Home How-To Tip Of The Week Better blending with the clone stamp tool—12/27/10
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Monday, December 27, 2010

Better blending with the clone stamp tool—12/27/10

Tips to squeeze more success from this popular Photoshop tool

This Article Features Photo Zoom


Once you get your hands on Photoshop, one of the quickest things you’re bound to learn is how the clone stamp works: Click here, then click there and paint away anything you don’t want to see. Pretty amazing stuff. Simple as the tool is, though, it’s actually got a fairly robust set of options available to make it work even better. The real key for clone stamp success is to blend the cloned area into the existing image with a high degree of accuracy. Try these five simple tips for improved clone stamp blending.

1. Don't try to do too much with a single mouse click. This one’s important, as it’s probably the biggest difference between amateur retoucher and professional. Set the opacity to any amount less than 100 percent opacity, say 25 or 50 percent, and work the same spot over and over. This technique allows you to slowly build up pixel density without creating hard edges. It’s especially helpful when cloning over subtle gradations—like those often found in skies or studio backgrounds. This approach does fall apart sometimes, like when you have a lot of texture or pattern to deal with. In these cases alignment is key.

2. Speaking of alignment, CS5 has a nifty new preview that allows you to see what you’re about to clone before you stamp it. This makes lining up the source and cloned area immensely easier—especially important when you’re precisely aligning a stamp to deal with pattern and texture. The tool is there, so you might as well take advantage of it.

3. Utilize additional cloning modes such as color, luminosity and saturation. While the normal mode duplicates pixel A directly to pixel B, these additional stamping modes can duplicate only part of the pixel to its counterpart. That might be the color of a pixel, or the saturation (without changing the color) or even the brightness (without changing, contrast, color or the pattern of the pixels). I find these options extremely helpful for smoothing out skin tones and crafting better portraits, but they apply to a number of scenarios.

4. Use bigger and softer brushes. Small brushes are great for small changes, but if you’re not careful with them the evidence of your cloning can be as obvious as a swipe from a paintbrush. I recommend not only the largest brush possible when cloning (especially if I’m blending transition areas together) but also make sure that brush is a soft one. Dial the hardness of the brush all the way down to 0 percent and you’ll make a smooth, soft edge every time you stamp. You can vary this on the fly, along with opacity, by using a pressure-sensitive tablet and pen in lieu of a mouse.

5. While most of my stamping is done with round brushes, expert retouchers tout the benefits of specialized brush shapes. Brushes shaped like foliage, for example, can make blending leaves and flowers more natural. Square edges brushes might work better when you’re not blending organic shapes, just like random scattered brushes can help randomize natural patterns just as Mother Nature would. Whatever the subject there’s a custom brush to fit it. You’ve just got to look beyond the basics.

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