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Skin retouching Photoshop tutorial

Skin Retouching Techniques

In this tutorial I will show you 2 ways of retouching the skin of your models. A more realistic technique is using the spot healing brush. Use this technique is you want to keep the texture of the skin. Another way of retouching skin is by using the Surface Blur filter. With this skin retouching technique you will achieve a plastic look but it can still look good in some cases. I will also show you how to combine both techniques and achieve the result that you want.

Resources needed

Technique 1 result

Technique 2 result

For this tutorial I will use a picture of Jena Malone which I found on the internet. You can use any image but for this tutorial use the same image that I’m using. Always try to use a high resolution image if possible.

Technique 1 – Healing Spot Tool

I’m sure many of you have already seen this technique on other tutorials but I will discuss it anyways in case you didn’t see it before.

The Healing Spot Brush is located under the Eye Dropper Tool and you can access it by pressing the J key on your keyboard or Shift+J to cycle through the other tools on the same group. This tool works by sampling the texture around the area where you click and applies it so you must pay attention when you’re close to the edges.

The advantage of using the Healing Spot instead of the Healing Brush or the Clone Tool is that this tool keeps the luminosity of the area you heal. So try to use this tool instead of the Clone Tool as much as you can.

So open the image I provided and duplicate it. Select the Healing Spot Tool and work on the duplicated image.

Set the diameter of the Healing Spot tool more or less to the same size as the blemishes you want to heal and start clicking on all the spots you see. Also reduce the Hardness of the tool to about 15% in order to have smooth edges in case the textures don’t blend well.

Heal all spots that you see, even the smallest ones. You will soon realize that this tool is not perfect and that from time to time you get unwanted results when you’re close to areas with different contrast. Keep in mind that if you click and drag to paint over an imperfection, the tool samples the texture differently and you might get different results.

This is the before and after using the healing brush tool. It took me about 10 minutes. Hover the mouse over the image to see the before and after.

Technique 2 – Surface Blur

Duplicate the original image again and let’s try the second technique. As I said, this is a lot more extreme than the first one and in many cases the skin looks fake but some people like it anyways so I will explain it. If the layer that you used on the first technique is still visible, hide it now. See image below.

Now apply the Surface Blur filter. The reason why you should use this filter is because unlike the Gaussian Blur filter, this one keeps the edges sharp.

The settings you use on this layer will be different for every image depending on how smooth the original skin already is and how smooth you want it to be. In general, the Threshold should be a bit higher than the Radius setting but not by much because otherwise you will loose the sharpness of the edges.

Now look at the image above and let’s see what happened because this is not exactly what I was looking for. You can see that most of the skin of the face looks very good and smooth (unrealistic but…)

The problems is that with the threshold settings that I used, the blur was not applied to all surfaces. The area around the nose shown in the image above was not blurred because those pixels are above the threshold that I set (25 levels in my case)

I could fix that by increasing the Threshold but that will mess up my sharp edges. The way I fix that is by applying first a 1px Gaussian Blur and after that apply the Surface blur with the same settings as in the image above. Another way of doing it, which is probably better because it doesn’t affect the edges at all, is by using the Blur Tool and smooth the area manually.

This is how the Surface Blur looks after applying a 1px Gaussian Blur first. As you can see the area around the nose in now blurred.

Now add a layer mask from Layer>Layer Mask>Hide All or hold the Alt key while you click on the layer mask icon. Next, get the Brush Tool, set the Foreground color to white and paint all over the skin including the eyes and other details to reveal the smoothness. We will reveal the details in a moment. Set the brush Hardness to about 30% and start brushing. You should get something like in the image below.

Details like the eyes, mouth nostrils and eyebrows should not be blurred so use the brush tool and paint with black on the layer mask to hide the smooth effect and reveal the sharp original version. Se the Hardness of the brush to 0% so that you have smooth transitions.

This is the before and after applying the Surface Blur.

This effect is too extreme in my opinion. Usually what I do, is a combination of both techniques. I use the Healing Spot tool and apply the Surface blur but I reduce the Opacity of the blurred layer to about 50-60%. That way I keep some skin texture and hide the most significant blemishes. See image below.

I hope that you learned something new in this tutorial and that you liked it. Keep in mind that there are other more advanced and professional techniques of retouching skin but the ones explained here will work for most Photoshop users.

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