Skin Retouching Using the Patch Stamp and Smart Blur Filter

In this tutorial, we will look at two of the many tools at your disposal for skin retouching in Photoshop. 

The Patch Stamp Tool

While the Clone Stamp tool is a go-to favorite for skin retouching, its often overlooked but totally amazing relative, the Patch Stamp tool, can speed up your workflow, because it eliminates the Alt + Click action. The Patch Stamp operates in a similar way to the Clone Stamp, but there are a few differences, let me show you...

In the image below, you'll see the Patch Tool in the toolbar (keyboard shortcut on Mac and PC: J). If it is not showing up, right click in the same spot (the Healing Brush tool might be showing by default, instead) and scroll down to Patch Tool. 

Next, make sure that next to the word "Source" that you select Destination. I'll explain why next.

Before you begin editing, create a Background Copy in your layers panel by duplicating the first layer. 

Use your mouse to draw a selection in the area you would like to clean up:


You are going to take the area you would like to touch up, and drag the selection to an area of the image with fewer imperfections. Keep in mind that it needs to be similar in color and tone to the area of concern, so try not to drag the selection too far:

Dragging the selection from point A to point B replaces point A with what is in point B. Point B is our Destination Source that we selected earlier.

Where ever you drag your selection, it will be replaced with that area. In this case, the source destination is her cheek area where the skin is more clear. 

I repeated the same steps on the entire mouth area. To patch another area, you will need to right-click and scroll to Deselect in order to draw a new selection. 

Next, let's look at one way to use the Patch Stamp around eye areas:

Everyone has some lines and shadows under their eyes that occur naturally from the shadows cast by their brow bone. In most cases, there's no need to completely erase those lines and shadows - it would just look kind of weird if we did, and it would also defy the laws of light! These areas can, however, be softened just a bit. 

Above, I have selected a line that I would like to soften and have dragged it to just below her eyes.

Then, I reduced the opacity of the background copy, which is the layer with this particular skin adjustment, in order to soften the effect so that we are still left with a very subtle line below her eye:

Another way to soften the effect is to Fade Patch Selection. You will need to do this before you deselect, though:

Smart Blur Filter

Photoshop has a variety of blur filters, but when it comes to skin retouching, the Smart Blur Filter is a bit more fine-tuned than some of the other filters (such as Gaussian blur) and can give you more natural and polished results.

On a duplicated background layer, select the area to be blurred using either the Polygonal or Magnetic Lasso. In this case, I have selected everything on the subject's face and neck, making sure to leave out her eyes, mouth, and the base of her nose, since we do not want to blur those areas - those are areas we want to remain as sharp as possible. 

Right click and select Feather, which prevents any obvious lines from occurring between the blurred and non-blurred portions of of the image:

Select Filter>Blur>Smart Blur:

Start with a low Radius and Threshold, and work your way up - as you can see, both are set to a very low value here (only 4.1 and 6.5 pixels, respectively). Use your preview image as a guide, and press OK when you are satisfied:

In the same way that we faded the Patch Stamp above, you can also fade the effect of the Smart Blur to soften the effect even further:

Below is a closeup of the before (top) and after (bottom) of our edit using the Patch Stamp and Smart Blur filter. As you can see, the effect is very subtle, which is generally the desired effect for most portraits, especially when editing kids. The goal is natural, not over-processed.

If you will be making adjustments to exposure, color and contrast, be sure to make adjustments to skin first. By making skin adjustments first and then applying the rest of your post-processing work, the skin adjustments will become even more blended into the final image. 

To sum it up:

  • Patch Stamp Tool (keyboard shortcut: J) is similar to the Clone Stamp but can give you more control
  • Double check that "Destination" is selected
  • Fade the background layer -OR- fade the entire effect for a more natural result
  • Smart Blur is useful for skin editing, but start with low Radius and Threshold, then build
  • Fade Smart Blur to soften the effect
  • Edit skin first, then apply global adjustments to exposure, color, etc.

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If you are interested in actions that will help you beautifully edit skin tones, be sure to check out our PURE Color Workflow and our LUXE Newborn Complete Workflow.

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