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Repair and edit your images with Photoshop's Patch tool

Added on Thursday 8th of September 2011 03:25 am EST

Repair and edit your images with Photoshop’s Patch tool
by Jim Whitcomb
Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5
Operating Systems:
Microsoft Windows, Macintosh

The Patch tool is a great way to save yourself the expense and effort of having to reshoot a subject or buy one online. A missing clump of grass or bunch of flowers, for example, will never again be a reason for not getting a shot.

To get the image you want with the Patch tool, we’ll

  • Practice with the Patch tool to get a feel for how it works while we look at its options.
  • Apply it to an image that needs a touchup.
  • Show you how to control the Patch tool effect using Free Transform.


So you’re out searching for a few shots to use as a background photo for a project. You find what you’re looking for, a tree backlit by the late afternoon sun, but it isn’t quite perfect given that it doesn’t have many leaves.
What do you do? Some photographers might actually pick a few branches from another tree and tie them to their chosen subject. But you can’t do that: You have no string, no ladder, and the tree isn’t yours. But, by using Photoshop’s Patch tool, you can enhance a setup that nature may have shortchanged and make it look just as you think it should. And hey, you might even want to revisit your image archives and reconsider those shots that seemed just shy of worthy before, say, because they lacked a cloud here or a patch of grass there. A few minutes with the Patch tool might save you the expense of another shoot or an online stock shot.


Practice, practice
Since it’s important to clearly see how the Patch tool works, begin by opening a practice image that has good color contrast and well-textured areas, such as the one shown in Figure A. To follow along using our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article and extract and open the file patch.jpg. (Images provided by PhotoSpin. Some images modified for educational purposes.) Next, make a duplicate layer of your original image by selecting Duplicate Layer from the Layers panel’s pop-up menu. Then, in the Duplicate As text box, enter patch and click OK. We want to create a duplicate layer so we can compare the two by switching back and forth between them.


Patch tool options
Let’s next see how the Patch tool works. Select the Patch tool from the Tools panel, and you’ll see the tool options bar, as shown in Figure B. The Patch tool and the Healing Brush tool share the same location in the Tools panel. To access the Patch tool if the Healing Brush is visible, click on the Healing Brush tool and continue to hold down your mouse button until the flyout menu appears. Then, select the Patch tool from the menu.



Select Window > Options from the menu bar if the options bar isn’t already visible. Compared to many of the other tools in the Tools panel, the Patch tool has only a few options to select from, which are as follows:

  • Source. Applies image or pattern pixels selected with the Patch tool to the image after first selecting the area to be repaired.
  • Destination. Applies the image pixels selected with the Patch tool to the area to be repaired.
  • Use Pattern. This is active only when the Source option is selected. After selecting the image pixels to be repaired, go to the Use Pattern pop-up menu and select a pixel pattern with which you want to repair an area.


Practice repair with the Destination option
Since the terms Source and Destination for the options are somewhat confusing, let’s select the Destination option button first, as it’s easier to understand the process. For the record, the Source option works just the opposite—it works counter intuitively to its name. Because of this, we suggest that you step through our example using the Destination option first, and then go back and practice using the Source option.
In our example, there’s an open area in the upper-left quarter of the image, as shown in Figure C, we want to fill with a few sprayed graffiti symbols. If you were to select pixels from the area right above it, it would be rather obvious that the open area has been repaired. If you select pixels from another similar area, it’s less apparent. The symbols from the lower-right side of the image have a similar color balance and would be a good area from which to select pixels. The Patch tool selects pixels with a lasso marquee, so click and drag around the pixels you want ...


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