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Image of a Female White Faced Saki at the Smithsonian National Zoo in DC

The above image is my guinea pig (okay, this is not a guinea pig, it is a female white-faced saki monkey from South America) which had a lot of problems in the image.  There was a plastic enclosure in the Mammals Exhibit at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, DC, and the fact that she was moving around a lot – many people were also watching her so it was a bit of a crazy exhibit when I took this image.

This week I decided to write about something that always confuses me – when do I want to use the Patch Tool (or Healing Brush/Spot Healing Brush for that matter) versus the favorite Clone Stamp Tool? I know most people think the Healing Brush Tool is mainly used for retouching, but it can be used on any type of photo since it actually acts very similar to the Clone Stamp Tool. The Patch Tool is the Healing Brush on steroids, and the Spot Healing Brush uses Content/Aware technology, but is still similar to the Patch Tool set to Content-Aware. Therefore I decided to use the Patch Tool as the main example since all three tools are very similar.

There are two ways to use the Patch Tool by either setting in the Options Bar the Patch drop down to Normal or Content-Aware. This makes a huge difference in how this tool works.

Normal Patch:

When set to Normal Patch, a stamped or composite layer must be placed on top (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E or also called “the Claw”) since the changes cannot be made on a New Layer above. How do you know this? In the Options Bar there is no Sample All Layers drop-down or check box. These settings are recommended by several PS pros for the Options Bar: Patch Normal, Source highlighted, and Diffusion set to 5.

  • The default settings are set up with the Source highlighted which means the Lasso Tool selection is placed over the bad area, then drag it to the good texture area and PS will try to match this selection with the color and lighting just outside the bad area you selected. So basically, just select a bad area by dragging a selection around it and drag to an area you want it to look like. Voila! This Tool can be used to clean up very large areas – much faster than the Healing Tool.
  • Change to Destination if you want to select the good area and move it over the bad spot.
  • Transparent Box: Use if you want to copy the texture but not its content. This can be cool if you want to copy an area that is a little more sharp (like you can do with the Clone Stamp) – use the Edit -> Fade to blend in the texture properly. Adobe says it works best for solid or gradient backgrounds with clearly distinct textures such as a bird in a blue sky. I tend to turn this on and off when working with some detail areas.
  • Diffusion drop-down menu: Adobe says “The Healing Brush, Spot Healing Brush and Patch Tool in Photoshop have a Diffusion slider which controls how quickly the pasted region adapts to the surrounding image.” Set Diffusion to 1 and it smears less – use low slider amounts on images with grain or fine details; and to 7 smears the most – use higher values on smooth images.
  • Repair an area using a Pattern: Select the Patch Tool and drag in the image to select the area to be repaired – select a pattern from the Pattern drop-down list and click Use Pattern. This is useful if some texture needs to be added to some skin (use a gray grainy texture) or in over-exposed areas that would benefit with some type of texture added.

Content-Aware Patch:

Since there is a Sample All Layers on the Options Bar, a New Layer can be used to do the changes. This being said, some of the PS pros say do the changes on a duplicate layer as better results are achieved. It synthesizes nearby content for seamless blending with the surrounding content.

  • Structure: Set to 1, the patch adheres very loosely to the existing image patterns while a 7 adheres very strongly to the existing image patterns.
  • Color is for applying the color-blending to the patch. A Color value of 10 applies the most color blending.
  • Select an area to replace on the image.

A Couple Tricks to Do:

  • If you do a patch and it is too sharp or bright, before doing anything else, go to Edit -> Fade and lower the opacity to match. it did this all over the fur on this image to match the effect correctly. I actually have set up my F4 key in my Keyboard Shortcuts to use for the Fade key. Very handy to use with any brush and tool effects.
  • If the patch did not turn out good, go back in the History Panel to before the Patch Selection was made.
  • Can make a selection with any selecting tools prior to choosing the Patch Tool – the selection will remain to use for patching the selected area.
  • To use the Normal Patch non-destructively, I learned this nifty trick from a short video by Jwalt Photography called Patch Tool Edit on New Layer – basically what he is doing is duplicating the layer twice, choosing the Patch Tool to select the problem area, dragging to area with better texture, right clicking outside the selection and choosing inverse, and finally pressing delete. Now the corrected area is on its own New Layer and is non-destructive.

Screenshot of a White-Faced Saki monkey
Here is the original image for this monkey, after Lightroom! Not too impressive. I loved the eye contact with the monkey so I did not want to get rid of the image. The plastic barrier in front of her had all kinds of marks and distortions. The Patch Tool was used in the Normal mode to add more texture to the right side of the monkey where the plastic was problem and to remove the white out-of-focus branch that ran through her. The image was initially sharpened by using the Luminar Flex filters like Structure, Detail Enhancer and Microstructure. Then the Patch Tool was used on a stamped layer on top. This took several iterations – it is not always an easy process but by not using too large a section, the areas that were not clear could be made more sharp. Sometimes the Transparent box was checked and sometimes not, depending on the area. Totally a trial and error, but it did look better than just using a Clone Stamp since the Patch Tool matches the tones much better. A Color Lookup Adjustment Layer helped darken the background and a vignette was used to emphasize the face. And yes, a little painting was done to fill in places. The large white blob on the upper left was removed using the Content Aware Patch set to Structure 3 and Color 0 and it was pretty fast to match to the tree trunk already there. Definitely experiment with both types of patching – one may look better than the other and remember the settings in the Options Bar will make a difference on the selection.

How Do You Know which One is Best to Use?

Bottom line: Anytime there are edges present in the area to be changed, use the Clone Stamp Tool. You can always clone out the areas where the edges are, then switch to the Patch Tool (or Healing Brush or Spot-Healing Brush) to finish up the rest of the clean up. Just be sure the Clone Stamp Tool is used to remove or move the sharp edges. This is way too simple of an answer since I just cannot come up with an image that does not require a little final tweak with the Spot Healing Brush or Clone Stamp Tool even though the Clone Stamp or Patch Tool did the heavy lifting. I guess that is why PS has given us so many choices! Just do not forget that the Patch Tool can give some really good results – it can quit a life-saver!

Hope you try out the Patch tool – it is really easy to overlook, but can be so useful. Try using it when cleaning up a difficult image. Have a great week!…..Digital Lady Syd

Digital Lady Syd Related Blogs:
Creating a Healing Brush Background Texture

4 responses

  1. Ann Mackay

    Thank you for this! I use the patch too so infrequently that I have to try to work out how to use it every time – now I can just reread this and I’ll be all set! 🙂

    08/25/2019 at 5:31 pm

  2. I use all the tools you mention here quite extensively in my workflow. Can’t live without them!

    08/30/2019 at 8:18 pm

  3. Great tips! I use the Patch Tool on the overexposed big areas, and animal fur – like in your image. Not my favorite tool, but sometimes it is a needed help. Love the kisses-blowing monkey 🙂

    09/02/2019 at 10:22 am

  4. Pingback: DIGITAL LADY SYD’S BEST PHOTOSHOP TECHNIQUES FROM 2019 | Digital Lady Syd's Fun Photoshop Blog

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