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Photograph, Heal Thyself

If you regularly use Adobe Photoshop or a similar graphics program for photographic retouching than you are probably very familiar with the Clone Stamp Tool. The Clone Tool, also know as the Rubberstamp, works by sampling a designated area of your image and then painting that area onto a target area. When done well, this method of retouching works perfectly, but there are many instances when sampling the correct area to fix damaged or blemished spots is nearly impossible. Fortunately, the wizards at Adobe have done it again, added a feature to Photoshop we didn’t know we needed until they told us we did.

Photoshop 7 introduces the Healing Brush and Patch Tools. Both of these are very useful to retouchers. The Healing Brush works in a similar fashion to the Clone Tool. Pick a cloning source by Alt-Clicking (Windows) or Option-Clicking (Mac OS), and then paint over the damaged area. Here is where the magic lies. When you do this with the Clone Tool, you need to use careful judgment in choosing your source. It is easy to get a result that shows the footprints of the Rubberstamp or where the edges are blurred compared to the rest of the image.

Fig. 1
The Healing Brush, on the other hand, analyzes the area underneath when you are painting with it and preserves the original tonality, shading and texture. It is a real joy to work with. For my example image, I have a damaged family photo from the early 1940’s (Fig. 1). This is a slightly tricky image for the Healing Brush since the bottom edge of the scooter is missing, but there is enough of it to work.

To start, I selected the Healing Brush (it looks like a Band-Aid) in the Tools palette. Next, I selected the source area in the grass to clone from and painted out the scratches at the bottom of the image (Fig. 2). When you paint with the Healing Brush it will look like you are using the standard Clone Tool, don’t worry that it doesn’t match up immediately. When you let go of the mouse button, Photoshop processes the image data and blends everything together nicely. Since Photoshop is actually performing calculations, the results are not as immediate as when using the Clone Tool.

Once the scratches at the bottom are ‘healed,’ it is time to try out the Patch Tool to fix the large damaged area. To select the Patch Tool, click-and-hold on the Healing Brush icon in the Tools palette until you get the pop-up list of tools showing the Patch Tool (surprisingly, it looks like a patch). This tool works in a different manner. In the Options Bar at the top of the screen make sure that ‘Source’ is selected. Use the Patch Tool like the Lasso Tool to draw around the area to be replaced (Fig. 3). Then, drag that selected area to the area that you want to replace it. It automatically blends in (Fig. 4).

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

The last step is to go back to the Healing Brush and clean up the bottom of the scooter. This could also be accomplished with the Clone Tool, but it is slightly easier with the Healing Brush. Use a small diameter brush and follow the lines closely to get the best effect (Fig. 5).

Fig. 5

The kind folks at Adobe Systems ( have done it again, anticipating our needs and giving us great tools. For us Mac users, Photoshop 7 lets us run the program natively in Mac OS X, the Healing Brush is simply gravy. Ah, but what tasty gravy it is.

Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. If you would like to see the Graphics Guy address a specific topic email Paul Vaughn at Tasty gravy…love that gravy. Color examples and previous columns can be seen at


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