Remove Acne, Skin Blemishes With The Spot Healing Brush
Written by Steve Patterson. In this tutorial, we'll learn how to use the Spot Healing Brush in Photoshop to quickly and easily remove acne and other minor skin blemishes from an image.
The Spot Healing Brush is basically a texture replacement tool. It takes damaged or unwanted texture from one area and replaces it with good texture from another area. It then blends the good texture in with the problem area's original tone and color to produce seamless results.
It works a lot like the regular Healing Brush in Photoshop, but what makes the Spot Healing Brush such an amazing and time-saving tool is that it does what it does with almost no effort from us!
If you're familiar with the Healing Brush, you know that for it to work, we need to tell the Healing Brush which area of good texture to use to replace the bad texture. 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 good 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 learn how to use it to quickly and effortlessly remove pimples and other minor skin blemishes, but the Spot Healing Brush also works great at removing things like dust, dirt and mold, and repairing small scratches. Let's see how it works.
This tutorial is for Photoshop CS6 (the version I'm using here) and is also fully compatible with Photoshop CC. If you're using Photoshop CS5, you can still follow along, or you may wish to check out the original version of this tutorial. Photoshop CS4 and earlier users will also want to check out the original version.
Making The Spot Healing Brush Even Faster With Keyboard Shortcuts
The Spot Healing Brush works fast, but learning a few simple keyboard shortcuts before we begin will speed things up even more. To zoom in on the image, press and hold Ctrl+spacebar (Win) / Command+spacebar (Mac) to temporarily access the Zoom Tool, then click on the spot where you need to zoom in. To zoom out, hold down Alt+spacebar (Win) / Option+spacebar (Mac) and click. To pan around inside the image while you're zoomed in, hold down the spacebar by itself to temporarily switch to Photoshop's Hand Tool, then click and drag to move the image around.
For best results with the Spot Healing Brush, you'll want your brush to be slightly larger than the area you're trying to fix. This 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 ( [ ) repeatedly to make the brush smaller or the right bracket key ( ] ) to make it larger. Also, since the Spot Healing Brush chooses the replacement texture on its own, sometimes it makes a mistake. When it does, simply undo your last step by pressing Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac) on your keyboard, 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 method 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. Here's the photo I'll be working with (acne on face photo from Shutterstock):
And here's what she'll look like when we're done:
This tutorial is part of our Portrait Retouching collection. Let's get started!
Step 1: Add A New Blank Layer
Even though our goal is to make the photo look better, we still want to protect the original, 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. Press and hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard and click the New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel:
Pressing and holding the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key while clicking the New Layer icon tells Photoshop to first open the New Layer dialog box where we can name the new layer before it's added. Let's name the layer "Spot Healing". Click OK when you're done to close out of the dialog box:
If we look again in the Layers panel, we see the new Spot Healing layer sitting above the image:
Step 2: Select The Spot Healing Brush
Select the Spot Healing Brush from the Tools panel. You'll find it grouped in with Photoshop's other healing tools. If one of the other tools is showing in place of the Spot Healing Brush, simply right-click (Win) / Control-click (Mac) on the tool and then choose the Spot Healing Brush from the fly-out menu:
Step 3: Select The "Sample All Layers" Option
By default, the Spot Healing Brush works only with the layer that's currently selected in the Layers panel. Since our currently-selected layer (the Spot Healing layer) is blank, that would cause us some problems. 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 4: Select "Content-Aware"
Next, we want to make sure that the Type option is set to Content-Aware which it should be by default. The Content-Aware feature, which was first added to the Spot Healing Brush in CS5, allows Photoshop to make more intelligent decisions when choosing good replacement texture for the problem area you've clicked on:
Step 5: Click On The Problem Spots To Heal Them
With the Spot Healing Brush in hand, and "Sample All Layers" and "Content-Aware" 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 using the left and right bracket keys so that the cursor (the black circular outline) is 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 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 result. I'll continue clearing up other pimples in the area by moving my brush over them, adjusting its size with the left and right bracket keys, and clicking:
Let's move down to her chin where we see some larger problem areas:
To retouch these areas, I'll start by clicking on the smaller, isolated pimples to heal them first and get them out of the way:
Then, rather than trying to fix a large area with a super wide brush and a single click, I'll approach and retouch it in smaller sections, beginning from the outside and making my way inward. Along with clicking the Spot Healing Brush, you can also click and drag in short strokes. As you drag, your brush stroke will appear black:
Release your mouse button and Photoshop heals the area with surrounding texture:
I'll continue clicking and dragging over the area one small section at a time, going back over any problem spots as needed with additional clicks, and after just a couple of minutes worth of effort, Photoshop was able to do a pretty good job:
I'll do the same thing for the area on the other side, using a small brush and a series of clicks and short brush strokes to tackle the area a little at a time. Here's the result, again after just a couple of minutes worth of effort:
There's one larger problem area remaining, and it's directly under her nose:
Once again, I'll start by clicking on the individual, isolated pimples to heal them, keeping my brush just slightly larger than the pimple itself:
Then I'll use a combination of clicking and dragging with a small brush to heal the remaining area:
The area is now pimple-free, with healthy skin texture in its place:
The Lighten Brush Mode
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, try the Darken mode instead. 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.
For comparison, here once again is what the photo looked like originally:
And here's our final result: