Photoshop for Beginners; Fingerprints are not Beauty Spots!

In this next edition of ‘Photoshop for Beginners’, we’re going to take a look at some more of the most commonly used tools in photoshop; the spot healing tool, the clone tool, and the patch tool. Using a combination of these tools, you’ll be able to remove any and all unsightly marks from your photographs to give them a more professional finish.

If you don’t have photoshop, you can probably still follow along with this tutorial as most image editing software has similar tools. The only thing they probably won’t have is PS’s brilliant ‘patch tool’; this tutorial will teach you how to use a variety of tools though, so just skip that little section :). If you need some help finding a free image editing program to use, try taking a look at this post for my personal (unpaid) recommendations.

Unsightly Fingerprints can ruin and otherwise lovely photograph

Unsightly fingerprints can ruin and otherwise lovely photograph

Yikes! What on earth are those ugly marks on the right hand side of that photograph? They’re certainly not beauty marks, that’s for sure! No, those are a combination of fingerprints and the dreaded lens glare which can so often ruin otherwise perfect photos. There’s no need to despair however, because I’m going to teach you a whole host of ways to combat this problem with a variety of different tools in your PS arsenal 🙂

So, which of these fantastic editing tools are we going to look at first?

1. The Crop Tool

The crop tool? Really? For fixing smudge marks? I know it sounds silly, but actually the crop tool is one of the simplest ways to get rid of unwanted marks in your photographs. Most fingerprint smudges, for example, are often found at the edges of the image, and really the quickest way to get rid of them is simply crop the image in a little. So, let’s take a little look at how PS’s crop tool works.

Firstly, let’s locate the crop tool. No matter which program you’re using, the crop tool should look a little something like this;

The crop icon

The crop icon

In photoshop, it can be found on the main toolbar on the left; in other programs the tool bar may be at the top of the screen. Either way, you’ll find this tool on the same bar as the paintbrush. Once you’ve selected this icon, in photoshop you will now see this new toolbar at the top of your image;

The crop tool's option bar

The crop tool’s option bar

The most important thing on this option bar (and one of the very few things you’ll ever need to change) is that little drop down menu that currently says ‘Original Ratio’. If yours doesn’t say original ratio, click on the drop down menu and select this option.

What this means is that PS will keep the length and width of your photograph equal; if you cut some pixels from the bottom of the image, it’ll cut an equal amount from the sides to keep it even. If you select ‘unconstrained’ from this drop down menu, it’ll let you crop your image to any proportions, and if you’re not careful you may end up with an elongated image that is far too long and thin and looks awful. Obviously if you’re going for a specific look you can choose this option, but for now just keep it on ‘original ratio’.

Okay, so now just crop your image by clicking and dragging the little markers at the corners of your photograph; croppic

Now, as you can see in the image above, I could choose to crop my image down to this size and remove the awful smudges from the right hand side of my image in just one step. If this solves the problem for you, great! Once you’re happy with your crop, go ahead and click on the little tick that you can see on the far right of the options tool bar at the top of the screen;

tickObviously the symbol on the far left is the undo button, and the icon in the middle will cancel the crop tool altogether. I’m going to cancel my crop, as I still need the smudges in the image to be able to show you some other methods of removing fingerprints from your photos. So, if Cropping your image hasn’t completely removed the defects, try moving on to…

2. The Spot Healing and Healing brushes

Now, if you’re in a program which isn’t Photoshop, you’ll probably only have one of these tools instead of both. I’m going to give you a quick walk-through of how to effectively use both of them so that you can figure out which tool is the most similar to the one in your program.

So what’s the difference between the Spot Healing brush and the ordinary Healing brush? Well, firstly, let’s take a look at the actual tools. In PS, they both look pretty similar, and can be found on the main tool bar. Below, the Spot healing tool is on the left, and the normal healing brush is on the right. To select the healing brush on the toolbar, first right click on the spot tool – a little menu will pop up which will then allow to select the healing brush.

The spot healing brush

The spot healing brush

The healing brush

The healing brush

Once you’ve selected one of the these two tools, your cursor will become a circle which you can enlarge by hitting ctrl-] or decrease in size by hitting ctrl-[. This is the brush with which we’re going to work.

When you use the Spot Healing brush, you simply position this little circle over one of your smudges, and PS will automatically fill in the area contained within the brush by copying pixels from the immediate area to fill the gap. Because PS has such brilliant content-aware software, it almost always renders perfect results, but sometimes it will make mistakes, which is when you would move on to the Healing Brush.

With the Healing Brush you simply position your circle over the smudge you want to remove as you did with the previous brush; but instead of PS taking a guess at what you want to copy into that space, we’re going to tell it what to copy. To do this, choose an unblemished area of you photograph which is the same colour as the smudged area, and Alt-click. PS will copy that little area of the photograph, and when you now click on the blemish it will cover it up by using pixels from the area you chose; essentially it’s a very sophisticated Copy and Paste.

So, let’s try these tools out. Firstly, the spot healing tool. Pick just one of the blemishes on your photograph and hover your cursor over it. Now, for the best results we want the circle to be only slightly larger than the actual blemish; take a look at the picture below to see what I mean.

spot healing2

As you can see, I’ve made sure my cursor is only slightly larger than the actual smudge. If your little circle is too big or too small, re-size it with ctril-[ and ctrl-]. Now all you have to do is click, and PS will do the rest;


Ta-da! Completely gone. How easy was that? Now let’s take a look at removing the other smudge by using our Healing brush.

When you select the healing brush, you’ll get a circular cursor just like before. To tell PS which area of the image to copy, we need to alt-click on the area just to the left of the blemish- by keeping the source area close by, we ensure that the colour will be consistent and match up well. If you’re trying to ‘heal’ a patterned area it may take a little bit of trial and error to get the result to look right, but after a little bit of practice you’ll get a good feel for what looks good and what doesn’t.

So, firstly, hover your normal circle (without holding alt) over your smudge, and re-size it to encompass the whole of the mark. Now, when you hold down alt, your cursor will change to something that looks a bit like a target. Unfortunately my computer won’t let me take a screenshot of this cursor (?????), but essentially you just want to hover it over an unblemished area and click. Then, release alt and move your cursor back to your smudge. Click once, and again, PS does the hard work for you.

There, all gone!

There, all gone!

In the image above, you can actually see a small circle of grey which is darker than the surrounding area; this is an example of what happens when the area you’ve chosen to copy isn’t the same colour or brightness as the original blemish. If this happens to you, just go back and pick a new source point to copy, this time making sure the resulting colour is better matched to the surrounding area.

Along with these two healing brushes, there’s another brush that works in a similar way;

3. The Clone Tool

clonetoolThe clone tool actually works in almost the exact same way as the healing tool, with one major difference; when you use the healing brush to select and area to copy, PS will use that one area over and over again until you select a new one. With the clone tool, however, PS will keep moving the source area proportionally to your cursor. For example, if you choose an area on the right hand side of the screen and use that spot for one blemish, but then move your cursor upwards to a new blemish, PS will also move the source point up the same amount, so that you’re copying a new part of the image.

The clone tool is very useful when trying to remove blemishes from patterned backgrounds, as once you’ve lined up your source point with the new material, you’ll never have to realign it again, and you’ll also never copy the same area of the pattern twice.

For plain white backgrounds however, the two healing tools are often enough.

Whilst these three tools will cover the majority of blemishes that occur on photographs, every now and then you’ll get an awkward one that is either too oddly shaped, or too big to get rid of with these tools. If you have a blemish that fits into that category, you’re going to need to use the patch tool.

4. The Patch Tool

The patch tool, in Photoshop, can be found by right clicking on the healing brush symbol on the main toolbar, and clicking on the patch tool icon in the pop-up menu. It looks like this;

patchWhen you select this tool, your cursor will turn into a tiny black arrow with the patch symbol floating beside it. To use, hold down the left mouse button and draw a circle around the smudge. Once you’ve drawn around the area, let go of your mouse button and you’ll have something that looks like this;

patch2Now I think you can already see the merits of using the patch tool instead of the healing brushes; because you draw around the area freehand, you can make a much wider variety of corrections with the patch tool, including fixing irregular shaped blemishes.

To actually fix this fingerprint, click anywhere inside the shape you’ve just drawn, and drag your cursor away from the blemish. As you can see, those marching ants follow you, and you’ll be able to reposition your shape somewhere else on your image. Again, look for an area which is similar in colour and pattern;


Once you’ve chosen the area to copy, let go of your mouse button and PS will start working. When it’s finished, the blemish should be gone!

Like so

Like so

Now hit ctrl-d to de-select the Patch tool, and you’re done!

As always, if you have any questions about any of these tools, you’re more than welcome to ask me down in the comments below :). I’ll always try to get back to you as quickly as possible!


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