Digital Darkroom; Clone Stamp & Heal Tool Photoshop

The Digital Darkroom is a series of posts aimed at beginners and those interested in Digital Photography and Editing. In previous weeks we have looked at basic adjustments, curves, editing colour with the HSL/Color panels, black and white toning, split toning, local adjustments, sharpening, noise reduction and Lens Correction and Camera Calibration in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. Moving into Photoshop we have looked at the program’s layout,basic adjustments to light, basic adjustments to colour, basic black and white adjustments, Basic Sharpening, Basic Noise Reduction, Creating Presets and Actions, Basic Masks, Making Selections, Refining Selections, Using the Pen Tool and this week using the Clone Stamp and Heal Tool to clean an image.
If you wish to check out previous posts in the series you can do here.

So far in the digital darkroom we have covered most of the basic adjustments as well as how to sharpen and reduce noise in our images. In the last few weeks we have looked at using masks and selections that can help us to make local adjustments to images quite easily with adjustment layers. However we have not looked at cleaning an image.

It doesn’t matter who you are there will be times when you have to remove or even add something to an image. Cleaning an image is removing elements that are distracting, I am not talking so much about people (although this maybe necessary) more elements that either; you didn’t notice when taking the picture or marks on your lens/sensor because they weren’t clean. Of course for the latter regular maintenance of your equipment will remove the need for this.

Clone Stamp Vs Heal Tool

There are a few different tools for cleaning; to begin with we are just going to look at two, the clone and heal tool.

Clone Stamp

CloneThe clone stamp is a bit like a copy and paste brush. When you have the clone stamp selected you alt+ click to choose the source (i.e. what you are copying) and then click (i.e. paste) on the area you want to cover.

The Heal Tool

healThe Heal tool works in a same way but does not copy everything from the source you select only the colour. When applying the heal tool to an area it paints only the colour keeping the shadow and highlight detail of what you are painting on.

Due to this difference in the tools the clone stamp is best to cover up areas with lots of details as the heal tool will just smudge the colour. The Heal tool is good for when the colour of an area needs to be replaced not the details.

Tool Settings


Clone Stamp Tool Bar


Both the Clone Stamp and Heal Tool use brushes which can be set to a degree of harness, a softer brush has more feathering or transition of what is being replaced. Since it is a brush this means that you can use a custom brush ( something we will discuss in a later post) with both of these tools.
However you can only reduce the opacity of the brush with the Clone Tool. This is good for making gradual adjustments although I tend to keep it at 100%. Also with the clone tool you can adjust the flow of the brush, unlike opacity this is how even the stroke of the clone stamp is.

Heal Stamp Tool Bar

Heal Stamp Tool Bar

With the heal tool you can choose either a sample or pattern, this is not an option with the clone tool. If you use sample, you choose an area by alt+click to select the tones you want to apply to an area. If you choose pattern, it applies a chosen pattern instead. For cleaning an image at a basic level you only need to use source.
The Clone Stamp and the Heal Tool both have the option of Aligned. Aligned allows you to select a source by alt+ click, as you move the mouse the source area moves in the same direction.
Although we sample an area we can also state from what layers we are sampling; Current Layer, Current and below, All Layers. I like to work non-destructively, due to this I will usually use current and below or all layers depending on the image and my layers.

How to Clean

As I said, I like working non-destructively, because I am not destroying my base image and I can come back later and tweak adjustments. Part of my non-destructive workflow is to always create a new layer to clean on. In most cases I set the sample layer to Current and Below, I place my new layer above the main layer and below any adjustment layers.
I will choose either the clone or heal tool depending on the area which needs to be cleaned. I will then look to find an area of the picture which looks similar to the area that I am going to clean.
It is best not to choose a source area too close to the area that will be replaced. If you do use an area too close you can get repeating patterns which make it obvious that something has been replaced. It is also a good idea to source regularly from different areas as this will also reduce the chance of patterns emerging.
I will also walk away from an image and come back later after cleaning to see the image with fresh eyes.

Using Selections + Masks

Using selections with the Clone and Heal tool can save a lot of time and save you from removing things you don’t want too. This flower image is a great example.


In this image I have a lovely blossom flower with a creamy blurred background and a huge unopened blossom in the foreground. I didn’t notice this when I was taking the picture and was disappointed that it was there when I got home.

I did a basic edit in Lightroom and then imported the image to Photoshop as a smart object.


First I used the Lasso Selection tool to select the bud, I feathered the selection at about 10px. On a new layer with the selection active I used the clone tool to sample the white area in the background as well as white areas nearby. I cloned and sampled until the bud was covered. I deselected the selection to look at the effect. In this case I had lost the shape of the petal in the background and used a mask to slowly reveal the edge of the petal.


Things to Remember

One of the most important things to remember is you cannot replace what is not there. What I mean is, if a window is obscured you cannot replace what is obscuring the window unless there is another window in the picture which is the same.
It is also important to keep an eye out for patterns, if patterns start to appear it is a good idea to go back and reapply the Clone Stamp and Heal Tool to that area or clone out the revealing partern. If you work non-destructively this is very easy and will save you time if you have to come back a few days later.

Blossom on a tree bokeh background Lofz Poland

In the next post we will look at other ways to clean and replace large areas.

If you have any questions or comments please use the comment box below, all are welcome as this series is designed to help people learn how to use Photoshop and Lightroom.

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9 thoughts on “Digital Darkroom; Clone Stamp & Heal Tool Photoshop

  1. Good morning, Ben. Lots of good information. Thank you!
    I can’t think of when to use clone/heal pattern. Do you have an example?
    Also, I tried clone and heal (sample). I didn’t really see a lot of difference. Don’t know what I did wrong. I will continue working on it.
    Thanks. Have a great day!

    • Also… is it possible to rename your post so it’s easy to know which one is for photoshop and which lightroom like Digital Darkroom (PS) for PHotoshop? (I know. I know. I am asking too much. But if I don’t ask, I definitely won’t get it. )

    • To be honest Helen I have yet come across a time to use it at all. Perhaps of there was some material but even then the clone tool would be better.
      Sometimes there may not be a lot of difference between clone and heal especially in areas with not too much detail. If you are using the heal tool and start to see smudges then the clone tool is then needed.

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