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The Ultimate Guide To Cloning In Photoshop

Photoshop’s wide array of cloning tools is the cause of many of the absolute best and worst works created with the application. In a skilled and experienced hand, these tools lead to phenomenal results. In the hands of a careless artist, Photoshop cloning can be disastrous to the credibility of the result. This article introduces the several cloning tools available in Photoshop and goes over the proper usage and best practices of each.

The Clone Stamp Tool Link

The Clone Stamp tool is the oldest and most widely known of the cloning tools. The basic concept is that you duplicate certain portions of an image using a source, destination and brush.

Setting the source1
Use the “Option” key (“Alt”) to set the source.

To clone out the name on the tombstone above, you would select a source that shares the texture of the area you want to replace. In this case, the area around the words provides an ample source of stone texture from which to clone.

To begin, simply click on the preferred source area while holding down the “Option” key (“Alt” on a PC). Then, with no keys held down, begin painting over the area you want to replace. The image area from the source will be transferred to the destination.

To be able to use this tool effectively, let’s look at the relevant settings.

Basic Settings: Brush Link

Below, you’ll find the default settings when the clone stamp is selected.

Clone Stamp Options
The clone stamp’s basic settings.

The first setting you’ll want to familiarize yourself with is for the brush. Photoshop does not restrict cloning to a basic default brush. Instead, it allows you to use any brush you want, allowing you to create an unlimited number of effects. In the example above, and in most cases in fact, a small to medium-sized round soft brush gives the best result.

Clone Stamp Options
A hard brush creates noticeable seams.

As you can see, a hard brush often creates visible edges along the path of the clone. The transition is much smoother on the left side, where a soft brush was used. Both sides suffer from noticeable replication, but this was intentional to exaggerate the cloned area. We’ll discuss how to avoid this later.

As stated, while a soft round brush is recommended for basic cloning, a number of interesting effects can be created using alternate brushes. For instance, below I’ve used a scatter brush shaped like a leaf to add some visual interest to the photo.

Clone Stamp Scatter
Use a scatter brush to create interesting particle effects.

Experiment with the opacity, blending mode and brush flow for an even wider variety of results. For more information on using these features, check out the article “Brushing Up on Photoshop’s Brush Tool2.”

Basic Settings: Sample Link

Under the “Sample” menu are three options: Current Layer, Current and Below and All Layers. These options affect the area you are sourcing. Here’s a visual illustration of how each mode works:

Clone Stamp Sample
The area cloned depends on the selected layer and sample mode.

As you can see, with Current Layer selected, the clone stamp ignores pixel data contained in any other layer. Conversely, All Layers ignores all layer distinction and clones any visible pixels in the document (invisible layers will be ignored). Finally, Current and Below samples pixels from the selected layer and any visible layers behind it.

Basic Settings: Adjustment Layers Link

The final basic setting (the circle with a diagonal line through it) lets you decide whether the clone stamp tool should sample adjustment layers when cloning. Adjustment layers, such as Hue/Saturation and Levels, are meant to be a non-destructive way to change the appearance of layers. So, you can make drastic changes to a layer or group of layers without destroying the original pixels.

Because of this, turning on Ignore Adjustment Layers When Cloning is almost always a good idea. This allows you to clone the original image, which can then be affected by an ever-changeable adjustment layer. If you do not choose to ignore the adjustment layer, the adjustment becomes permanent in the cloned areas.

In the layer set-up below, turning on Sample All Layers would by default clone pixels from both the background layer and the adjustment layer in the foreground. Turning on Ignore Adjustment Layers prevents this.

Clone Stamp Sample
You can choose to ignore adjustment layers when cloning.

The Spot Healing Brush Link

As you can see below, the Spot Healing Brush tool is located under the Eyedropper tool and above the Brush tool, and it can be accessed quickly by hitting J on the keyboard.

Spot Healing Brush3
Type J to bring up the Spot Healing Brush.

The Spot Healing Brush is by far the simplest cloning tool in Photoshop. With little to no experience, you can repair small areas of an image. The secret to using the tool is in the name: Spot Healing. The tool is intended not for large areas of replacement, but rather to remove little unwanted spots, such as a scratch on an old photograph or a mole on a person’s face.

To use the tool, simply hover over the area you want to replace and click once. Photoshop does all the work by examining the pixel data around the spot and seamlessly integrating the data into the destination.

Spot Healing Brush4
The Spot Healing Brush is perfect for repairing old photographs.

As you can see above, the tool does a remarkable job of not leaving behind any noticeable artifacts or repeating patterns. The trick is to go slowly and work on very small portions of the image. Select a spot to fix, and use a brush that’s only slightly bigger than the selected imperfection. The larger the brush, the more likely you are to clone unwanted portions of the surrounding area, and the more noticeable the repetition of pixels will be.

Spot Healing Brush5
Use a brush slightly bigger than the target spot.

The Healing Brush Link

The Healing Brush tool, located under the Spot Healing Brush tool, is very similar to the Clone Stamp tool. To begin, Option + click (Alt + click on a PC) to select your source, and then carefully paint over the destination to transfer the pixels. The Healing Brush performs this operation with more built-in intelligence than the Clone Stamp.

As with the Spot Healing Brush, the Healing Brush attempts to automatically blend in the cloned pixels with the environment around it.

Healing Brush6
The Healing Brush tool automatically blends the source with the destination.

As you can see, using the Clone Stamp to clone the puppy’s eye results in a straight copy of the pixels, while the Healing Brush does a much better job of blending with the background.

This built-in intelligence proves extremely helpful when cloning a subject with diverse colors, textures and lighting conditions. Using the Clone Stamp in these situations can leave you with a lot of noticeably patchy spots that really stand out from the surrounding area.

Healing Brush7
The Healing Brush Tool makes it easy to clone visually complicated areas.

The photograph above is a good example of a subject with a fairly complicated surface. Using the Clone Stamp tool would have made it quite difficult to paint over the cracked areas while retaining the integrity of the stained stone. Much of the discoloration would have been sacrificed as you sourced smoother areas to erase the cracks. However, the Healing Brush was able to effectively replace the cracked areas with smoother areas, while sampling from the surrounding area to replicate the stains.

The Patch Tool Link

The final healing tool we’ll examine is the Patch tool, which can be found under the Healing Brush tool, as seen below.

Patch Tool8
Tip: hit Shift + J to cycle between the tools in the fly-out menu.

The cloning tools we’ve examined so far are best when used meticulously on small portions of an image. By contrast, the Patch tool is the best way to clone large, relatively uniform areas. As with the other healing tools, the Patch tool not only performs a straight clone but attempts to blend in the edge of the selected area with the target environment.

To use the Patch tool, either make a selection with any of the selection tools, or simply select an area with the Patch tool’s built-in lasso. There are two modes to choose from for the behavior of the patch: “Source” and “Destination” (found in the menu bar above the document area).

Source Mode Link

With the source mode selected, first select the area of the image you want to replace, and then drag that selection to the area you want to source. For instance, to eliminate the golf ball in the image below, you would first select the area around the golf ball, and then drag that selection around to find the best source.

Patch Tool9
In source mode, first select the area you want to replace.

As you drag the selection around to find a suitable source, watch the destination (i.e. your originally selected area) for a preview of what the source pixels will look like in that area. Keep in mind that this preview is a straight clone without any blending (the final image will look much better). Release the selection to see the actual result.

Patch Tool10
The Patch tool’s result.

As you can see, it does a pretty impressive job of blending the source and destination pixels all on its own. But going over areas that need improvement with the Healing Brush is good practice.

Destination Mode Link

With “Destination” mode selected, the area you select first will be the area that is replicated elsewhere. For instance, if we start with the same selection as before, dragging the selection this time gives us a preview of copying the ball to a new location.

Patch Tool11
Patch tool destination mode.

After you release the selection, the golf ball is copied to a new area of the image and blended with the surrounding pixels.

Patch Tool12
Result of “Destination” mode.

The Clone Source Palette Link

The Clone Source palette (found under Window → Clone Source) is an invaluable resource for professional-quality cloning. This tool gives you much more control over the results and functionality of the Clone Stamp and Healing Brush.

The Clone Source palette contains three primary sections: cloning source, offset adjustment and overlay options.

Patch Tool
The Clone Source palette.

Cloning Sources Link

In the first section in the Clone Source palette, you can define multiple areas of an image as a source from which to clone and/or heal.

Patch Tool13
Defining multiple sources.

The image above illustrates an example of when you might want to define multiple sources. To save a source, click on one of the five source buttons, and then Option + click (Alt + click) with either the Clone Stamp or Healing Brush. That location will now be saved to that button. Now, select the next button in line, and do the same in another part of the image. Once your sources are loaded, you can quickly shift between them simply by clicking the related button.

Notice that the file name appears just under the clone source buttons. This is because you can actually select a clone source outside of the image that you’re working on. Simply open a different file and set the clone source. Then, when you go back to the primary file to paint with the Clone Stamp or Healing Brush, the pixels from the other image will function as the source of the clone.

Offset Options Link

The second section of commands in the Clone Source palette really increase the variety of cloned results available to you. You can set exact coordinates for the source, change the size of the cloned result relative to the original source, tweak the rotation of the result and set a precise offset (again, relative to the original source).

Patch Tool14
Tweaking the cloned results.

You can see these transformation effects in action in the example above. The two bails of hay are actually one and the same, but they look considerably different because of the offset options. First, I set both the width and height to 90%, so that the cloned bail would appear slightly smaller than the original. Then I changed the width to -90% to flip the clone horizontally (you could change the height to a negative number to flip the image vertically). Finally, I set the rotation to 10° to give the illusion of a small hill.

Overlay Options Link

The overlay options are among the most helpful features in the Clone Source palette. Years ago, cloning involved a lot of guess work because it was difficult to tell exactly what the selected sample would look like without actually applying it. The guesswork has been eliminated with the “Show Overlay” command. When “Show Overlay” is selected in conjunction with the “Clipped” option, your brush is shown with a preview of the clone source inside. This is extremely helpful when attempting to clone inorganic areas with straight edges, such as a brick wall.

Patch Tool15
An overlay of the source is displayed within the brush.

Note that if you choose to turn on the overlay but turn off “Clipped,” then your entire clone source layer will be shown surrounding the brush.

Patch Tool16
An overlay of the source is displayed within the brush.

Working this way is actually quite difficult because the source significantly blocks your view of the destination. But if you prefer it, try reducing the opacity of the overlay so that you can see the image below.

Vanishing Point Link

Vanishing Point takes cloning to an entirely new dimension, literally. The tool makes it possible to set up primitive planes across your artwork, which a clone then follows to simulate a three-dimensional space. Vanishing Point has a ton of features and potential applications, and it really merits its own entire article, so this will be just a brief introduction.

When you open up the Vanishing Point dialog (found under the “Filter” menu item), you’ll see a large preview of your image, along with a small set of tools on the left side.

Patch Tool17
The Vanishing Point dialog.

Grab the tool sitting second from the top to set up your initial plane. With this tool, click once on each of the four corners, outlining the desired plane. Once you’ve created an initial plane, you can Command + click (Control + click on a PC) to extend the plane perpendicularly. Some images, though, like this old barn, won’t have perfect angles. In this case, you’ll have to create a second plane, entirely distinct from the original.

Patch Tool18
Setting up planes.

Once you’re satisfied with the planes, grab the Clone Stamp (fourth from the top), and Option + click the desired source (in our case, the barn door). Then clone the door onto the front-facing wall using the same method you would use with the normal Clone Stamp tool. Turn “Healing” on in the drop-down menu above the image preview to ensure that the source is properly blended into the destination.

Patch Tool19
Vanishing Point result.

As you can see, Photoshop interpreted the planes fairly well. Some fine-tuning and clean-up are definitely necessary if we want a believable image; but overall, the result is extremely impressive, given the lack of work required.

5 Quick Tips For Better Cloning Link

Now that we’ve examined each tool in depth, let’s close by recalling a few things to keep in mind if we want to clone with professional results.

Take Your Time Link

As you undertake a cloning project, the quality of the result is directly proportional to the amount of time you put into it. Cloning photographic details can be incredibly tedious work. The world has become well acquainted with Photoshop magic, so never assume that no one will notice your blunders.

Duplicate the Active Layer Link

The very first step to take when cloning parts of an image is to duplicate the layer you’ll be working on (or to just work on a new transparent layer). Realizing that you made a mistake so long ago that your “Undos” don’t go back far enough to fix it is beyond frustrating. Keeping the original image on a hidden layer gives you the flexibility to revert any part of an image to its original state.

Be Selective With Your Tools Link

Each cloning tool has its strengths and weaknesses, as outlined above. Never arbitrarily grab a tool and stick with it for the duration of a project. Consider which tool is best suited to the particular area of the image you’re working on. On large projects, no single tool creates believable results on its own. Use two or more tools in synergy to achieve a realistic result.

Watch for Obvious Duplication Link

Patch Tool20
Sloppy cloning results in noticeable patterns.

If you’re not careful, duplicated pixels can become painfully obvious. This is especially true of areas that should look fairly organic, like the grass above. Instead of appearing natural, an obvious pattern emerges when you use the same section of an image over and over. To avoid this, make heavy use of the Clone Source palette. Use multiple sources; and change the size, rotation and orientation of the areas you’re cloning to give the illusion of an unmanipulated image.

Avoid Disasters Link

When retouching significant parts of an image, overlooking certain areas becomes all too easy.

Patch Tool21
Where did her leg go!?

If you’re not careful, you could eliminate enough vital body parts to make the image humorous. Your goal is to prevent your work from showing up on Photoshop Disasters22, which is where you’ll find the image above.

Conclusion Link

Cloning in Photoshop is a difficult task that requires significant time, studious attention to detail and an in-depth knowledge of several tools and commands. To improve the quality of your results, invest some time learning Photoshop’s entire cloning arsenal. Experiment with all of the options for each tool to get a better feel for where you can excel.

Additional Resources Link


Footnotes Link

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Josh Johnson is the Product Manager for Creative Market. He's also a writer, designer, and photographer, and currently lives in Phoenix.

  1. 1

    Nice Tutorial, very useful for me!!

  2. 2

    Sorry, amateur. One of the articles which sholdn’t be on SM

    • 3

      Not all of us are Photoshop guru’s in here, it’s nice to find an article for us “amateurs” from time to time and that doesn’t mean that SM has to teethe on beginner-level articles . It doesn’t hurt having these how-to’s around.

      • 4

        I’ve been using photoshop for years and never knew how to use the other cloning tools properly. I normally just use the standard cloning tool and took the time to blend it in. This is a good article for many skill levels.

        • 5

          Ditto. Even after studying this in school for a few years and using PS on my own for a while, I never really understood what the clone tools could do. They were almost entirely skipped over in my education. This is a great resource for those of us who aren’t perfect pros. I bookmarked it to come back to later for further scrutiny.

      • 6

        Please stop apostrophe disease. The plural of guru is gurus, not guru’s.

        • 7

          You’ll find that, in many cases, this error is made by Europeans. In many European languages (for example Dutch), plurals of most words ending in a vowel get an apostrophe before the ‘s’. Like “guru’s” or “auto’s”. As I understand it, in English this is only needed with abbreviations (like Ph.D.’s or even PhD’s) but something like gurus looks positively wrong to the Dutch, even though it isn’t…

      • 8

        Nice Tutorial, very useful for me very good

    • 9

      I’ve used PS professionally for 4 years, and as a student for 6 years before that. And I never knew about the Clone Source window. I’ve never had a problem with the clone stamp tool, but it’s nice to know that there are even more powerful ways to use it. This article was thorough and very useful.

    • 10

      Word! @ Liana.
      Adam…you can’t act on the assumption that everbody here is a pro or every-day-user of photoshop. At the moment i read this article i thought as you did…but…then it was stupid.

    • 11

      definitely not amateur, knowledge is relative. anyone who ceases to attain new knowledge no longer learns. whats the point in that? Please allow people learn without supplying discomforting comments. hater

    • 12

      Tom Something

      March 31, 2010 10:38 am

      Flaunting your own knowledge under the veil of constructive criticism offers little benefit to the community.

    • 13

      haha, Adam. I am sure you are good at photoshop but a lot of people who come here probably don’t realize that there are 10 different ways to accomplish the same goal. Play nice ;)

    • 14

      I disagree Adam. It’s an aspect of PS that I’m not very familiar with and found it very useful – true, I could probably have found the information in one of the books but having it here, in well written easily understood language with clear examples was very helpful. SM is an excellent resource and should continue to cater for all the community with contributions at all levels.

    • 15

      Elizabeth Kaylene

      April 6, 2010 10:50 am

      I’ve been using Photoshop for years, too, and I never knew about some of these tools. It’s not like the article was about cropping images. Get a grip, dude.

  3. 16

    A good overview in cloning techniques. The most important part for me in this article that I’d reiterate, is time; plan what it is your cloning, don’t rush the process and avoid the disaster. Thanks for sharing, Tommy!

  4. 17

    Great introduction to cloning – thanks. Perfect for the minority of SM readers who, like me, are not awesome at everything already!

  5. 18

    Nice one.. Vanishing Point details are good…

  6. 19

    Nice tutorial, but inaccurate about Burberry. See below where the leg “went” :)

  7. 21

    Sure beats a lot of book reading.

  8. 22

    Yes, CS5 will really turn things around.. Let’s hope the crackers can crack this version without any trouble as well :)

  9. 23

    Cool tip! gonna try some of this

  10. 24

    Joshua Johnson

    March 30, 2010 7:23 am

    Hey, didn’t I write this? :)

  11. 25

    Matt Lindley

    March 30, 2010 7:55 am

    I would add a couple of things to this, for those who are not experienced PS users. The author mentions in passing:

    The very first step to take when cloning parts of an image is to duplicate the layer you’ll be working on (or to just work on a new transparent layer).

    I would make this a common practice. You can work on a duplicate of the original layer – but I find that working on a blank layer gives me the greatest flexibility.

    Second, know that the healing brush and spot healing brush often don’t work well when dealing with areas that are next to strong transitional areas. I.e.: if you are healing something in a light area that is right next to a dark area. You’ll get a ghosting of the nearby area into the spot you just healed.

    The solution is to copy the area that you want to heal to a new layer (no need to dup the whole layer), then use the smudge tool (the finger tool) to smudge the area to be healed into the contrasting area that’s preventing you from just using healing brush. Yes, the image will look like crap; the goal is to temporarily eliminate the contrasting area so your healing brush can do it’s job. After you’ve smudged away everything but the area that you actually want to heal (at least from the area immediately surrounding the original problem spot) use the healing/spot healing brush to fix the original problem. Finally, use a layer mask to remove the smudge marks.

    You should also know that many of these tools work well together – you’ll often find that you get better results if you clone, then use healing brush to help eliminate obviously duplicated spots, for example.

  12. 26

    great tips for PS lovers..

  13. 27

    Woww .. very nice Info :) ..

  14. 28

    Very useful, several techniques I’d not used before, In particular, the multiple sources and perspective options. Thanks!

  15. 29

    Exelente articulo!!

  16. 30

    I for one thank you for such a great post! I never knew there were so many cloning options.

  17. 31


  18. 32

    can’t wait to see CS5. They have some new features that look crazy.

  19. 33

    I appreciate that you covered the “Healing brush”. I have only ever really used the Clone tool, so it was a nice treat to learn the differences and to see examples of their uses and benefits. Thank you! I consider this article very useful.

  20. 34

    Some nice tips


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