Retouching with Cloning Tools: Part 2

Welcome back to the Retouching with Cloning Tools series! In Part 1, you learned about how cloning tools are used to retouch and remove imperfections from images.

Retouching with Cloning Tools: Part 2

In this part of the series, you will learn more about the specific differences between each cloning tool, what kind of jobs they work best for, and how to use them. By the end of this article, you’ll be able to pick the right tool for the task!

Let’s get started!

1. Spot Healing Brush Tool

Spot Healing Brush Tool
The Spot Healing Brush Tool is perfect for cleaning up small imperfections, such as dust or scratches. It is also really useful when it comes to retouching portraits. The Spot Healing Brush Tool allows you to remove freckles, wrinkles, blemishes, moles, age spots, or other unwanted skin imperfections with a simple click of the mouse.

Cheat Sheet: Definition: “…quickly removes blemishes and other imperfections… automatically samples from around the retouched area.”

Useful for: Getting rid of spots, dust, scratches, blemishes, and tiny imperfections.

Pros: You don’t have to do any sampling–the tool samples from nearby areas automatically. It is also very simple to use, and it works instantly.

Cons: Merges and blurs details together, so you can’t use it on heterogeneous surfaces.

How to use it: Click or draw over the area you want to fix. No, really, that’s it! Just be sure to make the changes on a new layer, and select “sample all layers” at the top.

Spot Healing 2
The circles represent the imperfect areas that need to be “healed.”

Spot Healing 3
After clicking within the circles, the Spot Healing Brush has automatically “healed” the blemishes by sampling nearby areas.

Spot Healing 4
Hooray! Now my little brother has nearly-perfect skin.


2. Healing Brush Tool

Healing Brush Tool
The Healing Brush Tool is a lot like the Spot Healing Brush Tool, only instead of sampling from nearby areas, it allows you to specify the area you want to sample by Alt-clicking. This tool is also content-aware, so it automatically attempts to blend the copied image with the original image.

Cheat Sheet: Definition: “…lets you correct imperfections, causing them to disappear into the surrounding image… [the Healing Brush Tool] matches the texture, lighting, transparency, and shading of the sampled pixels to the pixels being healed.”

Useful for: Removing more complicated imperfections that require sampling.

Pros: This tool copies from the sample area and attempts to blend the details with the background.

Cons: Because it always tries to blend the details into the environment, if you draw on highly contrasted areas, it will create an average area that does not really match the sampling or the environment.

How to use it: Alt-click to sample part of the image, and then draw over a different part of the image using the sample as a reference.

Healing Brush Tool 2
By Alt-clicking within the circle, I can sample specific areas of my brother’s beard and use them to draw over the hat string. The Healing Brush Tool automatically blends the areas.

Healing Brush Tool 3
Without the strings, the hat looks like it’s just floating on top of my brother’s head. Pointless? Um, no! Not unless you call looking like a super cool party-wizard pointless!

3. Clone Stamp Tool

Clone Stamp Tool
The Clone Stamp Tool literally clones the sampled area of the image. This tool is useful for when you do not want the copied area to blend with the original area. It’s helpful to think of the Clone Stamp Tool as a Brush Tool version of copy-and-paste.

Cheat Sheet: Definition: “…paints one part of an image over another part of any open document.”

Useful for: Copying patterns or homogeneous areas that you do not want to blend, like pavement, grass, or water. Also works well to duplicate objects or remove unwanted objects.

Pros: This tool does not try to blend in the details, so you can copy something over exactly. You can also adjust the Brush Tip Shape, Hardness, and Blending Mode, just as you can with the Brush Tool. In other words, you can manually adjust how the brush will blend in with the other layers.

Cons: This tool will often require that you clean up the stamped area using the other Cloning Tools. Because it makes an exact copy of the sampled area, sometimes you can tell that something is wrong with the image because parts of the image repeat itself.

How to use it: Alt-click anywhere to sample part of the image, and then draw or stamp over the part of the image that you want to retouch.

Clone Stamp Tool 2
I can sample areas of the mountains and rocks and stamp over the festive green ribbon to remove it from the image.

Clone Stamp Tool 3
The Clone Stamp Tool does a pretty good job of covering up the ribbon, but if you zoom in and look closely, you can sort of tell which areas were copied. However, this can be fixed easily by touching up the area with other cloning tools.

4. Patch Tool

Patch Tool
The Patch Tool works similarly to the other cloning tools, only the sampled area is defined after the retouch area has been selected. To use the patch tool, you must draw a selection around the area that you want to retouch, and then click-and-drag the selection to the area that you want to sample. Because of the way this tool works, it allows you to view a clear preview of what your image will look like once retouched.

Cheat Sheet: Definition: “…lets you repair a selected area with pixels from another area or pattern. …the Patch Tool matches the texture, lighting, and shading of the sampled pixels to the source pixels. ”

Useful for: Retouching somewhat homogeneous surfaces. It’s also useful for copying natural edges, like the edge of a mountain range or ocean waves.

Pros: When you click-and-drag to define the sample area, the selection will show a preview of what the retouch will look like. This will help you pick the right sample area and align the edges properly.

Cons: Since the Patch Tool blends in the details with the environment, the preview image is not always accurate. Often, there is less detail in the final result than what was shown in the preview image.

How to use it: Activate the tool, and draw a selection around the area that you want to patch. Drag the selection to the area that you want to sample.

Patch Tool 2
Unlike the other Cloning Tools, the Patch Tool requires that you first select the area you want to retouch before you define the sample area.

Patch Tool 3
After drawing a selection around the green ribbon, I click-and-drag the selection to the right. The preview-image fills the selection, making it easier for me to align the mountain ridges. I then repeat the process with the bottom bit of ribbon that’s left over on the rock.

Patch Tool 4
As you can see, the Patch Tool did an excellent job of blending in the details.

So far in this series, you’ve learned what cloning tools are, how they can help you retouch your images, and how to distinguish between each specific tool. In Retouching with Cloning Tools: Part 3, you will follow along with a step-by-step tutorial to discover how to use all of the cloning tools in combination to achieve high-quality retouching. See you next time!

Patch Tool 5
Farewell, bright green St. Patrick’s Day celebratory ribbons!

By Melanie Mayne

Melanie Mayne is a writer, hobbyist photographer / graphic designer, and avid gamer. She has a BA in Humanities with a minor in English Writing and has written articles for, RantGaming, eHow, Search Sciences LLP, and American Diversity Report. Find out more about Melanie by visiting her personal website.


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