Publishers of technology books, eBooks, and videos for creative people

Home > Articles > Adobe Photoshop > Technique

This chapter is from the book

Reducing, Maintaining, and Matching Film Grain

All film originals are made up of randomly dispersed film grains that add a structure to every image. The professional slow speed ISO 50 or 100 slide films and color negative materials have very little visible grain structure, while the higher speed amateur films show more grain. The film format the photographer used to take the original picture also plays a role in how much grain is visible. Large format (8 inch by 10 inch, 4 inch by 5 inch, and medium format cameras) use larger pieces of film, allowing you to blow up the print to a greater degree before the film grain becomes visible. On that note, the point-and-shoot and 35-mm photos you might be asked to retouch are often the grainiest and most challenging film formats you'll work with. Files captured with professional digital cameras have absolutely no grain structure whatsoever—often making them smoother and easier to retouch.

One of the problems with doing extensive retouching and image rebuilding is that film grain can get mushy and diffuse, causing the image to have differing textures. Or you'll run into grain problems when obvious grain is not in harmony with the image's subject matter. Reducing, maintaining, and matching film grain and image structure requires a combination of working with layers, blend modes, and floating selections, and building custom brushes that mimic the grain structure.

Reducing Film Grain

In this example, the grain structure detracts from the soft image of the girls at a wedding (Figure 5.53). After using the Dust & Scratches filter on a duplicate layer in combination with either a layer mask or with the History Brush, the bothersome grain is gone, as seen in Figure 5.54.

Figure 5.53Figure 5.53 Before


Figure 5.54Figure 5.54 After

  1. I started by duplicating the Background layer.

  2. I selected Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches and finessed the relationship between the Radius and Threshold to minimize the grain without making the image too soft, as seen in Figure 5.55.

  3. Figure 5.55Figure 5.55 Working with the Dust & Scratches filter.

  4. I added a layer mask and painted over the image areas that should maintain the most detail. In this case, I sketched over the eyes, lips, and a few details in the hair, as seen in Figure 5.56.

  5. Figure 5.56Figure 5.56 Controlling where the effect takes place with a layer mask.


A similar effect can be created by using the Dust & Scratches filter on the Background layer and then painting back from History to bring the eyes and lips back into focus.

Maintaining Film Grain

Maintaining film grain is essential to keeping retouching invisible—often, over-eager cloning adds more problems than it solves. To avoid the dreaded patterned Clone Stamp look when hiding blemishes, use a copy-duplicate approach. As you can see in Figure 5.57, the bride's face has a few freckles and sunspots; in Figure 5.58 they've disappeared while maintaining all film structure.


Before retouching or removing a person's freckles, moles, or wrinkles, always ask if that is desired. In some cases, a person's visual character is based upon a unique mark. Just think of Marilyn Monroe or Cindy Crawford—removing their moles would damage the integrity of their portraits.

Figure 5.57Figure 5.57 Before


Figure 5.58Figure 5.58 After

  1. Zoom in on the blemish, spot, or freckle you would like to hide.

  2. With the one-pixel, feathered Lasso tool, select an area close to the blemish that has a similar lighting and tone as the blemish to be removed. Don't try to make an even or exact selection, as Figure 5.59 shows.

  3. Figure 5.59Figure 5.59 Selecting blemish-free skin.

  4. (Cmd + Option + drag)[Ctrl + Alt + drag] the selection to duplicate the good information. Drag it over the blemish and deselect (Cmd + D)[Ctrl + D]. The results are shown in Figure 5.60.

  5. Figure 5.60Figure 5.60 Dragging good skin over the blemish covers the blemish while maintaining the film structure and skin texture.

Matching Film Grain

Even with the most careful selecting and cloning, you might still have to match film grain to rebuild the image structure. The original image included a necklace that needed to be removed, as seen in Figure 5.61. After removing the necklace (see Figure 5.62) the film grain has been smoothed out too much, making the bride's neck blotchy and soft. To match film grain on retouched areas or in composites, use an Overlay neutral layer, filled with monochrome noise, and a quick layer mask to paint grain back into an image wherever needed.

  1. I (Option + clicked)[Alt + clicked] the New Layer icon and set the Mode to Overlay and turned on Fill with Overlay-neutral color (50% gray).

  2. I selected Filter > Noise > Add Noise and set the filter to Monochromatic to build up texture, as shown in Figure 5.63.

  3. Figure 5.61Figure 5.61 Before


    Figure 5.62Figure 5.62 After


    Figure 5.63Figure 5.63 Adding Monochromatic noise on the neutral layer adds texture to the entire image.

  4. I added a layer mask to the Noise layer and filled it with black to hide the noise layer completely.

  5. With the Airbrush tool set to white, I painted on the layer mask to paint noise back into the picture wherever needed, as seen in Figure 5.64. In essence, the black mask hid all the grain, and by painting on it with white I'm revealing the grain only where it's needed.

  6. Figure 5.64Figure 5.64 Using a white airbrush on the black layer mask enables you to carefully reveal the new grain wherever needed.


If the size of the faux grain doesn't match the image, transform the noise layer to make the grain as large or small as needed.

Building Custom Noise and Grain Brushes

The Clone Stamp tool can sometimes add softness or cause more problems than it is actually covering up. The problem is not the Clone Stamp tool but the brush and brush settings. To alleviate the mushy edges that cloning can introduce into your image, increase the hardness of the brush by (Control + clicking) [right mouse clicking] and increase the hardness to 50-75% as seen in Figure 5.65. Increasing the hardness reduces the transition between 100% opacity cloning and the edges of the cloning, which reduces the soft, ghostly edges.

Figure 5.65Figure 5.65 Increasing the hardness of the brush reduces the softness of the brush edges and minimizes ghostly or soft clone edges.

You can also build your own brushes to match film grain or noise structure by following these steps:

  1. Select a part of the image that has even lighting and the film structure you would like to mimic or maintain, as seen in Figure 5.66.

  2. Figure 5.66Figure 5.66 Select an image area to serve as the foundation of your custom brush.

  3. Copy the selection and select File > New. Photoshop will create a new file that is the exact same size as the selected area. Paste.

  4. Use Levels to increase the contrast of the grain structure as seen in Figure 5.67. By moving the shadow and highlight sliders toward the center, I am increasing the contrast and accentuating the structure.

  5. Figure 5.67Figure 5.67 Use Levels to dramatically increase the brush structure contrast.

  6. Since custom brushes do not allow you to adjust the brush hardness and you're trying to mimic grain, roughen the edges of the brush in progress by erasing edges, as seen in Figure 5.68.

  7. Figure 5.68Figure 5.68 Roughening the edges of the brush will help to camouflage the cloning later in the process.

  8. Select all and then select Edit > Define Brush. Name the brush and click OK.

  9. Use the new brush with the Clone Stamp tool set to Use All Layers on an empty layer to clone over grainy blemishes, as shown in Figure 5.69 and Figure 5.70.

  10. Figure 5.69Figure 5.69 The blemish on the king's crown needs to be cloned over but that area also needs to retain its grain.


    Figure 5.70Figure 5.70 Using a custom brush retains the grain of the king's crown.


When using custom brushes, you'll achieve better results if you click-dab on the area to clone over, as opposed to dragging the Clone Stamp tool.

Peachpit Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from Peachpit and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about Peachpit products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites; develop new products and services; conduct educational research; and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by Adobe Press. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive:

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020