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Miracle Tools: Photoshop's Healing Brush and Patch

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Photoshop 7.0 includes two great new tools that make retouching images a breeze. The Healing Brush and Patch tools improve on the amazing effects you can get from the Clone tool, but are easier to use.
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If you haven't yet upgraded to Photoshop 7.0, put the mouse down and go get it. When you come back, you can read about two tools that will pay for the upgrade—the Healing Brush tool and the associated Patch tool. If you ever spend time cleaning up blemishes in a photo, these tools will save you a lot of time.

These tools act like a super-charged Clone tool, but they're much, much more intelligent. For newbies, let me explain that the Clone tool is simply a miracle. It allows you to paint with pixels from elsewhere in an image (see Figure 1). This method of painting allows you remove flaws by painting over them with sampled areas nearby. However, it takes practice to become good at cloning. Not so with the Healing Brush and Patch tools.

Figure 1Figure 1 The Clone tool in use. In this example, I've given the tiger a third eye by painting it in with the Clone tool.

Healing Versus Cloning

The Healing Brush is designed to help you remove flaws from an image, such as scratches in a photo or age lines in a person's face. You essentially paint the flawed area with pixels that you pick up from another part of the image. For example, if a person has wrinkles at the edges of his or her eyes, you can sample an area of skin on the forehead that has no such flaws. When you paint over the wrinkles, you cover the blemish. It's a technique that has been used by Clone-tool jockeys for years. The difference between the Clone tool and the Healing Brush is that the Healing Brush does the painting with a lot more intelligence than the Clone tool. Instead of just dropping the pixels from the sample area onto the flaw you're correcting, the Healing Brush uses the texture of the sampled area and applies the tonal characteristics of the area around the flaw. You still need to sample an area with the same basic color as the area around the flaw, but you needn't worry about matching the color exactly, as you must do with the Clone tool. Use of the Clone tool sometimes provides a dead giveaway: If you paint out a flaw with a sampled area that differs even slightly in color, a line of demarcation is visible where you paint (see Figure 2). Becoming proficient at Cloning basically consists of learning several techniques for dealing with this problem. The Healing Brush avoids this problem with its ability to blend to the area you're painting.

Figure 2Figure 2 Example of a Clone tool problem. The cloned area is easy to spot because of the difference in color between the sampled area and the area being repaired.

Let's meet the tool itself (see Figure 3).

Figure 3Figure 3 Toolbar with Healing Brush selected and circled in red.

Select the Healing Brush from the Toolbar palette, or just press j on the keyboard. The Healing Brush icon looks like a bandage. (Get it?) The basic use of the tool follows this pattern:

  1. Identify the flaw.

  2. Identify an area near the flaw that looks similar to the area with the flaw. This nearby area is the area you will sample.

  3. TIP

    If there is no area near the flaw to use, you can employ a couple of tricks to help you out. I'll cover that later.

  4. Hold down Option (Macintosh) or Alt (Windows) and click in the area you want to sample.

  5. Click and drag to paint over the flaw.

It's as simple as that (see Figure 4).

Figure 4Figure 4 During and after.

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