Using the Healing Tools in Photoshop CS3

Using the Healing Tools in Photoshop CS3

The following article on using the healing tools in photoshop was submitted by Emma Cake from Big Bouquet Photography.

If you take a look at the Toolbar in Photoshop you will notice that in CS3 there are two different heal tools – the Healing Brush and the Spot Healing Tool. Both Healing tools are excellent for correcting imperfections in your shots such as troubled skin, sensor dust and creases but which tool should you use to achieve the best effect? (click to enlarge images in this tutorial)

Healing Tools Before And After

The Healing Brush lets you correct imperfections in your shot in a similar way to the Clone Stamp Tool. Like the Clone Stamp Tool, you paint with sampled pixels from your image which you can set with the ‘Alt’ button, however, the Healing Brush Tool also does an excellent job of matching together all of the relevant shades and textures to keep your fixes as seamless as possible. This tool is far more effective than slaving away with the Clone Stamp Tool as it will take a lot of the effort out of accurate blending, however it still requires you to be responsive with your Alt-key selections.

If you only need to fix small imperfections in your photograph then the Spot Healing Brush Tool is great for some quick alterations. With this tool you don’t need to specify a sample spot, simply dab it on the area you want to fix and it will automatically paint over the area a sample from around the retouched area. Of course, this tool isn’t that great if you are retouching an image with intricate details, but it will make light work out of small skin blemishes and dust-ridden skies.

Let’s take a look at how you can use both of these tools:

Healing Brush

1. Your Healing Brush

Open up your image and select the Healing Brush Tool from the Tools Palette. You will find your healing easier and more accurate if you zoom into the area you’re working on to at least 200%.


2. Healing Brush settings

We want to avoid harsh, obvious healing so it’s important to use an appropriate brush. Expand the Brush drop-down menu in the upper toolbar and change the Diameter of your brush in relation to the size of area you want to blend away (you can always change this with the ‘[‘ and ‘]’ buttons as you go along). Alter the Hardness of the brush so it has a softer edge. Start off with 75% and take the brush on a test run. If you aren’t happy with the effect you can always change the hardness settings later.


3. Healing Brush size

At the bottom of the drop-down menu you can fix the size of your brush by setting it to ‘Off’. Alternatively, if you have a graphics tablet you can adjust the size of your brush with ‘Pen Pressure’ or ‘Stylus Wheel’.


4. Your Modes

You can use the Healing Brush with various different Blending Modes. This can be particularly helpful if you want to keep your healed areas subtle. We’re working in black and white for this shot so we don’t need to worry too much about blending modes. You can use ‘Replace’ to maintain noise, film grain and texture in your image, but this does require you to be very accurate with your editing. Keep the ‘Source’ set to ‘Sampled’, and ‘Sample’ set to ‘Current Layer’, making sure you are working on a flattened document.


5. Applying your Heal

Zoom to the area you want to heal and press the ‘Alt’ button on your keyboard, the cursor will change to a smaller targeted circle. Click with your mouse or pen to select an area near the spot you want to heal, this will define your source area. Then let go and dab again with your Healing Brush. Notice how the brush automatically blends into the surrounding area.


6. Keep sourcing

If you find that your Healing Brush hasn’t blended in exactly how you’d want it to then simply redefine your source area and dab again. You will find the process much faster if you keep one finger on the ‘Alt’ key at all times so you can alternate between sourcing and blending.


Tip: For accurate Healing Brush applications keep changing the size of your brush with the ‘[‘ and ‘]’ keys. A smaller brush will be easier in tricky areas with lots of detail whereas a large, soft brush is great for smoothing out areas.

Spot Healing Brush

7. Spot Heal settings

The Spot Healing Brush is great for small troublesome areas that only need a bit of attention. It’s a good idea to follow up your Healing Brush application with the Spot Healing Brush to tidy up any smaller areas. Select the Spot Healing Brush and make sure your Mode is set to ‘Normal’


8. Painting over

Simply paint over the area you want to fix. You will notice that the area turns dark grey but as soon as you lift your mouse or pen this area automatically blends into the background.


Tip: Always make sure that you have a back up of your original document before you attempt to fix your images with the Healing Brush Tool. If you make a mistake or are unhappy with your work you can always go back to your original document.

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Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

Some Older Comments

  • Christa April 13, 2010 11:37 pm

    Reading this, it is helpful for photoshop users, but then - I thought - why couldn't we do that with us. A quantum physicist will say that it is possible to a certain extent. We take a photo from us and make changes and imagine us as we look on the photo. Ultimately our features should change at least to a certain extent.

  • soyeb January 25, 2010 11:17 pm

    Thank you very much for your tutorial.

  • enjay November 25, 2009 07:17 am

    Make sure you are on the correct layer as you are working. If you have the wrong layer highlighted, it will not work the way you are expecting it to.

  • ryantot July 22, 2009 05:34 am

    hi! can anyone help me? i dont know what to do. at first, when i used the spot healing brush it was ok. just alt+click the i can use it. but now, everytime use it, it always "alt click to define a source point ..." i do so many times but still it doesnt work. do i need to change some of settings in photoshop cs4? pls. is my email add:

  • Ayesh April 16, 2009 06:09 am

    Thank you very much for your tutorial..I was able to to follow it up and my redo my photo very easily and accurately being a novice!
    thanks a lot!

  • Anita April 4, 2009 10:40 am

    I liked the tutorial.
    It's a lot easy to use this technique,
    thanks for posting

  • Rod Pascoe December 27, 2007 09:37 am

    Thanks for that, very helpful !


  • Corsi fotografia December 22, 2007 04:57 pm

    Healing brush is amazing, I use a loto on my old scanned picture!

  • Angela December 21, 2007 11:49 pm

    Thanks for posting this, it's really really helpful. I read every update on this site daily. So far this is my favorite, as it is most helpful.


  • Tim December 21, 2007 06:41 am

    Also, with the Spot Healing tool, there is an option you can click for it to 'Sample all layers'. You can then create a new layer in Photoshop, and use the spot brush on that layer. By sampling all layers, the spot healing tool will give you results on the top layer, but it will be based on the photo that's in the original layer.

    The advantage of this is that if you make a mistake, you can delete the whole new layer or, using the eraser, just the bit of healing that didn't work, while keeping the original image completely intact.

  • Bimby December 21, 2007 06:32 am

    thanks for this tutorial - right what I'd been looking for.

  • Frank December 21, 2007 05:56 am

    How do you make a snapshot?

    Love the site.

  • mike December 21, 2007 03:27 am

    A tip you might want to include:
    In photoshop you have the option to make snapshots of your work, that way, you can do any number of changes, make the snapshot, and continue to make changes, at any time, you can go back to the snapshot, that means that you do not loose all the work, but only until the snapshot, it also saves you from saving the file as a copy every couple of changes.
    I hope it helps