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Photoshop CS5 Content Aware Healing Brush

In some ways, this week’s article is a continuation of last week’s look at Content Aware Fill, because the Content Aware Healing Brush is sort of the same thing…um…right? Right. And wrong.

In a way, Content Aware Healing brush is Content Aware Fill’s little brother. Not the brainier, scrawny little brother, just smaller. If Content Aware Fill is the Army, taking out unwanted big areas in a single (or double, or triple) bound, the Content Aware Healing Brush (CAHB) is Special Forces, conducting specialized operations in tight places where Content Aware Fill (CAF) might not work so well.

Even in more concentrated areas that CAF works in just fine, CAHB is just easier simply because instead of repeatedly selecting and bringing up the fill dialog is replaced by marking the area you wish to heal – cutting down the amount of steps you repeat to complete a process saves you what? It saves you time. Again with the time! But, remember, time savings is my #1 reason for loving Photoshop CS5! Sometimes, on the other hand, CAHB might take a couple more steps, but the result is worth it.

In the example below, which, by the way is what happens when good photographs meet bad tape, the two tools do a fairly good job for a first pass. Most of the time, you aren’t going to see the magic that happens on some of the tutorials you’ve been seeing, but what you will see is an improvement in the area you’re working on, a better area to work on in a shorter amount of time. I actually think the one pass of the CAHB did a better, cleaner job, in this case, but that may not be the case in the next area I attempt. That’s why I’m trying both of these tools on everything I do, at least for a while!

But, just for a minute, let’s not compare the CAHB to CAF, and see what it can do for us on its own. I took two different photos, damaged in different ways, and timed what I could do in one minute. I wasn’t looking for perfection; I was looking for what I could do in the least amount of time using the least amount of strokes or steps. Both were done entirely with the CAHB. This is what I came up with:

Not bad for 60 seconds each! I don’t think I could have gotten that far in that amount of time with the Clone Stamp Tool, or even the CAF, since I’d have to take the time to select areas.

Another reason I like the CAHB: It’s actually kinda fun! The ideal photo for fun is one where there’s tons of little damage; spots, little cracks, speckles. This photo is a perfect example, again, all work done in CAHB:

I’m not claiming to know everything there is to know about the Content Aware Healing Tools, but I have picked up a few things while working with them for the past seven months:

  • They’re fairly random. Content Aware Fill works better in more open areas with a lot of good information around it, but it can also work well in tighter areas.
  • Then again, it might not. The only way to know is to try it.
  • I’d say a good 85% of the time it kicks the Patch Tools butt.
  • If you try a fill once and it doesn’t do a good job, you can try it again, sure, but when I say it’s random it doesn’t mean it’s smart enough to figure out what you want it to do. Out of the many times I’ve tried to get a better result, it only really worked out for me once. The fill changed a little the other 99% of the time but not enough to make it worth trying the random thing over and over.
  • Sometimes it works better in larger areas, sometimes smaller areas – we’re back to the random thing here. Again, you just need to try.
  • Like all other tools in the Photoshop Palette, you can’t say a tool will work the exact same way every single time you use it, at least not dealing with hardcore photo restoration, because the photo itself, the very texture and grain you’re working on, changes with every new restoration.
  • The Content Aware Healing Brush works better if you make the brush size a little bigger than the largest part of the area to be healed, or if you go just outside that area in one coverage stroke (without picking up the brush), otherwise, it leaves the edges.

I’m very excited about the Content Aware Healing Tools in Photoshop CS5, and the possibilities in my own, personal work flow. There’s so much more I could have written about them, and so much more, I’m sure, that I’ll discover, many more mini-epiphanies will occur over time with these excellent tools, I’m certain. I look forward to sharing them with you!

About Janine Smith (114 Articles)
Janine Smith is the owner of Landailyn Research and Restoration, a Fort Worth, Texas based company whose services include family history research and photo restoration. Janine honed her skills in restoring badly damaged photos as a volunteer with Operation Photo Rescue, a non-profit organization whose mission is to repair photographs damaged by unforeseen circumstances such as house fires and natural disasters. <br> Janine’s work is well-known in the world of genealogical and historical societies, museums, libraries, university archives, and non-profit organizations; appearing on the board of directors for several organizations and institutions. She is a sought-after lecturer on photo restoration and preservation to libraries, genealogical and historical societies. <br> In addition to being a Lynda.com author, Janine is the author of many articles on research and restoration appearing in newspapers and magazines, both on and offline. Janine's history and photo restoration columns appear regularly on TipSquirrel.com and in the popular Shades Of The Departed Digital Magazine. <br> Janine is the winner of the 2010 “Photoshop User Award” in the photo-restoration category.

1 Comment on Photoshop CS5 Content Aware Healing Brush

  1. mitzs // 22/04/2010 at 9:13 pm //

    Hey hun, Great article! Love it. Your a great inspiration.

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