Photoshop’s Patch tool is a pretty special retouching tool that works along the lines of the Healing Brush and the Clone Stamp. In fact, it’s found hidden beneath the Healing Brush on Photoshop’s toolbar. It works in a similar fashion to both of those spotting tools (to use the old-school darkroom vernacular), but it does a great job particularly on large areas or sections of an image that are predominantly one color and luminosity with small details that need to be removed.
To get started using the Patch tool, click and hold on the Healing Brush in the toolbar and when the popup appears look down a few items to find the Patch tool. Then turn your attention to the image element you’d like to get rid of. In the sample photo of the toddler, I decided I wanted to eliminate the little round bolts that outline the opening. With the Patch tool active, I simply click and drag a selection around one of the bolts, and then click from the selection to drag toward the area I’d like to replace that selection with. In practice, this means you make a selection and then click and drag to repair that selection with the portion of the image that’s most appropriate. This default mode makes the initial selection the source of the patch, and allows you to click and drag from the selection toward the area you’d like to replace it with. You can also click the button in the top toolbar in Photoshop to switch the selection to the destination—replacing the selected area with the area you click and drag toward. The program is smart enough to slightly feather the edges and blend the colors and textures, which is part of the reason why this tool is such a pleasure to use.
Another option is to convert the tool’s mode from Normal to Content Aware by clicking in the menu bar. This makes the Patch tool even smarter, as Photoshop will now evaluate the area you select in order to more accurately replace it with the exact color, texture and pattern that would naturally fill in the repaired selection. You can tweak the way the content aware repair works by adjusting the Structure and Color tolerances up in the toolbar below the menu bar. This mode works exceptionally well in areas where fine detail matters—I used it to make repairs near the fingers and toes of the little boy in this photo—and large areas where Content Awareness will make for a more natural blend.
Lastly, instead of using the Patch tool itself to make selections, you can make a selection with whichever method you like and then run the Patch tool to repair the selected area. For instance, I used a rectangular marquee on the right side of the frame to draw a thin rectangle that I then replaced with a solid yellow tone from the area of playground to the left.
In the end, the Patch tool is simply another great “magic” retouching tool in Photoshop that shouldn’t take a backseat to any other tool. It’s exceptionally useful for retouching, and it’s super-easy to get the hang of it.