Understanding Photoshop's Healing Brushes

Understanding Photoshop's Healing Brushes

Retouching is one of the main reasons most photographers use Photoshop. Understanding how and when to use the specialized tools can be trial and error until you find which works best for your workflow. A few tips on what each tool is doing behind the scenes can help with these choices. 

A few of the major retouching tools are located in the same section of the tools panel. 

  • Healing Brush
  • Spot Healing
  • Patch Tool
  • Content Aware Move Tool 

Another tool in a separate section is the Clone Stamp. All these tools are great options for specific jobs. Sometimes they can work well together, and other times a certain tool is the only choice for a specific job. If you are like me, I crave to understand what they are doing to the pixels rather than just seeing the end product. 

Healing Brush Versus Clone Stamp 

Clone Stamp is an effective tool to remove unwanted spots such as blemishes or bruises. Both Healing and Clone tool allow you to select a spot to sample however with Clone Stamp, it is an exact copy of the selected area. The Healing Brush is located in the tools panel and looks like a Band-Aid. If you do not initially see it, you may have to click on the section to reveal all the hidden brushes. 

The Healing Brush also uses a sample of an area you wish to match. However, instead of an exact replica of the area, the lighting and texture are calculated out with some math to average out the area. It is best to use Clone Stamp over the Healing Brush when defined edges are present as the Healing Brush will calculate out the area and smooth the edges to blend. 

Healing Brush Versus Spot Healing 

In Spot Healing, the pixels that are selected come from the areas surrounding the brush instead of a selected area by the user. This can be effective in smaller spots where the surrounding pixels have the luminosity and texture needed rather than attempting to select another area. All the following images are unedited as the healing tools are always prior to color work in my own workflow. 

Spot healing works well well with certain marks but not in all cases. In this instance closer to the heal, the brush removes the spot without any remaining issues. 


The result in some cases can be unwanted if the surrounding areas contains information that will alter the look. 

Patch Tool Versus Content Aware 
 

These are two of my personal preferred tools as they can work on small and larger areas. The Patch Tool uses the same algorithms as the Healing Tool for blending but it uses a selected defined area instead of a brush. It can give a slightly different result each time even if used on the same area. I use it often on backdrops for underwater that might have moved behind the client. In this session it was the prefect tool to remove the distracting dock to the side of the client. The patch tool option uses the selected area and you decide where to receive the information in order to fill the area. 

Using Clone Stamp on this section could work, but it would be more time consuming and if the selection area is not changed frequently you will be left with repeating patterns. 

Content Aware works in the same way as you select the area, however in this instance the hole left behind is filled in with matching information in the surrounding areas rather than a preselected area. 

Each image may use one or all of these tools depending on what is being removed. A mosquito was on her right arm which was perfect for the Spot Healing, while the dock and larger areas called for Patch and Content Aware. After some color work the image is ready for the client. 

There are many blending options within each tool as well that the user needs to experiment with as it can result in more or less desirable outcomes depending on the surrounding pixels. The best option is to take one spot and use all the tools to see the ending result in order to truly appreciate the unique outcomes. 

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2 Comments

Matt Williams's picture

Very helpful, thank you!

Jennifer Tallerico's picture

You are so welcome!