Advanced Editing

Introduction to the clone tool

Written by Gail Bjork

Learn how and why to use the Clone Tool to enhance and correct digital photos.

The clone tool is one of the most important tools in your image editing toolbox, but it is often misunderstood. People talk of cloning this or that “out,” but seldom talk about what they clone “in.”

trainsCloning enables the user to eliminate unwanted portions of an image, as shown in the first illustration where the branches have been cloned out.

Cloning also allows the user to create or add components to an image that were not present, or were only present in part, in the original image.

The illustration below shows ducks and foliage added to an image by cloning in those parts from the original.

In Photoshop, as in most image editing programs, the clone tool is represented by the rubber stamp icon. To use it, click on the icon from the tools palette.

Now, you have a few decisions to make.

Specifying settings

Your first decision is to determine what brush size to use. First you’ll want to zoom into your image at whatever magnification is most appropriate for your task.

For most clone work, you’ll want to zoom into a full-size image at a magnification of no less than 200 percent. For very fine detail, you’ll want to work at magnifications of 300 – 400 percent.

Generally, a brush size of between 10 and 30 pixels will work well, but depending upon how large or small an area you are cloning, you may need to adjust the size up or down. A quick method for adjusting your brush size is to use the left (smaller) and right (larger) bracket keys on your keyboard.

Your second decision is to select the degree of hardness for your brush. Using a softer brush will enable easier blending of cloned material. Using a harder brush will result in crisper edges of the cloned area.

Your third decision is to select the level of opacity for your brush. This is one of the most important success factors of cloning. For best results, you will vary the opacity while cloning based on how visible you want the cloned pixels to be. For blending and gradations, you’ll want to use a very low opacity.

Play around with opacity levels to get a feel for the opaqueness at various settings.

Using the clone tool

mist2To begin using the clone tool, you need to “select” a sample area from which pixels will be “copied” to your brush. To do this, move the brush over the desired sample area, depress the Alt key and click your mouse or other input device. To transport this sampled area and apply it to the work area in your image, release the Alt key and move the brush to the new location and click your mouse.

In order to continue cloning new pixels from the sample vicinity, simply continue clicking your mouse wherever you want to apply new pixels. Your sample area will change as you move your mouse a corresponding distance. Apply the clone tool in the direction you want the sample to be drawn from as you work.

You can view the sample area by looking for the + when you click your mouse to apply new pixels. For best results, you’ll want to refresh your sample from areas that will provide a best match in color, luminosity and content to the area you are cloning. And, don’t forget to adjust your brush size, brush opacity, and zoom percentage as you work.

If you want to undo a cloning series, simply move back to the point in your history palette where you’d like to begin again. But don’t allow yourself to get too far in a cloning series you don’t want to retain, for you may exceed the maximum number of steps available in the history palette.

It’s always a good idea to do your cloning on a separate layer so that if you decide you want to clear the whole thing and start over, you can just delete the layer and make a new layer from the original and start over.

Train photo illustration and text by Dawn Lane.
Mist illustration by Gail Bjork
This is copyrighted material. All rights reserved

About the author

Gail Bjork

Gail Bjork, who is passionate about digital photography, is the owner and editor of Digicamhelp.Gail is the author of three illustrated ebooks about digital photography. A number of her photos and digital photography related articles appear at other websites.In 2006, a series of her photos, People in the Louvre, were exhibited at the Underground Photo Gallery
in Iisalmi Finland. Eight of her photos taken in the Florida scrub are on permanent exhibition at Parrish Medical Center in Titusville, Florida.Gail served twelve years as an elected member of The School Board of Palm Beach County, Florida, one of the largest school districts in the U.S. She has also been the editor of a small town newspaper and a free-lance writer. Gail and her husband owned and ran several small businesses.