I teach a very basic Intro to Graphic Design course using the Adobe Suite. In the section on photo retouching we talk about the clone stamp, healing brush, spot heal, and content-aware fill tools. In the past I've talked about the strengths and weaknesses of each one, but the problem I'm running into is that the spot heal and content-aware tools have gotten too good--good enough that I'm having trouble creating exercises that force my students to use the other, more manual tools.

Any suggestions? Has anyone done a project recently where only the clone stamp would do the job? Or should I give up and just accept that these are the modern tools and that knowing them is probably enough for an intro class? Extra points for an exercise that lets me sidestep the ethical considerations of photo retouching (we talk about it, just not at this time).


  • Are you teaching technique or software? If the latter, why bother forcing them to use the less efficient features?
    – DA01
    Sep 9, 2014 at 20:57

3 Answers 3


It's good to look at the major differences between these two tools. I've also made an edit here to include the fact that the healing tool can basically behave the same as the clone stamp if it is set to replace in the tool options.

Healing tool = takes texture of sample and pulls colours from destination.

Clone stamp/Healing tool with replace mode selected = direct clone

While the healing tool is great for blemishes on skin or removing dust, etc... As soon as you want to remove something next to an edge, it falls on its face. When you sample from or to areas with high contrast or edges, the healing tool smudges like crazy. You can sample another area where the edge is the same but you don't always have this luxury. This is when I find it's time to switch over to the clone tool and then just heal the clone tool's edges after. Alternatively, you can carefully create a selection box that excludes the edge and then use the healing brush which will stop it from pulling the edge in.

If you want to be really tricky then get them to figure out how to remove something from a textured object without removing the texture. Or get them to remove text from a fabric where it's creased or folded...

Anyway... Here's one I did earlier:

enter image description here

Never mind all your beautiful models!

This required a mixture of healing and cloning as well as copying chunks of pipe to paste over the really bad parts and using various brightness, paint and cloning tools to blend them in.

One key thing you need to teach them is how to make all the touching up look natural. Nothing ruins touch-up work like making it blindingly obvious that it's been done!

  • Apparently this was worthy of downvoting. Whatever. Anyways... I just wanted to say that this video covers this topic quite well too: phlearn.com/why-are-the-clone-stamp-and-healing-brush-different Sep 9, 2014 at 21:53
  • Not sure why you were downvoted. I found your answer very informative. However it should be noted that the healing brush can replace the clone brush, even on an edge as @Neo mentions using the replace mode. (Adobe is pretty much combining the tools)
    – Hanna
    Sep 9, 2014 at 22:39
  • Aha, I understand what was meant by replace mode now. It does seem that this may be the case. I guess then the only reason to use the clone tool would be because it has a shortcut? (Certainly seems to be why I didn't use it before!) Sep 9, 2014 at 22:45
  • I think it's a newer feature :)
    – Hanna
    Sep 9, 2014 at 23:34
  • It does make more sense for there to be only one tool. Because they are so similar they are confusing for beginners... I won't be using the replace mode healing brush when it's exactly the same as the clone stamp though seeing as I only need to hit J and S to switch between them at the moment rather than click drop downs... I've added notes into my answer though about it! :) Sep 9, 2014 at 23:53

I would argue that knowing the particularities of software isn't all that important in a graphic design class. The focus should be on design thinking.

So, that said, I'd let the students use whatever tools they find necessary to complete the tasks. If the software has a new and improved feature, why not let them use it?

  • 2
    Even so, being familiar with the tools provided is beneficial. While it never matters how you get the job done certain people may not be aware of certain methods and may be creating more work for themselves than need be. You need to know the tools to know which tool is best for the job.
    – Hanna
    Sep 9, 2014 at 22:45
  • People are very good at making do with only the tools they know rather than actually trying the others. Hell there's still a big percentage of people around who don't know what Ctrl+C is (probably less so in the design world but still). Sep 10, 2014 at 16:32
  • @marcusdoesstuff while true, my opinion is that if I'm paying tuition to be taught design, I'd rather more time be spent teaching me design. If I want to learn a new feature in the software, I can do that myself.
    – DA01
    Sep 10, 2014 at 16:34
  • I know what you mean... Design principles are usually much more important on a whole in my eyes. I'm not sure if that's really the intention of this course however. Sep 10, 2014 at 16:44
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    We certainly talk about design principles as well, but with all due respect not all of the students in my classes are you. You might feel comfortable learning all of that on your own, but for most of them this class serves as an intro to help them figure out what the work even entails. Many of them have never even opened Photoshop before and struggle with the tools to at least some degree. Hell, I don't know anyone who doesn't struggle with the pen tool at least a bit at first. I mean, are you genuinely suggesting that I give them retouching assignments without showing them how?
    – grovberg
    Sep 15, 2014 at 2:19

The Clone Stamp Tool is obsolete.

The Clone Stamp Tool is obsolete, Adobe only keeps the tool alive because the Clone Stamp Tool has always been part of Photoshop and Healing Brush is still in development. Why is it obsolete? The Healing Brush has two modes, Normal and Replace; the Replace mode replaces the functionality of the Clone Stamp Tool. Not to mention that Adobe has added many new tools like Spot Healing Brush, Patch Tool and Red Eye Tool that make the use of the Clone Stamp Tool unnecessary.

In a nutshell: Healing Brush = Clone Tool 2.0.

  • 1
    While I agree that the tool itself may be obsolete the functionality is not. But as you've mentioned it's been wrapped into the healing brush. That being said, the functionality is still relevant and this answer should attempt to answer the question which asks for project ideas relating to this functionality.
    – Hanna
    Sep 9, 2014 at 22:42
  • @Johannes, OK, but I don't know what types of exercises I should post; what applies to "sidestep the ethical considerations of photo retouching"?
    – Rosenthal
    Sep 9, 2014 at 23:00
  • @Neo Is it ethical to "de-age" someone? What about make them skinnier? What about remove parts of an image that change the context? There's a great conversation to be had about that, I'd just prefer to have it later.
    – grovberg
    Sep 15, 2014 at 2:06

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