How to Use Retouching and Restoration in Adobe Photoshop

In Brief...

Restoration of images is achieved by using various brushes and tools, including the Spot Healing Brush, Clone Stamp Tool, and Healing Brush.

This feature works the same in all recent versions of Adobe Photoshop: CS5, CS6, and Creative Cloud (CC).


  1. Select Photography from the Workspace menu at the top right of your screen. You should now see the retouching tools on the Toolbar.
    Retouching Tools

  2. Because you are going to be altering pixels in the image, your next step will be to duplicate the layer. Go to the Layers Panel, right-click (PC) / Control-click (Mac) on the Background layer, and choose Duplicate Layer.

  3. We'll start by repairing the spot damage in our example. To eliminate spots, select the Spot Healing Brush Tool Spot Healing Brush. Make your brush size large enough to cover the damage, but don't oversize it.

  4. Go to the Options Bar and make sure Content-Aware is turned on.
    Tool Options

  5. Go back to the damaged area and click and release on each spot.
    Remove Damage

  6. Now select the Clone Stamp Tool Clone Stamp Tool from the Toolbar. We'll use this to repair the crease in this image. The Clone Stamp Tool is brush based, so your bracket keys work for increasing and decreasing the brush size. The way this tool works is, you sample on an area and then paint that sample in a different spot. As a demonstration, make your brush size very large, go to your image, and hover over the area you wish to sample (we'll use her eye in our image). Hold down the Alt (PC)/Option (Mac) key and click and release on the sample area. This is how you sample.

  7. Release the Alt (PC)/Option (Mac) key and move your cursor to where you wish to paint (we've chosen the left of her face). Click, hold, and drag down a short distance. Notice that there is a preview in your brush cursor. Also note that as you are dragging, but before you release the mouse, a crosshairs appears at the point where you sampled and travels downward as you move your mouse. When you've painted a short distance, release your mouse. Go to Edit > Undo, or press Ctrl (PC)/Command (Mac)+Z to undo the clone.
    Clone Stamp Demo

  8. Go to the Options Bar and click the Brush Presets button. Change the Size to meet your needs and set the Hardness to 0. You may use the keyboard shortcuts to do this, but make sure this is your starting size. You'll want to use the bracket key shortcuts from here on.
    Clone Stamp Starting Spec

  9. Now we'll repair the crease in our image. To repair a crease, position your cursor a little to the left of the crease in a clean area of the image, where you'll get a good color match. Press Alt (PC)/Option (Mac) and click to sample. Release the key.

  10. Position your cursor over the top of the crease, parallel to where you sampled, then click, hold, and drag downward.

  11. If you see a line of tonal demarcation where you have cloned, go to the Options Bar and change the Opacity to 60 (you may need to adjust this number to suit your image). Position your cursor in a good area and resample by Alt (PC)/Option (Mac)-clicking again. Move your cursor to the area you wish to blend and paint over it. When you have finished this section of your image, reset the Opacity in the Options Bar to 100 to ensure the next time you use them they are back to basic settings.

  12. Retouching requires you to carefully analyze the image as you work. The trick is to resample often to get the best tonal matches. Experiment with the damaged area. Look closely at the colors surrounding the area to determine the best sampling area. Don't try to do it all at once, and don't go right up to the edge of contrast areas or the photo border. It's fine to leave some small flaws. They can be cleaned up later.

  13. Look at our image sample. Don't forget that reducing the Opacity can help with blending.

  14. Now we'll use the Healing Brush Tool to retouch the patterned areas in the image. Go to the Toolbar, click and hold on the Spot Healing Brush Tool, and select the Healing Brush Tool.
    Healing Brush Tool

  15. The Healing Brush Tool works similarly to the Clone Stamp Tool. It is also brush based. You sample by Alt (PC)/Option (Mac) clicking and then you paint. The major differences are that the Healing Brush Tool has some content-aware capability built in, and after you've painted and released your mouse, when you move to a different area, it will pick up from your original sampling point unless you resample on a different spot.

  16. Move to the patterned area in your image. In our example, the damage consists of smudges on the striped wallpaper. Hold down the Alt (PC)/Option (Mac) key, sample on a clean area, then release your key and mouse.
    Sample with Healing Brush

  17. Move to the damage and watch the preview in your cursor closely. When the pattern is aligned, click and release.

  18. Work through all the damaged areas, clicking and releasing repeatedly as you line up the pattern with your cursor preview, until the pattern is clean.
    Damage Eliminated

  19. Now we'll move to the next damaged area (the bottom of our image) and zoom in. Restoring an image often takes a combination of techniques. First we'll clean up some of the minor flaws using the Spot Healing Brush Tool again to avoid duplicating them when working on the larger areas.
    Remove Specks

  20. Select the Rectangular Marquee Tool Rectangular Marquee Tool to isolate any large area you want to retouch. Draw a marquee around most of the largest flaw, but do not include the photo border.

  21. Select the Healing Brush Tool Healing Brush. Alt (PC)/Option (Mac) click to sample in a clean area above the marquee.
    Isolate Area for Retouhing

  22. Move into the marquee, then click, hold, and drag from left to right. Work from top to bottom or left to right depending on damage pattern, over the isolated area, dragging across the marquee. The area will probably become lighter at first. Keep going over the area repeatedly, dragging until you have a good match.
    Area Restored

  23. Fine details can also be repaired with the Healing Brush Tool. Just sample above the damage, then, watching your cursor preview, click and release repeatedly to restore the area. Don't forget to adjust your brush size, as needed. If you want to isolate this area, select the Polygonal Lasso Tool Polygonal Lasso Tool and draw a marquee around the flaw.

  24. Continue to retouch your image, alternating between the Healing Brush, Spot Healing Brush, and Clone Stamp tools.

Author: Tracy Berry

Tracy has been a senior graphic designer/programmer, instructor, and consultant since 1993 and has developed hundreds of logos, marketing materials, websites, and multimedia solutions for customers worldwide, including involvement in large corporate software rollouts. She has helped many organizations optimize and streamline data solutions. She teaches both onsite and online courses and has her CTT (Certified Technical Trainer) certification. Tracy specializes in teaching graphics, desktop publishing, web design, reporting/productivity applications, as well as the creation of online courses with software from leading vendors.