This article is part of our series Photo Editing 101 by Ian Pullen. This series will cover all of the basics of using Photoshop for editing photos. If you’re just getting started with Photoshop or photo editing, or if you’re looking to improve your skills in this area, this series will provide an excellent foundation. If you want to make sure that you don’t miss future articles you can subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on Twitter, Google+, or Facebook. You can also find the articles that have already been published by visiting the Photo Editing 101 course page.
The Healing Brush tool is one of Photoshop’s powerful tools for editing and correcting blemishes and imperfections in your photos.
In use it is very similar to the Clone Stamp Tool, however where the Clone Stamp replaces pixels completely, the Healing Brush blends the color of pixels from the sample point with the target pixels. It is well suited for working on flat areas without much detail, but you need to take care with using it near the edges of areas.
How Do You Activate the Healing Brush?
The Healing Brush is found in a group of tools and is represented by a sticking plaster icon. It should not be confused with the Spot Healing Brush which has a similar icon, but also includes a dotted line. If you can’t see either of these in your Tools palette, look for the Patch tool or Red Eye tool and click and hold it to open the fly out sub-menu from which you can select the Healing Brush.
Can the Healing Brush Be Used Non-Destructively?
The Healing Brush tool is designed to act directly on your image pixels and so is a destructive tool as the edits cannot be reversed once your file has been closed. However, there is a way to use it in a non-destructive manner by adding a blank layer to your photo and painting onto that. Go to Layer > New > Layer or click the New layer button in the Layers palette. Now change the Sample drop down to the right of the tool options bar to All Layers. Now, with the blank layer active, when you work with the Healing Brush, you will paint onto the blank layer and the original image will be unchanged below.
How Do You Set Up Your Healing Brush?
Once you select the Healing Brush, you’ll see the tool options bar displaying the various controls. The first of these that we’ll look at is the brush settings drop down. Apart from the Size setting that you’ll want to adjust depending on the size of the area that you’re working on, in most cases you may be best to leave the settings at their defaults.
While you can soften the edge of your brush by reducing the Hardness value, as the tool works by blending pixels, the edge usually blends very well without needing to adjust this, however the option is there if you find it necessary. The Spacing control is similar to Flow and a lower value leads to a more smoothly blended result. The standard setting of 25% works fine for me in most cases.
You can also edit the shape of your brush, but I rarely, if ever, do this myself.
To the Right of the brush settings is a button to open the Clone Source palette. This allows you set up to five sample points that you can switch between and also to rotate and scale your sampled pixels before adjusting the target pixels. While I use this a bit with the Clone Stamp tool, I personally feel it’s less relevant to the Healing Brush. However, as you become more accustomed to the tool, you may find these more advanced features worth investigating.
Next along is the Mode drop down and most of these are similar to some of the layer blending modes. The Normal mode is generally the most predictable in use. The Replace mode is designed for use with soft edged brushes and preserves noise and texture at the edge of brush strokes. If you use this mode with a hard edged brush, you’ll see that the edges don’t blend in the same way they do in Normal mode.
How Do You Set the Source?
The Healing Brush blends pixels and so you need to select a source before you can start. In the tool options bar, you can see a Source option with radio buttons for Sample and Pattern. When set to Sample, you hold down the Alt or Option key and click on the image to select the source point. If the Aligned check box is checked, the source point will always remain the same relative distance from the brush as you work. If switched off, every time you make a brush stroke and release, the source point returns to the original position.
When set to Pattern, you can then open the Pattern drop down and select a pattern that you can paint onto your photo. This is then blended, taking account of the tones of the underlying image.
How Do You Actually Use the Healing Brush?
Having described the settings, let’s take a quick look at how to use the Healing Brush by removing some of the shadow from the photo I’ve been using.
I set the brush size to 80, left the Hardness at 100 and the Spacing at 25%. The brush size is actually larger than I would have normally chosen to make it more obvious in the screen shots.
I then placed the sample point on the edge of the arch just to the left of where the shadow was, by holding the Alt or Option key and clicking, and then moved the brush so that it was positioned over the edge at a point where the shadow is. In the screen shot above, you should see that one of the spokes of shadow to the right of the arch appears to have been partially erased and the edge of the arch appears slightly uneven. That shows the point that my brush is placed and this helps to make it easy to align your brush when you’re working. Had I used a smaller brush, the uneven edge of the arch could have been avoided, but I can repair that later.
Now, I just clicked and brushed over the shadow to remove it. When I reached the other edge of the yellow area, I changed the sample point and reduced the size of my brush to make it easier to make an accurate transition from the yellow to the colors of the ceiling.
I then continued like this, changing the sample point and adjusting the brush size until I’d painted out the whole of the spoke of shadow. The result isn’t perfect, but it gives a pretty good representation of how effective the Healing Brush can be. The results could be improved from here by using the Clone Stamp tool to neaten things up, particularly at the edges.
The Healing Brush is a very powerful tool for editing your photos. It can be a very effective way to paint out blemishes and imperfections, though it is best suited to removing unwanted objects from flat areas as it can do this in a very naturalistic way. It is less effective when you need to work on an area with edges and while it can be made to work in such cases, the Clone Stamp tool usually offers a better alternative.
See more articles in the Photo Editing 101 series.