How to use the Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool

by Jan 21, 2022Photo Editing Tutorials

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How to use the Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool

In this tutorial, we will look at how to use the Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool to remove unwanted objects in a photo.

The Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool is one of the oldest repair tools in the Photoshop Tools Palette. Whilst Adobe has introduced newer repair tools, the Clone Stamp Tool remains extremely valuable. It’s a great tool to use when removing distractions in photos and especially when combined with other Photoshop repair tools.

Removing Unwanted Objects from a Photo

The most likely repair you will need to make using the Clone Stamp Tool is to remove unwanted objects from a photo. The following image illustrates a typical problem that you might want to address.

how to use the photoshop clone stamp tool

In the left image you can see the original photo with two problem areas highlighted near the edges of the frame. The image on the right shows the corrected photo after repairing it using only the Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool.

Selecting the Photoshop Clone Stamp

You will find the Clone Stamp Tool in the Photoshop Tools Palette which is usually on the left side of the interface. It’s highlights in the following screenshot.

position of the clone stamp tool in the photoshop tools palette

The Clone Stamp Tool is grouped in the Tools Palette with the Pattern Stamp Tool. If you can’t see it, it’s possible you may have the Pattern Stamp Tool showing instead. If this is the case, right-click on the tool’s icon in the Tools Palette. This expands the group to show the available tools, allowing you to select the Clone Stamp Tool.

After selecting the Clone Stamp Tool, you will see its settings displayed in the Context Sensitive Toolbar. It’s very important that you understand these and how to configure them as it’s the key to achieving good results. Let’s look at those before we tackle the photo repair

Clone Stamp Tool Settings

Below you can see a section of the Photoshop Context Sensitive Toolbar, displaying the settings for the Clone Stamp Tool.

Context sensetive toolbar for the clone stamp tool

Although there are a lot of settings in the toolbar, there are four you should pay particular attention to. These are the

  1. Brush Settings.
  2. Opacity & Flow.
  3. Aligned option.
  4. Sample.

Let’s look at each of these in a more detail.

The Brush Settings

Use this to control the shape, size, and hardness of the Clone Stamp Tool’s brush. For most repairs, you are probably best using a round brush.

Whilst you can set the size of the Clone Stamp brush here, it’s probably best not to. Instead, learn to use the shortcut keys ‘[‘ and ‘]’ on your keyboard. The ‘[’ key reduces the brush size whilst the ‘]’ key increases it. This allows you to position the Clone Stamp brush near to the repair whilst sizing it. It also makes changing the brush size whilst you work easy.

Opacity & Flow

It’s best to keep both settings at 100% when making a repair with the Clone Stamp unless you have a specific reason to reduce them. Sometimes a lower Opacity can help to blend multiple parts of the image into an area to break up the appearance of patterns in a repair. Other times this will create a mess. The same is true of the Flow setting.

The Aligned Option

The Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool works by sampling one area (the source) and copying it to another (the target).

The Align option controls the sampling behaviour of the Clone Stamp. When the Aligned option is unchecked, the Clone Stamp Tool will always sample from the same Source point in the photo. It doesn’t matter where on the image you move your mouse; each time you click the Clone Stamp copies that same part of the image.

The alternative is to use the Aligned option. Now when you move the Clone Stamp Tool to another area of the image the source point also moves. How much the source point moves depends on where you make the first repair. After that, the source moves in alignment with your mouse.

The following screenshot should help to provide an example.

Photoshop clone stamp tool repair using the Aligned option

The area at point 1 is sampled from point 2. If the Aligned option is ticked, after making the first repair, the source then also moves in the same direction and distance as the mouse. Move the mouse up and the source also moves up to sample a new area.

The other example is point 3 which is sampled from point 4. Because the Aligned option is turned off, it doesn’t matter where on the image you position the mouse, the area that’s cloned is always the same and point 4 doesn’t move.

Sample

The Sample dropdown allows you to select the layer or layers you want to sample when using the Clone Stamp tool for a repair. The options are:

  1. Current Layer – Here only the current, active layer is sampled. That’s the layer you have selected in the Photoshop Layers window.
  2. Current & Below – With this option the sample is taken from the current layer and any visible layers below it in the Layers window. If there are any layers above the current layer, the Clone Stamp Tool ignores them.
  3. All Layers – This will sample from all the visible layers in the image.

Control this behaviour is very important as it allows us to make repairs on separate layers so that they aren’t destructive. The easiest way to do this is by adding a new empty layer to the top of the Layers Window by selecting “Layers | New | Layer…” from the menu. We can then make any repairs using the Clone Stamp on that layer. If we later decide the repair isn’t good, we can delete or hide it before making another repair.

After creating the new empty layer, set the Sample dropdown to be “Current & Below”. Now when you make the repair, the Clone Stamp Tool samples all the image layers and the repair’s made on the new empty layer.

You could also use the “All Layers” option but it can cause more mistakes when working with lots of layers.

Sampling with the Clone Stamp Tool

To make a repair to a photo using the Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool, you first need to set the sample or source point.

To set the sample point, hold down the Option Key (Mac) or Alt key (PC) on your keyboard. You will then see the shape of the mouse pointer change.

Move the pointer over the area you want to sample and click once with your mouse before releasing the key.  The sample point has then been set and you can then position your mouse pointer over the area you would like to replace. Depending on your version of Photoshop, you may see the sampled area appear inside the brush as you move it. This preview helps you to align the area being copied with the repair.

You can apply the sampled area to the new point by clicking with your mouse. Before doing this, be sure to check you have the new empty repair layer you created, selected in the Layers Window.

Example Repair with the Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool

In the following screenshot you can see the left side of our image open in Photoshop and magnified to 200%. This shows part of a person’s arm that we need to remove from the edge of the frame. Given the detail surrounding the area, this is an ideal repair for the Clone Stamp.

area 1 requiring a repair with the clone tool

We can start the repair by creating a new empty layer using the menu command “Layers | New | Layer…”.

Then check the settings for the Clone Stamp Tool in the Context Sensitive Toolbar. We will use a hard brush with a slightly soft edge, by setting the Hardness to 90%. Set both the Opacity & Flow set to 100%. Also, use the Aligned option with the Sample dropdown set to Current & Below.

Resist the temptation to dive in to making the repair. Instead, plan how best to produce a realistic repair.

Start by reproducing the shadow patterns cast by the umbrellas. After that we can easily remove the rest of the arm as it’s all in the shadows.

You can see the first repair with the Clone Stamp Tool in the following screenshot.

starting the first repair with the clone stamp tool

Work at 200% magnification when making repairs with the Clone Stamp Tool if you can. This allows you to work with enough precision to align repairs exactly so that they won’t be noticeable. In this example you can see how the repair to area 1 perfectly aligns the shadows cloned from area 2.

Continue to make repairs to the area around this by sampling other parts of the image. Also be sure to increase the magnification to work on smaller areas that require more precision. It often helps to resize the Clone Stamp Tool using the [ and ] keys on your keyboard as you move between areas.

You can see the repair in the screenshot below.

Repair Step 2 using the Clone Stamp Tool

Here the repair’s magnified at 300%. If it looks OK at this magnification it will look great at 100%.

Removing the remaining part of the arm is now quite easy by sampling from the shadows around it. You can see the final repair below magnified at 100%.

clone stamp tool repair before and after

The original image is on the left and the repaired image on the right.

Other Photoshop Repair Tools

This tutorial is one of several, covering the different repair tools in Photoshop. Whilst the Clone Stamp Tool is useful when used on its own, you can often achieve better results by combining it with other tools. In particular, the Photoshop Patch Tool and the Photoshop Healing Brush/Spot Healing Brush Tools. Be sure to read these tutorials if you haven’t already done so.

Summary

Using the Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool requires an understanding of the settings we have covered and a little planning. If you plan well, work slowly and in detail, you can create amazing repairs to remove unwanted objects. But it’s often not advisable to work with just the Clone Stamp. By combining the Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool with the Patch Tool and Spot Healing Brush you can usually achieve superior results. Be sure to read my other tutorials on these tools if you haven’t already.

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