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Imperfections removal in Photoshop. Main tools

The next stage after the transformation is the removal of all the imperfections of an image, such as dirt, dust, scratches, reflections and fingerprints. There is a whole bunch of tools at your disposal for that sole purpose. Let’s see what we can use.

Healing Brush, Spot Healing Brush, Patch Tool

There’s a group of Healing tools, and they are very popular as they offer an easy way to remove skin blemishes and acne. Press J to access the last healing tool you’ve used and Shift-J to switch between all the healing tools in the group. There are two tools I don’t find very useful and worth mentioning – the new Content-Aware Move Tool and the Red Eye Tool. Normally we don’t encounter the red-eye problem in the studio photographs, so if you do, you might want to get the photographer fired.

Let’s talk about the three tools that are left. Those are the Spot Healing Brush Tool, the Healing Brush Tool, and the Patch Tool. There is a difference between the three of them, but I often find product image retouchers work with just one they feel most attached to. As for me, I prefer using the Spot Healing Tool, and I find the Patch tool rather clumsy and inconvenient. You should learn how they function and make your own choice.

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The Spot Healing Brush Tool works like any brush, it means that you can adjust its tip size, hardness, and other parameters. Choose one from the three available parameters: Content-Aware (which is your parameter of choice), Proximity Match (which might work if the first one fails) and Create Texture, which is almost useless. So, when you click it on the image, the algorithm you’ve chosen determines how to replace the area you’ve clicked it on or dragged it over, and paints it over with some content. Content-Aware means that it analyzes the content around and modifies it in its own way, and you get some new texture. We’ll be talking about this whole matter in more detail later, but for now, it’s not very relevant. So if there’s a zit somewhere on the skin, and you click on it, it will most probably be filled with the clear skin around, which is good, and this is how it works.

The Healing Brush Tool requires a bit more of your attention to be used properly. First of all, you have to set a source area by clicking it on an image while holding the Alt button. From now on, the tool will be using this texture and it will transfer it to the areas where you choose to click it or drag it next, adjusting the color and tone to blend the results in. If you tick the “Aligned” box, the source will move as you move your mouse and click with it. No tick and it will return to the point you’ve set initially as soon as you release the mouse button. Both ways are useful in their own way.

Both Healing Brush and Spot Healing Brush tools can be set to work in the Normal mode or the Replace mode. Or any other Blending modes, but I don't think you'll really need them. In the Normal mode, the tools try to do some blending of the color and tone, so you can basically get a sample from black texture and use it on white texture without making it black. It sounds like a great thing, but in reality it often leaves weird looking spots. If you set the Healing Brush to work in the Replace mode, it becomes a Clone Stamp tool.

The Patch Tool allows you to select an area and then replace its contents by pixels from another area that you choose, with all the color and tone matching of course. So it works in two steps: select an area and then move it to another destination. The Source mode which is the default mode for this tool means that the area that you select will be filled with something else after you move your selection to pick a source. If you switch it to Destination mode, the area that you selected initially will be used as a destination.

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All the healing tools are very useful when you work in catalogue retouching, so feel free to play around with all the settings like diffusion, try the transparent option of the Patch tool to see what it does, experiment with the brush tip hardness and size to see how it affects the work of the tools. Set them up in a way you find appropriate for the tasks at hand because these tools require a different setup depending on whether you’re working with fine texture or smooth gradients. But I will not be surprised if you prefer to stick to the default settings, which is completely fine as long as it allows the work to be done quickly and efficiently.

Content-Aware fill

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I’d also like to mention the Content-Aware Fill before I start talking about brushes. Its use is similar to the healing tools, the only exception is that you need a selection to fill. Then you just go to the Edit menu and click on the Fill command or better press the Backspace key to open the Fill dialogue window and choose Content-Aware in the fill contents. It will fill the selected area with what it seems to be appropriate depending on the surrounding texture. Sometimes it’s a nice way to remove large parts of images fast and efficiently. Sometimes it won’t work at all. With time you’ll be able to easily determine if this technique is worth trying on a certain area of an image or not.

There's more to the content-aware fill algorithm than just using it on a selection. In some cases, you might need to restrict its area of work by moving some contents to a separate layer. Here's why: the content-aware mechanism doesn't know what exactly you need it to use to fill the selection. On this mannequin image, I want it to fill that weird dark spot with the black and white mesh so that the right side won't look much different from the left side. But the content-aware fill algorithm doesn't know that. If I select this black spot and try to fill it, the result won't be so good. It will be filled with some black material from below the selection as well. If I don't want that to happen, I need to restrict the content-aware tool so that it won't be able to use this black material. To do so, I'll copy the mesh with the black spot to a separate layer. Now there's no black material, only the spot, and the mesh. I'll select the spot on this layer and use the content-aware fill, and this time the result is much better.

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Pay attention to the fact that this video was captured in Photoshop CC 2018 or maybe even CC 2017. There was a major update of this feature in CC 2019. Now, Content-Aware is not just a filling option, but a whole separate workspace where you can control how exactly the algorithm samples the image. You don't need the technique described in the video to make it sample what you need by putting it in a separate layer. From now on, you can mask the image within the workspace, and you can also control rotation, scaling and color adaptation in a more progressive way than ever before.

New Content-Aware Fill interface

I normally wait about a year or half a year before switching to a new Photoshop version, as every release is loaded with bugs and errors, that can be critical to the workflow. It's not like there's a good reason to update straight away, but maybe I'm just old or oldfashioned. If you use the Content-Aware often and you are not satisfied with the old version, you can go for the CC 2019 straight away. The interface is pretty self-explanatory and it resembles the Select & Mask, so it doesn't require tutorials – just click on everything you can and you'll get how it works.

However, I don't think this new algorithm is as cool as it seems in the ads. That's why: the regular Content-Aware Fill requires you to spend a few seconds of your time, and if it doesn't work, you just proceed to other means of retouching. Now, when it's an interface where you can play around with settings and masking, I doubt you would be able to finish in just a couple of seconds. And if you can't get a decent result after all the twiddling and playing around – and that's a scenario with a high probability, as it's just an algorithm, you will only realize it after having wasted much more time than necessary.

Fortunately, even in the new version, you can still use the good old Content & Aware Fill via the Fill command.

Brush and Mixer Brush

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The Brush tool is the most basic tool of them all, and I’m sure you are aware of its existence and use. So I’ll just say a few words about it. You can access it by pressing B on your keyboard. You can adjust the tip of the brush in terms of Hardness and Size. You can do it by pressing the right mouse button, but there’s a better and a faster way via the keyboard shortcuts. It’s possible to adjust the size with the [] square brackets and hardness with Shift-[] square brackets. You can also change the size and the hardness of the brush tip by holding Ctrl and Alt, and then clicking and dragging with the right mouse button. Moving to the left will make the tip smaller, moving to the right will make it larger. Moving down will make the tip harder and moving up will make it softer. I don't really use this method, but I know many retouchers like it. If you hold Alt and Shift and then click and drag with the right mouse button, you'll be able to change the Foreground color, and pretty quickly, too.

Then there’s the opacity setting, when 0 means no color and 100 percent means solid color. You can press 0 on your keyboard to set it to 100%, and if you press 1 it will be set to 10%, 2 to 20% etc. And if you press two buttons right after each other, rather fast, you can set it to anything, like 65 or 32. Don’t forget that you can draw straight lines with your brush by clicking one place and Shift-clicking the other place.

There’s also the Mixer Brush Tool and we will be using it quite a lot. But our special needs require special settings of this tool. We don’t really want it to mix paint from the canvas with any other colors, so to prevent this from happening you can either set the brush to “clean after each stroke” by pressing the button with the same name, or by setting the Mix to 100%. Then, set the Wet and the Flow to something about 20%. If you want a stronger effect, you can increase these values even more. Now with these particular settings, the Mixer Brush works as if you rubbed an image with a wet finger just a little bit so that the paint gets smudged in a subtle way.

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If you don't activate the "clean after each stroke" mode, and just set the Mix to 100%, the brush will not be using the foreground color swatch, but it will still pick some color from the surface where you drag it (how much it will pick is determined by the Wet settings). So if you want it to come out clean every time, don't forget to press that button. If you do that, Load and Mix settings won't matter at all, as they all have to do something with the brush reservoir, and "clean after each stroke" button makes it empty. How strong your brush will smudge canvas is determined with Wet and Flow settings.

If you’re not familiar with the Mixer Brush, please spend some time playing around with it while changing the settings. You’ll see how it works. It is an artistic Photoshop Tool, but with the specific settings I’ve just mentioned, it’s a great tool for catalogue retouching as well. We will be smudging a lot of things with this brush in the next section of the course. This tool is so useful, in fact, that I usually assign it to a separate key instead of accessing it through Shift-B. I set to U to be able to reach for it quickly.

Pay attention to the fact that all the brushes have a very important setting that is hidden, but can be accessed from the Brush Settings panel. It's called “Spacing” and it's set to 25% by default. High spacing value means that when you draw with a brush (make it hard to see better), it will be a bunch of circles instead of a smooth line. Set Spacing to 0% to make it smooth if the default setting doesn't seem perfect.

Clone Stamp (Clone Source)

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The next tool we’ll be discussing is the Clone Stamp Tool. I’m sure you know how it works. It’s similar to the Healing tools, it just doesn’t blend the new texture into the old one, it just transfers it the way it is. Hold Alt and click to set the source, then use the brush to paint over the areas you want to be filled with it. The Clone Stamp Tool is very important and you will be using is pretty frequently. Press S to access it quickly.

There’s one thing you need to know about this tool though, something that people seem to miss. I am not going into details with the healing tools and the clone stamp tool as well, as they are very popular and everybody already knows how to use them. But there’s a new clone stamping feature that is worth learning about if you still haven’t mastered it. So here’s the deal: the clone stamp brush can actually be rotated, and it lets you work not just in straight lines, but in curves as well. To do it, hold Shift and Alt simultaneously, and then hold < or >, one of the angle brackets. The brush tip will rotate clockwise or counterclockwise depending on which angle bracket you're holding. It happens rather slowly, so be patient.

If you want to rotate your brush tip faster, access the Clone Source panel from the Window menu. You can set the angle of rotation manually by inputting a number in the rotation angle window, or click on the angle icon, hold the mouse button and drag it to the right or to the left. The whole image will be rotated to show you how the angle you’ve set affects the brush position. With this new Clone Stamp Tool ability you’ll be able to do things you couldn’t before, like stamping curved surfaces quickly.

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Feel free to investigate the Clone Source Panel to see if there’s anything else you might find useful. For example, it allows you to use up to five sources in case you need so many. But personally, I think this panel is not very important and I prefer to keep it switched off, rotating the clone stamp tool via the shortcuts.

History Brush

The History Brush is one of the most underestimated tools in modern retouching. The deal is that when you have all the adjustment layers you want, you don't need to use the History Brush to revert to different image states. And if you don't – well, it makes it useless, doesn't it? But that's in modern non-destructive multi-layered complicated retouching. For us, it's an absolute gem. Despite the fact that it's not really a tool for isolation, it's often used in the process to restore shadows.

I won't be explaining everything you can do with the History Brush, as there are separate entries on various tricks that can be performed with its help. For now – just a short overview of the tool. To access it, press Y. When you paint over the image with this tool, it basically covers the image with the same image at some point in the past or even in the future – depending on where the source is set. If you haven't done anything to the image, the History Brush won't do a thing. But if there are some states of the image that differ one from another, you can use it. The source is set at the opening of the image by default. So if you apply a few effects to the image, you can use the History Brush on it to make it look like the original – that is, where you use it. When might that be helpful?

During the isolation process, when you fill the background around some item with white, the History Brush is very helpful. I hope you're not surprised at how exactly I removed the background just now, as you should've learned about it in the entry about Automatic Isolation (LINK). So, after that, you can use a soft History Brush to restore a shadow underneath. It takes a few seconds and a natural shadow like that looks better than any drop shadow effects or any other attempts to fake a shadow quickly. This is the main objective of the History Brush in product image retouching, but there are other things it's useful for. There are limits, too.

For example, if I don't restore the shadow straight away after isolation, but choose to rotate the image instead, I won't be able to use the History Brush on it to restore the shadow anymore. Because it will be restoring the original, not rotated bag. And there's an even worse thing: if I crop the image or change the Canvas Size, even a little bit, I won't be able to use the previous history states at all. Same with the Image Size, of course. To avoid that, you'd better crop and rotate any images you work with first, and then restore the shadow straight away after isolation. Not using any adjustment layers saves us time, but at the same time, it requires us to be precise and attentive (which is actually good).

By the way, to change the history state, go to the History panel and click on a small empty box next to any of the steps you need. You can record any activity with history Brush sources or history states in an action, and it's quite convenient.

You can use the History Brush to restore images to not just past, but future states as well. I'll explain how and why we do this in detail just a bit later, on the next page, for now just trust me on that one. Apart from shadow restoring, it can be used to replace tedious selection-making in situations when you don't have to be careful about the edge.

You can also use history to Fill selections instead of working with the Brush – just press whatever shortcut you have for the Fill window and choose History from the dropout menu. And you can stroke paths with the History Brush, too – and all these possibilities open new opportunities for its use. The History Brush is an extremely useful tool in product image retouching, but as you can't restore a previous state after resizing, you have to keep it in mind and organize your workflow respectively.

Well, that’s it with the tools, so let’s switch to filters to see if we can find anything useful there.

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.

There's a set of actions that make imperfections removal much easier. You can get it in the shop:

It's free for all Mindful Members.

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