wrinkles that are not supposed to be on the garment. Like when someone has forgotten to use an iron. We usually remove the outlines that appear when the underwear is sticking out from under the garment, like a bra strap or panties. But there’s a limit to how much effort we are willing to take. If it’s jeans sticking out from under a t-shirt, you might consider leaving them be. When a garment fits a model in a bad way, when it’s too loose, we’re supposed to fix its shape by removing the wrinkles, which are basically dark spots on a light surface. There’s also a limit: it’s relatively easy on single-colored smooth items, but not really possible with patterns like checkers or stripes. Official clothes like jackets and trousers are more demanding than hoodies, t-shirts and loose pants. A wrinkled hoodie is okay, but a jacket with the same wrinkles might look sloppy.

Wrinkles removing can be very tough and time-consuming

No matter how much you get paid for an image, nasty folds and wrinkles should be removed. In case it’s too time-consuming to be reasonable, faulty images should be rejected and reshot. The preparation stage has to ensure that all the items are ironed or steamed before they get passed to the retouching team. How much effort you have to make to remove wrinkles is up to you, as it depends on the image price. If we’re talking about 200 images per day production, you can take your time and do a lot of things. If it’s 500 images per day, not so much. It also depends on the demands of a particular store. If your superiors are okay with sloppy wrinkled clothes, you’re cool. But if they demand high quality, they should invest in better photography and preparation. The retouching team cannot be held responsible for other teams that refuse to work properly for some reason. So if you keep getting faulty images and are forced to make them look properly, do complain every single time it happens. A few fines or a couple of fired slackers make the images look much better, albeit for a short while.

No preparation! Reject on sight!

I've never allowed my team to work with clothes that were not properly prepared. A couple of accidental folds is one thing, but forgetting to iron a garment is another. The clothes on the image above were observed by a photographer and a stylist, and no one has bothered to reject and return them to the preparation team. Well, worse for them. After being rejected by the head of the retouching team, both the preparation and the shooting teams get scolded and sometimes fined by the head of the studio. If it doesn't happen like that in the place where you work, well, I can only say: "Sorry", because you'll be doing a lot of extra work, and other people will get paid for it. Is that fair?

You can download the images for practice purposes from the gallery above. Each thumbnail is linked to the respective hi-res image, just click on the thumbnails you need to open them in a separate window. You can right-click and "Save link as…" to download images without having to open them first.

Next: Transparent clothes


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