Brush Tools

All of the these tools for replacing content are accessed from the same toolbar icon. The default is the Spot Healing Brush. Right-click on the wee arrow at the bottom right of this icon to display the options.

All 5 tools have different options which appear in the Tool Options bar under the main menu at the top of your screen.

I’ve only covered the Spot Healing Brush in detail as the others work in a similar way. I also find the other tools less useful.

Spot Healing Brush

This is very useful for sensor spots, telegraph wires, birds and other smaller items you wish to remove. 


Brush Settings: Click the arrow to open the brush properties.

The size you set will depend upon what you are trying to replace. You can also adjust the brush size on the fly by using the [square bracket] keys. [ = decrease brush size; ] = increase brush size.

I always set hardness at 0% with this tool as it creates a softer blend with the background. Hardness at 100% would create a very clearly defined edge.

The roundness and angle can both be adjusted to match more closely the area you are trying to replace. It’s often quite useful to ‘squeeze’ the brush shape by adjusting roundness to match the shape of the object you wish to replace.

Spacing and Size can be safely ignored.

Brush Settings

Mode: Several modes are offered. Normal is the most useful. Experiment with the others to see the difference in effect. For example, the Lighten mode will only replace pixels that are darker than the original pixels.

Type: This determines the method Photoshop uses to replace content.

  • Content-Aware: this analyses the surrounding area and calculates the best match for the replacement.
  • Create Texture: this also analyses the surrounding area, but creates a texture to make the replacement.
  • Proximity Match: similar to content-aware but not so smart!

Mode Options

Of the three options, Content-Aware is the most useful. If this isn’t effective, try the other two methods.

Sample All Layers: Tick this if you have multiple layers.

Angle: This does exactly the same as the angle in brush settings.

Pressure: This only applies if you are using a graphics tablet and a stylus.

Using the Spot Healing Brush

There’s no hard and fast rule as to how best to use this brush. What follows are techniques I’ve found useful. You may find a different approach works better.

It’s possible to use the healing brush directly on an image layer. This works but is destructive in that it changes pixels permanently. It’s also possible to create an empty layer directly above the image layer and apply the Spot Healing Brush to this layer. (Make sure to check ‘Sample All Layers’ if you use this approach.) Although this is non-destructive, it’s not always convenient to have your image data on different layers. As you will see later in the course, it’s possible to merge the two layers once you’re happy with the result.

Whichever approach you use, select the Spot Healing Brush and paint over the content you wish to remove.

For something like a sensor spot, one or two clicks over the spot will usually remove it very effectively. Generally it’s a good idea to use a brush which is slightly bigger than the content you want to replace.

For things like telegraph wires and larger objects, hold the mouse button down and drag over the content. In this case select a brush size which is appropriate for painting over a larger area. In the case of telegraph wires this would be big enough to cover a section of wire but certainly not the full length.

Tip: To make it easier to locate sensor spots (or other blemishes), add a Levels or Curves adjustment layer and turn up the contrast massively. Any spots will jump out at you. These can then be removed by ‘brushing’ on the layer below. Don’t forget to delete the adjustment layer when you’re finished.

Healing Brush

This works in a similar way to the Spot Healing Brush but offers a number of other possibilities:

  • you can identify a source area which will be used to replace unwanted pixels. Hold down ALT and click on the area you want to use as a sample.
  • the brush can be Aligned which means the source will move as you paint over an area. Unaligned and it will sample from the same source area.

This brush can be useful when the Spot Healing Brush introduces unwanted content in the replacement.

It is very similar in use to the Clone Stamp Tool described in the next section but this tool will only replace colour while leaving shadows and highlights unaffected. The Clone Stamp Tool gives an exact match of the source area.

Patch Brush

The Patch Tool allows you to identify the area you wish to replace and then a different area to replace it. To use this brush:

  • select the layer you want to work with
  • select the Patch Tool
  • Choose Content-Aware mode in the Tool Options bar.
  • draw a lasso marquee around the area you wish to replace. This creates a selection.
  • drag the mouse away from this area. A second marquee area will appear and move with your mouse. You will see that the content in the original area is replaced by the content at the new position of the marquee. Move to an area that has suitable content to replace your selection.
  • release the mouse when you are happy with the result. Photoshop will attempt to blend the result so it creates a seamless replacement.
  • press CTRL D at any time to deselect the lasso area and choose a different area to replace.

The numbers in the Structure and Colour boxes in the Tool Options bar determine the faithfulness of the patch. Higher numbers give a more precise copy. 

Content Aware Move

This tool can be used to move or copy an area of your image.

  • Select the Content Aware Move tool.
  • Select the Move or Extend Mode.
  • Draw a lasso marquee around the area you wish to move or copy.
  • Drag the marquee to its new location. (You can also copy to different layers or even different images.)
  • In Extend mode, a copy of the original content will be placed in this new location. Photoshop will attempt to blend in the edges. If you have selected Move, Photoshop will also attempt to remove the original content using Content-Aware Fill.
  • If you have ‘Transform on Drop’ selected, a box with handles will appear around the copied content. You can use these handles to scale or rotate this content.

As with the Patch Too, the numbers in the Structure and Colour boxes in the Tool Options bar determine the faithfulness of the copy. Higher numbers give a more precise copy.

Red Eye

This phenomenon usually occurs when a flash photo is taken of a person’s face in low ambient light. The pupil enlarges in low light and the flash reflects on the back of the eye which contains many red blood vessels. There are several ways this can be mitigated when taking photos but it is also relatively easy to fix in Photoshop.

  • Select the Red Eye tool.
  • Click on the red pupil of any affected eye.
  • Alternatively drag a box around the eye and Photoshop will try to fix it automatically.

In most cases Photoshop will fix this instantly by darkening the redness. In some cases it won’t do a good job and, if this happens, try adjusting the values in the Pupil Size and Darken Amount boxes. A little bit of fiddling will nearly always result in a much improved image.

Have a Go - Spot Healing Brush
  • Download this sample file.
  • Open it in Photoshop.
  • Add a Levels Adjustment layer. If you’re not sure how to do this, check out the Levels Tool.
  • To increase contrast, pull the black slider well in from the left and the White slider well in from the right.
  • Select the background layer.
  • Use the Spot Healing brush to remove the various blemishes in the sky. (Yes, it’s full of nasty stuff!) You may find it useful to zoom into the image.
  • Try the other brush tools to remove any remaining blemishes.
  • When you are finished, delete the Levels adjustment layer.

Is the image ‘clean’ now?