Healing Brush vs. Spot Healing Brush


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May 10, 2021
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Both the Healing Brush and the Spot Healing Brush tools in Adobe Photoshop are incredibly awesome. They both allow the user (you and me) to remove blemishes, wrinkles, spots, creases, and just about anything else we don't want in a photo. If memory serves, the Spot Healing Brush tool arrived on the scene a while after the regular Healing Brush did. The Healing Brush has been with us almost since the beginning. Remember, Adobe Photoshop has been around since 1990. It was actually created in 1988, but later released to the public in 1990. Now that's an old program that's been improved upon substantially.

The Difference Between the Two Tools​

Both tools are great, but one makes life a lot easier to deal with than the other does. The primary difference between these tools is that with the Healing Brush, we must first sample an area of an image that we'd like to use as a replacement for another area. To do this, we have to hold the Alt button down on the keyboard and then click the replacement area. That's called sampling. Once that's done, Photoshop stores the sampled area in its memory and then uses that pattern to "paint" over areas of our choosing. While this works wonderfully for many corrections, it fails quite a bit. The primary shortcoming with this tool is that a sample area might not be available to choose from. Also, if there are slight gradients in an image, the painted, or corrected, area might show obvious editing. On the flip side, it's great at painting an accurate pattern over another area. There's no blur to worry about.

With the Spot Healing Brush tool, we don't need to sample any area. All we need to do is paint over the spots we want to fix. Photoshop does all the sampling automatically. It basically samples the area around the area where we're painting and updates and adjusts as the paint brush moves across the canvas. So, as you can imagine, not a lot of effort needs to be put in by the person editing the photo. There is a downside though and that's blur. I've corrected areas before with this tool and have found that it's not great at actually replacing the area that needs correcting with a proper and accurate pattern. It instead blurs some colors together, which doesn't look very lifelike in some cases. So really, as editors, we need to choose our tools wisely. The Spot Healing Brush tool is perfect for solid smooth gradient areas while the Healing Brush tool is great for patterned areas. Although, I must say that the Spot Healing Brush tool has come a long way and is nearly perfect today. If I had to choose one tool to work with, it would be this one.

Using the Healing Brush Tools​

To access both of these tools, you'll need to head over to the left toolbar and click and drag the eighth tool down to the right.


You'll see both tools sitting on top of one another; the Spot tool on top and the other beneath that. The moment either one is clicked for use, a new options bar up top, above the workspace will appear. To the left, you'll find the primary controls for these tools.


I mostly concern myself with Size and Hardness. Size controls the size of the brush and Hardness controls the hardness. Hardness is the gradient of the edges of the brush. The hardest brush will have a very sharp edge, while the softest brush would have a much smoother gradient. Here's an example of a hard brush on the left and a soft brush on the right. I'll also throw some large and small brush examples in as well.


Healing & Spot Healing Brush Examples​

I'll start out with the Healing Brush tool. I'll set my brush to 40 pixels for the size and 45% for the hardness. I'll keep these settings for all the examples. I'll sample right outside the area I'd like to correct by holding the Alt key down and then clicking with my mouse. Then, I'll simply paint over the area I'd like to correct. Before I even click my mouse button to paint, I'll see the samples area hovering over the photograph. Here's the result.


Do you see the corrected area on the left? The water stain was circular, but I fixed a portion of it, just to make the affected area obvious. I'd say that looks very good. Now I'll try doing the same thing with the Spot Healing Brush tool with the same settings. Let's see if we can see a difference between the two tools.


This correction looks very good as well. The pattern was transferred to the corrected area nearly perfectly. There is one hiccup though. When using the regular Spot Healing Brush tool, you can correct right up to the edge of anything. There's no distortion of patterns at all because you're merely laying a new pattern over the old. With the Spot Healing Brush tool however, Photoshop is sampling the areas around the entire brush as it's painting, so if you get to an area where you'd like to stop and there are strange colors or shades there, Photoshop may think those shades belong inside the corrected area. If you look at the image above, I've circled a portion of the water stain that was distorted by Photoshop. This isn't supposed to happen. It just does. That's why folks say this tool is best used for isolated corrections, where an entire area can be painted over.

Let's take a look at another example. This is the original area to be corrected. I'd like to remove the upside down T.


This is the Healing Brush tool's result. I sampled an area next to the letters and then painted right over the T.


And this is the Spot Healing Brush tool's result. I simply painted right over the T.


Both results are nearly identical. You'll find that for removing spots and things like spots, these tools are great. You may get frustrated with the Healing Brush tool when you're in close quarters and you can't get a nice sample. You may also get frustrated with the Spot Healing Brush tool when you're painting near edges and Photoshop decides to pull those edges into your correction and make a mess of things. But overall, these tools are excellent.

Do you have any questions regarding these Photoshop tools? Do you have any experience with them? Would you like to offer some commentary? If so, please add whatever you'd like down below. Thanks!
Healing Brush vs. Spot Healing Brush was posted on 06-17-2021 by Cameron in the Photoshop forum.

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