Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool

by Matt Ward

on June 28, 2010

in Resources Tutorials

Get the FlatPix UI Kit for only $7 - Learn More or Buy Now

I think that, like me, a lot of people out there actually learn most of what they know about Photoshop by teaching themselves. Even if you do take a class, it will likely focus on the basics, and just won’t have the scope to dig into all of the finer details of the application. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this, and I think that the best way to learn anything is to get your hands dirty and dig into it yourself.

Recently, however, I was at a Photoshop seminar in which the instructor, Dave Cross, was discussing this very thing. He said that there is one significant problem with being a self-taught Photoshop user, and that that problem was the teacher. The comment was perhaps somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and intended to draw a chuckle from us, but there’s definitely some truth to it.

To take another of Cross’ lines: would you trust a “self-taught” surgeon?

Anyhow, this idea became apparent to me just over a year ago, during a discussion with a friend with whom I regularly share tips and suggestions for using Photoshop. Though I cannot recall his exact phrasing, he basically asked me what I thought of the Clone Stamp tool, and whether it was something worth using.

I honestly had no idea. It was a tool that I hadn’t really ever touched. So, in the days and weeks that followed, I actually made a conscious effort to use and learn how it works. Today, it’s one of my absolute favorite tools to use for both small touchups and full blown photo manipulations.

In this article, I would like to cover some of the useful and interesting things that you should know about the Clone Stamp.

Selecting a Source

Basically, what the Clone Stamp tool actually does is replicate a collection of pixels from one part of the document into another part of the same document. Obviously, this has all sorts of really interesting implications as it relates to touching of photos or making visual alterations.

The first thing that you need to be able to do when using the clone stamp is to actually select source from your document. Doing this is really very simple. With the Clone Stamp tool selected, just hold down the Option (PC: Alt) button, turning the cursor into a little target. Then, while still holding the Option key, just click anywhere on the document to set the clone source.

Once this is done, the next step is to set the offset. Basically, this is a pair of X and Y coordinates that tell Photoshop how to displace the replicated pixels. Just position your cursor in the position that you want to start painting the new pixels and click. The difference between this pixel and the exact pixel that you chose as your offset will essentially establish the value of the offset.

Once you click, the offset will be set, and you can use a brush to paint the new pixels on (we’ll talk more about the brush aspect below). However, if you do want to change the offset position, simply open up the Clone Source palette and adjust the X and Y values, as appropriate.

Offset Coordinates

It’s also important to note that, when working with a layered document, there are multiple ways to select pixels. If you look in the options bar, there should be a drop down labeled “source”, from which you can select three different options:

  • Current Layer
  • Current & Below
  • All Layers

These options are all very self explanatory, but its important to know about them, since they can have a dramatic impact on how the Clone Tool works. For instance, if you are working on a document with many adjustment layers, and want to make changes to the adjusted pixels, you will want to use either the Current Layer or Current & Below options. If you select the All Layers option, you will sample the adjusted pixels, rather than the original, which could cause some strange things to happen!

Multiple Sources

The Clone Source panel also offers an interesting option that I could guess often gets overlooked by people using this tool. If you look at the top of the pannel, you should see five buttons that look like this:

You can set multiple=

Notice that the first one appears to be pressed down. This indicates that the first of five clone sources is selected. It also means that you can save up to four more different clone sources, simply by clicking the different source buttons. This can be incredibly useful, especially if you find yourself re-selecting the same sources over and over again. All you need to do is save the different sources separately, then just use the buttons to switch between them.

The Brush

Like so many of the tools in Photoshop, the Clone Stamp tool is also a brush-based tool, which means that it shares many of the standard brush properties. For instance, you can select any of the currently loaded brushes, changing the size, the opacity and the fill, just like you can do with the regular brush tool.

Standard brush adjustments

Of course, this also means that you also open up the brush panel and use a number of the adjustments there, such as rotating the brush tip, or adjust any of the really interesting shape dynamics and the scattering options.

All of these options can provide some really interesting options for cloning, and can result in some equally interesting effects. You just need to tweak and experiment and try a few differently things.

The other aspect of the brush tool that I would like to highlight is the ability to set the blending mode. There is nothing unique about this, since pretty much all of the brush-based tools allow you to set blending modes. However, it does present some interesting possibilities when discussing the Clone Stamp tool.

For instance, one of the things that I learned from the recent Photoshop seminar was the ability to set the blending mode to darken and actually clone over lighter areas. The reverse can also be done. In both cases, this technique can be used to help eliminate discolouration along relatively flat surfaces. I’m sure there are many other unique ways that you could think of using the blending modes with the Clone Stamp tool too!

Transformations

The last thing that I want to touch on with the Clone Stamp is the ability to make a few different forms of transformations. For instance, in the Clone Source panel, you can set a rotation for the source. You can use this to help make your cloning less noticeable, since the rotated pixels will no longer look identical to their original source. This can be incredibly useful if you are continually cloning and re-cloning from the same source.

Also, please keep in mind that rotating the clone source is not the same as rotating the brush tip. When you rotate the brush, it simply transforms the way the new pixels are laid on the canvas. It has absolutely no effect on the order of those pixels.

You can also transform your original clone source by adjusting the relative height and width using percentages in the Clone Source panel.

Adjust the dimensions

You could use this technique to decrease the size of an element as you clone it, or even to flip the source vertically or horizontally (using negative percentages). Of course, if you flip it both vertically and horizontally, that ends up being analogous to rotating it by 180 degrees.

Regardless, being able to rotate and resize the new pixels based on the original source is a very useful and powerful bit of functionality, and something that is definitely worth remembering whenever you’re using the Clone Stamp tool.

Conclusion

Obviously, there is a whole lot more that could potentially be said about the Clone Stamp tool. In this article, I just tried to highlight some of the key features and bits of functionality that I think that every clone stamper should be aware of. For the sake of expediency, and so I would have the room to cover everything I wanted to, I elected not to get into great detail with visual examples.

Regardless, I do hope that you have learned a thing or two against what might be one of Photoshop’s most powerful and underrated tools.

Powered by Shutterstock

About Matt Ward