How to use Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CC 2019

How to use Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CC 2019

Content-Aware Fill is now bigger and better than ever in Photoshop CC 2019, with powerful new features that let you remove objects or repair images like never before!

Written by Steve Patterson.

Content-Aware Fill was designed to make removing unwanted objects or distracting elements from your photos as easy as possible. Simply by drawing a selection around an area, Photoshop can instantly replace it with new image detail from the surrounding areas.

Adobe first added Content-Aware Fill back in Photoshop CS5 as a new option in the Fill dialog box. But now in Photoshop CC 2019, Content-Aware Fill gets its own separate workspace (or "taskspace" as Adobe calls it). The taskspace adds powerful new features, and gives us much more control over which "good" parts of the image are used to replace the unwanted areas. We can now resize our initial selection, rotate, scale and mirror content, preview the results, and more! And it's now easier than ever to work with Content-Aware Fill non-destructively.

In this tutorial, I'll walk you through every new feature of Content-Aware Fill and show you step-by-step how to get great results. To follow along, you'll need Photoshop CC 2019. If you're already a Creative Cloud subscriber, make sure your copy of Photoshop CC is up to date. Let's get started!

How to use Content-Aware Fill

The Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019 includes several new features designed to improve your results when removing unwanted objects from your photos. But not all of these new features are useful in every situation. So to learn how things work, we'll look at a few different examples.

Here's a quick summary of the steps to using Content-Aware Fill:

  • Step 1: Draw a selection around the object or area you want to replace
  • Step 2: Open the new Content-Aware Fill taskspace (Edit > Content-Aware Fill)
  • Step 3: Resize the sampling area with the Sampling Brush Tool
  • Step 4: Resize your initial selection with the Lasso Tool
  • Step 5: Use the Fill Settings to improve the results even further
  • Step 6: Output your results as a new layer

Let's start with the basics and cover the steps you'll use all the time. In this image, I want to remove the woman in the center (the one wearing the red top):

A photo open in Photoshop cC 2019 with an unwanted object.
The original image. Photo credit: Adobe Stock.

Draw a selection around the unwanted object

Start by drawing a selection around the object (or person) you want to remove. I'll grab the Lasso Tool from the Toolbar:

Selecting the Lasso Tool from the Toolbar in Photoshop CC 2019.
Selecting the Lasso Tool.

Then I'll draw a rough selection outline around the woman in the center. For best results, stay close to the person, but also keep a bit of space around them so Photoshop has something to work with:

Drawing a selection around the object that will be removed with Content-Aware Fill.
Drawing a selection around the area that will be removed.

Open Content-Aware Fill

With the selection in place, go up to the Edit menu in the Menu Bar and choose the new Content-Aware Fill command. Note that in Photoshop CC 2019, you can still select Content-Aware from the Fill dialog box. But you won't have access to the new taskspace or its features:

Selecting the new Content-Aware Fill command in Photoshop CC 2019
Going to Edit > Content-Aware Fill

The new Content-Aware Fill taskspace

This opens the new Content-Aware Fill taskspace. Let's take a quick tour:

The new Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019.
The new Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019.

The tools and Toolbar

Along the left of the taskspace is the Toolbar, with four tools to choose from (plus a hidden one that we'll look at in a moment):

The Content-Aware Fill toolbar in Photoshop CC 2019.
The Content-Aware Fill toolbar.

The Sampling Brush Tool

The first tool at the top is the Sampling Brush Tool, used to control which parts of the image that Photoshop can sample from when choosing content to fill in the selected area:

The Sampling Brush Tool in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019.
The Sampling Brush Tool.

The Lasso Tools

Below the Sampling Brush Tool is the Lasso Tool. And if you click and hold on the Lasso Tool, you'll find the Polygonal Lasso Tool hiding behind it, bringing the total number of tools in the toolbar to five. These tools are used to refine the initial selection we made around the unwanted object. We can add to the initial selection, or we can subtract areas from it:

The Lasso Tool and Polygonal Lasso Tool in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019.
The Lasso Tool and the Polygonal Lasso Tool (hidden by default).

The Hand Tool and Zoom Tool

And below the Sampling Brush and Lasso Tools are Photoshop's standard Hand Tool (for panning and scrolling the image) and the Zoom Tool (for zooming in and out):

The Hand Tool and Zoom Tool in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019.
The Hand and Zoom Tools.

The Options Bar

Above the Toolbar is the Options Bar, where we select various options for whichever tool is currently active:

The Options Bar in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019.
The Options Bar.

The Work Area and Preview Panel

In the center of the Content-Aware Fill taskspace is the work area (on the left) and the Preview panel (on the right). The work area is where we can adjust the size of the sampling area (where Photoshop is looking for replacement content, indicated in green), as well as the selection around the object. And the Preview panel is where we preview the results after we make changes:

The work area and Preview tab in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019.
The Work Area (left) and Preview panel (right).

The Content-Aware Fill panel

And along the right, we have the Content-Aware Fill panel, with Sampling Area Options, Fill Settings and Output Settings:

The Content-Aware Fill panel in Photoshop CC 2019.
The Content-Aware Fill panel.

Sampling Area Options

The Sampling Area options control the appearance of the sampling area overlay in the work area:

  • Click the color swatch to change the color of the overlay. The default color is green.
  • Drag the Opacity slider to adjust the transparency of the overlay. The default opacity is 50%.
  • Toggle the overlay on and off with the Show Sampling Area checkbox at the top.
  • Use the Indicates option to change whether the overlay indicates the sampling area (default) or the excluded area.
The Sampling Area options in the Content-Aware Fill panel in Photoshop CC 2019.
The Sampling Area options.

Fill Settings

The Fill Settings are powerful options that, depending on your image, can greatly improve the Content-Aware Fill results. We'll look more closely at these options later, but here's a quick summary:

  • Color Adaptation can adjust the brightness and contrast of the filled area to better match its surroundings. This can be very useful when removing objects in areas with gradual color or brightness transitions.
  • Rotation Adaptation allows Photoshop to rotate the content to better match the angle and direction. Great for curved or rotated patterns.
  • Scale lets Photoshop adjust the size of the content when removing objects in perspective.
  • And Mirror will flip the contents horizontally, perfect for symmetrical images or patterns.
The Fill Settings in the Content-Aware Fill panel in Photoshop CC 2019.
The four options in the Fill Settings.

Output Settings

And finally, we have the Output Settings which make it easy to use Content-Aware Fill non-destructively:

  • New Layer (the default setting) will output just the filled area itself to its own layer.
  • Duplicate Layer will place a duplicate version of the entire image onto a new layer.
  • And Current Layer will output the result onto the same layer you're working on. This results in a destructive edit and is not recommended.
The Output Settings for the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019
The three Output options (Current Layer, New Layer and Duplicate Layer).

Resizing the sampling area with the Sampling Brush Tool

If we look in the Preview panel, we see that my initial result with Content-Aware Fill is not great. Photoshop is using pixels from the woman on the left to fill in the area I selected in the center:

The initial result with Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CC 2019.
The initial result. Photoshop is using the wrong areas to replace the object.

Viewing the sampling area

In the work area, we see the problem. Other than my selection in the center, the entire image is covered by a green overlay. The overlay represents the sampling area where Photoshop is looking for replacement content. In this case, it's looking everywhere, which is not what we want:

The green overlay showing the current sampling area in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace.
The overlay shows the current sampling area.

Changing the color of the overlay

If you need to change the color of the overlay to something other than green, go to the Sampling Options in the Content-Aware Fill panel on the right. Click on the color swatch, and then choose a different color from the Color Picker:

How to change the color of the sampling area overlay in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace.
Click the color swatch to change the color of the overlay.

How to edit the sampling area

To improve the results with Content-Aware Fill, we can use the Sampling Brush Tool to edit the sampling area and remove parts of the image where we don't want Photoshop to look for replacement content. Select the Sampling Brush Tool from the top of the Toolbar on the left:

Selecting the Sampling Brush Tool in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace
Selecting the Sampling Brush Tool.

Then, simply paint over the areas you want to remove. I'll paint over the woman on the left to remove her from the overlay:

Editing the sampling area with the Sampling Brush Tool in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace.
Painting away part of the sampling area with the Sampling Brush Tool.

Changing your brush size

To change your brush size from the keyboard, use the left and right bracket keys ( [ and ] ). The left bracket key makes the brush smaller and the right bracket key makes it larger.

You can also adjust your brush size using the Size option in the Options Bar:

The Brush Size option for the Sampling Brush Tool
The Brush Size option in the Options Bar.

Zooming and panning the image

To zoom in on your image, press and hold Ctrl+spacebar (Win) / Command+spacebar (Mac) to temporarily access the Zoom Tool, then click where you want to zoom in. And to zoom out, hold Alt+spacebar (Win) / Option+spacebar (Mac) and click.

To pan and scroll the image, press and hold the spacebar by itself, and then click and drag the image to reposition it.

Viewing the results in the Preview panel

Let's check the results in the Preview panel. Since I've removed the woman on the left from the sampling area, Photoshop is no longer using her to fill in my selection, which is good. But now we have a new problem. Photoshop has switched over to the woman on the right, leaving me with a floating head in the center of the image:

The initial result after editing the sampling area in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace
Fixing one problem created a new one.

Removing more of the sampling area

So with the Sampling Brush Tool still selected, I'll paint over the woman on the right to remove her from the sampling area as well:

Painting away more of the sampling area with the Sampling Brush Tool in Photoshop CC 2019
Painting away more of the sampling area.

And while I'm at it, I'll also paint over the wooden posts on the left and right of the image, since I don't want Photoshop including those areas either:

Painting away any parts of the image that should not be included in the sampling area in Photoshop CC 2019
Removing anything that should not be included in the filled area.

How to add to the sampling area with the Sampling Brush Tool

By default, the Sampling Brush Tool will remove any parts of the image you paint over from the sampling area. To add to the sampling area, press and hold the Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) key on your keyboard. The minus sign (-) in the center of the brush cursor will change to a plus sign (+). Paint over the areas you want to add, and then release the Alt / Option key.

You can also switch between Add and Remove mode from the Options Bar. But since you'll spend most of your time removing areas from the overlay, the keyboard shortcut is faster:

How to add to the sampling area with the Sampling Brush Tool in Photoshop CC 2019
The Add and Remove icons in the Options Bar.

The progress indicators in the Preview panel

After you make a change in the work area, it can take some time for the Preview panel to fully update. While you're waiting, you'll see two progress icons in the lower right corner of the Preview panel.

The first icon that appears (little circles rotating around the center) means that Photoshop is working on your changes. And after a few moments, a warning icon will appear beside it. The warning icon means that you're currently seeing a low resolution preview, and Photoshop is still working on the high resolution version. Both icons disappear when the high resolution version is displayed:

The progress icons in the lower right of the Content-Aware Fill's Preview panel
The progress icons in the lower right of the Preview panel.

Previewing the results

The Preview panel shows that things are definitely improving. But again, we have another new problem. Photoshop has replaced part of the grass in the center with some of the plants and trees in the background. The trick to solving problems like this is to scan the image looking for the spot where the unwanted pixels are coming from. In this case, they're from an area just to the left of the woman on the right:

Looking for the source of the unwanted pixels to remove them from the sampling area
Look for the source of the unwanted pixels.

I'll paint over that section to remove it from the sampling area:

Painting with the Sampling Brush Tool to remove the source of the problem from the sampling area
Painting over the source of the problem.

And now, the Preview panel shows a much better result. It's still not perfect, but it's greatly improved from our initial result, and light years ahead of what Content-Aware Fill was capable of in the past:

The much improved Content-Aware Fill result after using the Sampling Brush Tool in Photoshop CC 2019
The Sampling Brush Tool takes Content-Aware Fill to a whole new level.

Resizing the initial selection with the Lasso Tools

Along with adjusting the size of the sampling area, the new Content-Aware Fill taskspace also lets us resize our initial selection around the object using either of the Lasso Tools (the standard Lasso Tool or the Polygonal Lasso Tool nested behind it). I'll select the standard Lasso Tool from the Toolbar:

Selecting the Lasso Tool in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019
Selecting the Lasso Tool.

The selection modes (New, Add, Remove, Intersect)

By default, Photoshop will add areas to the current selection. To remove part of the selection, press and hold Alt (Win) / Option (Mac) as you drag with the tool. You can also switch between modes (New selection, Add to selection, Remove from selection, and Intersect with selection) in the Options Bar:

The New, Add, Remove, and Intersect with selection options in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace
From left to right: New, Add, Remove, and Intersect with selection.

Adding to the initial selection

In the work area, I'll draw a selection around that patch of rough grass and dirt near the bottom to add it to the area that Photoshop will replace:

Adding to the initia selection with the Lasso Tool in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace
Adding to the initial selection with the Lasso Tool.

And in the Preview panel, we see that Photoshop did a pretty good job of replacing that area with new content. Again, it's not perfect. There's a little smudge on the right next to the woman's foot, along with some repeating patterns. I could remove those repeating sections from the sampling area using the Sampling Brush Tool. Or, I could just leave them for now and remove them later with the Clone Stamp Tool:

The area added to the selection is replaced with new content
The area added to the selection is replaced with new content.

How to undo and redo steps with Content-Aware Fill

Photoshop gives us multiple undos in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace. So if you don't like the result after making a change, you can easily undo it.

  • Press Ctrl+Z (Win) / Command+Z (Mac) to move backwards through your history, one step at a time.
  • Press Shift+Ctrl+Z (Win) / Shift+Command+Z (Mac) to redo steps.

You can also undo and redo steps from the Edit menu:

The Undo and Redo commands in the Edit menu
The Undo and Redo commands in the Edit menu.

I'll undo my last step, and now the image is back to the way it looked before:

The image after undoing the previous Content-Aware Fill step
The image after undoing the last step.

The Fill Settings in the Content-Aware Fill panel

We've seen that the Sampling Brush Tool on its own can greatly improve the initial Content-Aware Fill result. But it doesn't end there. Depending on your image, you can dramatically improve things even further using the Fill Settings (Color Adaptation, Rotation Adaptation, Scale, and Mirror) in the Content-Aware Fill panel. Let's look at a few examples to see how these options work:

The Fill Settings options (Color Adaptation, Rotation Adaptation, Scale and Mirror) in the Content-Aware Fill panel
The four Fill Settings options.

Color Adaptation

The first option, Color Adaptation, lets Photoshop adjust the brightness and contrast of the filled area to better match its surroundings. This can be very useful when replacing an object in an area with subtle color and brightness transitions. Color Adaptation is turned on by default and set to, well, Default. But there are three other settings (High, Very High, and None) to choose from as well:

The Color Adaptation settings in the Content-Aware Fill panel
The Color Adaptation settings.

In this image, I want to remove the windmill and leave only the sunrise in the background. I'll go ahead and draw a selection outline around the windmill:

Selecting the Windmill to remove it with Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CC 2019
Selecting the windmill to remove it with Content-Aware Fill. Photo credit: Adobe Stock.

Then I'll open the Content-Aware Fill taskspace by going up to the Edit menu and choosing Content-Aware Fill:

Selecting the new Content-Aware Fill command in Photoshop CC 2019
Going to Edit > Content-Aware Fill

Color Adaptation results comparison

And here's a comparison of the results I get using different Color Adaptation settings. On the left is the result with Color Adaptation set to None, where we can clearly see the problem. The filled area looks very harsh against the subtle gradients of the sunrise.

In the center is the Default setting. Here things look much better, but we can still see blotches just above the horizon.

And on the right is the much smoother result with Color Adaptation set to Very High. The result you'll get from Color Adaptation will depend on the amount of detail in your image. For areas of very high detail, the Default or None settings tend to work best. For smoother areas, try High or Very High:

A comparison of the Color Adaptation results in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019
The result with Color Adaptation set to None (left), Default (center) and Very High (right).

Rotation Adaptation

The second option in the Fill Settings is Rotation Adaptation. This lets Photoshop rotate the contents in the filled area, useful when removing an object from an area with curved or rotating patterns. Rotation Adaptation is set to None by default, but you can choose Low, Medium, High, or Full:

The Rotation Adaptation settings in the Content-Aware Fill panel
The Rotation Adaptation settings.

In this image, I want to remove the ladybug from the flower. But with the flower rotating around its center, it might be a challenge. I'll select the ladybug, and then I'll open the image in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace:

Selecting the ladybug to remove it from the flower with Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CC 2019
Selecting the ladybug to remove it. Photo credit: Adobe Stock.

Rotation Adaptation results comparison

With Rotation Adaptation set to None (left), the result looks terrible. Part of the flower's center is now sticking out to the side. But with Rotation Adaptation set to High (right), Photoshop was able to rotate the textures to match the rotation of the flower:

A comparison of the Rotation Adaptation results in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019
The result with Rotation Adaptation set to None (left) and High (right).

Scale

The third option in the Fill Settings is Scale, which lets Photoshop resize the content in the filled area to better match the perspective of the surrounding textures. Scale can be useful when replacing objects in images that were shot on an angle. By default, Scale is turned off:

The Rotation Adaptation settings in the Content-Aware Fill panel
The Scale option.

In this image, I want to remove the reflective signboard in the center of the brick wall:

Selecting the signboard to remove it from the flower with Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CC 2019
Selecting the signboard to remove it. Photo credit: Adobe Stock.

Scale results comparison

With Scale turned off (left), the result again looks terrible. Photoshop just filled the selection with random parts of the wall. But with Scale turned on (right), the textures are resized to better align them with the perspective. It's not perfect, but it does give me a much better starting point:

A comparison of the Scale results in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019
The result with Scale off (left) and on (right).

Mirror

And finally, the Mirror option can flip textures horizontally from one side of the image to the other. Mirror is great for removing or repairing objects that are part of a symmetrical pattern. By default, Mirror is turned off:

The Mirror option in the Filter Settings in the Content-Aware Fill panel
The Mirror option.

In this final image, I want to repair the missing left corner of the butterfly's wing. I'll draw a selection outline around the general area where the missing part should be, and then I'll open the image in the Content-Aware Fill taskspace:

Selecting the missing section of the butterfly wing to repair it with Content-Aware Fill
Drawing a selection around the area that needs to be repaired.

Mirror results comparison

With Mirror turned off (left), all Photoshop can do is copy and paste a section of the wing into the missing area. But with Mirror turned on (right), almost like magic, Photoshop was able to take the corner of the wing from the right side of the butterfly and flip it onto the left side. Since the butterfly is rotated on an angle, I also set Rotation Adaptation (which we looked at earlier) to Full, resulting in a near perfect repair:

The butterfly wing is repaired using Content-Aware Fill's Mirror option in Photoshop CC 2019
The Mirror option, along with Rotation Adaptation, has no trouble repairing the wing.

The Output Settings

When you're done editing the image, use the Output Settings in the Content-Aware Fill panel to output your final result back into the document. The default setting, New Layer, will output just the filled area itself onto a new layer above the image. And Duplicate Layer will output a copy of the entire image, including the edits you made, onto a new layer. Either of these options is a good choice, since they both allow you to work non-destructively.

The third option, Current Layer, will replace your original image with the edited version, resulting in a destructive edit. Avoid this option whenever possible:

The Output Settings for the Content-Aware Fill taskspace in Photoshop CC 2019
The three Output options (Current Layer, New Layer and Duplicate Layer).

To accept your edits and close the Content-Aware Fill taskspace, click OK. Or click Cancel to close the taskspace without saving your changes:

Accepting the changes and closing the Content-Aware Fill taskspace by clicking OK
Accept your changes and close the taskspace by clicking OK.

And there we have it! That's how to remove objects or repair parts of your image using Content-Aware Fill in Photoshop CC 2019! Check out our Photoshop Basics section for more tutorials! And don' forget, all of our tutorials are now available to download as PDFs!

Be the first the know when new tutorials are added!