Written by Steve Patterson. In this Photo Retouching tutorial, we’ll look at one of the most amazing and time saving photo retouching tools available, the Spot Healing Brush, the first of three image "healing" tools in Photoshop. The Spot Healing Brush was first introduced in Photoshop CS2 and, like the other two healing tools (the standard Healing Brush and the Patch Tool), it’s essentially a texture replacement tool, meaning that it tries to create a seamless repair by replacing damaged or unwanted texture from one area in an image with good texture from another area, without changing the problem area’s original color or brightness values. What makes the Spot Healing Brush so amazing and fast is that it does this with almost no effort from us!
Both the standard Healing Brush and the Patch Tool need us to tell them which area of good texture we want to use to replace the bad texture with, but the Spot Healing Brush makes the decision all on its own. In most cases, all we need to do is click on a problem area with the Spot Healing Brush and Photoshop repairs it instantly, almost like magic! It works by choosing new texture from the area surrounding the spot we clicked on, and it usually does a great job as long as we remember that the name of the tool is the Spot Healing Brush, not the Huge Problem Area Healing Brush or the Click And Drag Me All Over The Image And Expect Miracles Healing Brush. The Spot Healing Brush works best on, well, little spots. In this tutorial, we’ll see how to use it to quickly and effortlessly remove pimples and other minor skin blemishes, but it’s also great at removing things like dust, dirt and mold and repairing small scratches.
Making Fast Even Faster With Keyboard Shortcuts
As we’ll see in a moment, the Spot Healing Brush works fast, but a few simple keyboard shortcuts will speed things up even more. To zoom in on the image, hold down Ctrl+spacebar (Win) / Command+spacebar (Mac) to temporarily access the Zoom Tool and click on the spot you need to zoom in on. To zoom out, hold down Alt+spacebar (Win) / Option+spacebar (Mac) and click. To scroll around inside the image when you’re zoomed in, hold down the spacebar by itself to temporarily switch to the Hand Tool, then click and drag to move the image around.
For best results with the Spot Healing Brush, you’ll want to use a brush size that’s just slightly larger than the area you’re trying to fix, which means you’ll usually need to change your brush size quite often as you make your way from one problem spot to the next. The fastest way to change your brush size is with the left and right bracket keys on your keyboard. Press the left bracket key ( [ ) to make the brush smaller or the right bracket key ( ] ) to make it larger. Also, since the Spot Healing Brush chooses the new texture on its own, sometimes it makes a mistake. When it does, simply undo the step by pressing Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac), then try again.
For this tutorial, I’ll be using the Spot Healing Brush to quickly remove some distracting pimples from the girl’s face in the photo below, but the technique is the same no matter what it is you’re trying to remove or repair as long as the area is small enough for the Spot Healing Brush to be effective. I’ll be using Photoshop CS4 here, but any version from CS2 onward will work:
Let’s get started!
Step 1: Add A New Blank Layer
With the photo newly opened in Photoshop, we can see in the Layers palette that we currently have one layer, the Background layer, which is the layer our image is sitting on:
Even though our goal is to make the original photo look better, we still want to protect the original image, so let’s add a new blank layer above the Background layer. We’ll do all of our spot healing work on this separate layer. Click on the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers palette:
Step 2: Rename The New Layer
Photoshop adds the new blank layer above the Background layer, but by default, it names the layer “Layer 1″. That doesn’t tell us much about what the layer is being used for, so double-click directly on the layer’s name in the Layers palette and rename it spot healing. It’s not uncommon when retouching images to end up with lots of layers, and giving each one a descriptive name makes it easier to keep them organized. Press Enter (Win) / Return (Mac) when you’re done to accept the new name:
Step 3: Select The Spot Healing Brush
Select the Spot Healing Brush from the Tools palette. You’ll find it grouped in with the other healing tools. If one of the other tools is showing in place of the Spot Healing Brush, click on the tool and hold your mouse button down for a second or two until a small fly-out menu appears, then select the Spot Healing Brush from the menu:
Step 4: Select The “Sample All Layers” Option
By default, the Spot Healing Brush works only with the layer that’s currently selected in the Layers palette, which will cause us some problems if we try to use it right now since we have a blank layer selected, which means that all we’d be able to do is replace nothing with different nothing. We need to tell Photoshop to look at the image on the Background layer as well. To do that, select the Sample All Layers option in the Options Bar along the top of the screen:
Step 5: Click On The Problem Spots To Heal Them
With the Spot Healing Brush and the Sample All Layers option selected, all we need to do now is click on problem areas in the image to fix them! I’ll zoom in on an area of the girl’s face so I can see the problem spots more clearly, then I’ll move my brush cursor over one of the pimples and adjust my brush size with the left or right bracket key so it’s just slightly larger than the pimple itself:
I’ll click on the pimple with the Spot Healing Brush, and just like that, it’s gone, replaced with good texture from somewhere in the surrounding area:
As I mentioned earlier, sometimes the Spot Healing Brush can make a mistake, so if that happens, just press Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac) to undo it and try again. Each time you try again, you’ll get a different, random result. I’ll continue clearing up other pimples in the area by moving my brush over them, adjusting its size with the left or right bracket key, and clicking:
For problem areas that don’t fit easily into the round shape of the brush cursor, like small scratches or oddly-shaped skin blemishes, simply click and drag over them, again keeping the brush as small as possible. Here, we see a longer, narrow row of pimples just below the corner of the girl’s mouth:
To heal this area, I’ll click and drag a short stroke over it, starting just below the pimples and moving upward. As you drag, it will look as if you’re painting over the area with black. The color is only temporary so you can see the area you’ve covered:
When you release your mouse button, the black color disappears and the area is healed:
The direction you drag in can make a big difference in the results because Photoshop favors the area you started dragging from when it looks for replacement texture. If you can’t seem to get the Spot Healing Brush to work no matter how many times you drag over the problem, try dragging from a different direction, and whenever possible, begin dragging from the cleanest area with the largest amount of useable image data.
The Brush Modes
If you’re using the Spot Healing Brush to remove acne or other skin problems as I am here, you’ll often get even better results by changing the Brush Mode in the Options Bar from Normal (the default setting) to Lighten:
With the brush mode set to Lighten, Photoshop will only replace pixels that are darker than the good texture data. Since pimples and other skin blemishes are usually darker than normal skin tone, only the pimple or blemish itself gets replaced, leaving more of the original image surrounding it intact. If a blemish happens to be lighter than the normal skin tone, use the Darken mode. You can quickly switch between all of the brush modes for the Spot Healing Brush from your keyboard by holding down the Shift key and pressing the + or - keys.
Proximity Match and Create Texture
Directly to the right of the brush mode in the Options Bar are two additional options, Proximity Match and Create Texture. Proximity Match is the default setting and with it selected, Photoshop looks for good image data surrounding the problem area you’ve clicked on and randomly selects texture from the good area to replace the bad texture with. Sometimes though, there simply isn’t enough good image data to use and no matter how many times you try, the Spot Healing Brush fails miserably. When you find yourself in this situation, try selecting the Create Texture option. Photoshop will examine the surrounding area and create its own texture based on what it thinks the good texture should look like.
I’ll continue clicking around the image to remove the remaining pimples. Here, once again, is how the photo looked originally:
And here’s how it looks after quickly retouching it with the Spot Healing Brush:
Was I able to fix every problem with the Spot Healing Brush? No. It’s hard to see in the screenshot, but there’s a couple of larger scars on her forehead and chin that would be a better match for the regular Healing Brush. However, with nothing more than a couple of minutes of my time and a few clicks of the mouse, Photoshop’s Spot Healing Brush was able to do a fantastic job of removing the girl’s acne and leaving smooth, healthy looking skin in its place.
And there we have it!