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Repair Torn Photo

Removing cracks the simple way...

Repairing torn or cracked photos can take a long time if you approach it in the wrong way. Often the result still shows tell-tale signs of the repair if you're not careful.

With Photoshop Elements, the whole process involves just a few simple actions! Anyone can seamlessly restore torn photos, to regain that precious memory or moment.

This tutorial deals with removing cracks and blemishes from an image, but if you are looking for information on how to recolor faded old photographs, take a look at this article on Old Photo Repair.

Getting Started

Firstly, open up your image in Photoshop. In most cases this will be a ripped photograph that has been scanned in, or something similar. My example involves two old photographs that were taped together in my family album. In addition to the extremely obvious seam, they also have several marks and scratches on them.

The image is shown below. Click the image to see an enlarged version. I have also displayed a large close-up of the seam. Click on that to see the seam in full detail.

Damaged Photograph
Click Image to Enlarge

Seam Close Up
Click Image to Enlarge

The Tools

I use three main tools when repairing cracks and marks. The 'Spot Healing Brush Tool', the 'Clone Stamp Tool' and the 'Blur Tool'.

The toolbar icons for these tools are pictured below:

Tear Repair Tools

Erasing Small Marks and Blemishes

I find the easiest place to start with damaged images is erasing the minor problems. Not only is it a quick way to get started, you very quickly get the sense that you're making progress, which is always nice!

On the image above, I began by fixing the two most prominent blemishes in the sky. The easiest way to remove marks like these is with the 'Spot Healing Brush Tool'.

To begin, select the tool, and glance up at the options bar. First ensure that 'Proximity Match' is selected in the 'Type' drop down box. Then pick a suitable brush size for the mark you wish to repair.

Using the tool could not be more simple thanks to Photoshop Elements! Simply click and drag over the mark, and then let go!

Photoshop will then use the surrounding area to intelligently 'Make up' the part of the image which is missing. The image below illustrates how the tool is used, and shows the before and after view of the areas I repaired:

Heal Tool

An Important Note About Size

It's worth pausing at this point to mention something about the size of images you repair.

You may have noticed from my close-ups, that I scanned in this picture at a very large size and high resolution by using the 'Fine' settings on my scanner. This is always best when repairing photographs, for a very simple reason.

As we have just seen with the heal tool, a lot of the repairs we will be making involve Photoshop just 'making up' image data. The more image data present to begin with, the wiser Photoshop is when inventing data through guesswork.

For this reason, when you repair a torn photo, or remove scratches or other damage using Photoshop, always try to do so at the highest resolutions available, and then you can shrink the image after repairs if necessary!

Repairing the Major Damage

Back to our repairs. The heal tool is a wonderful invention. Sometimes it doesn't get things right first time, but if it makes things worse rather than better, all you have to do is hit 'Undo', and then try again. By altering your angle slightly, or the area which you ask it to alter, you can usually achieve a good result.

Some damage is just too major to repair using this method though. The tape and crack in my image is a good example.

Without the tape, the heal tool could probably cope with removing the crack, but as it is there is no 'good' image data for the tool to work from. The best it can do is to duplicate the tape, which we consider to be damage itself! This is shown below:

Heal Tool Mistake

So what can we do when Photoshop can't find the right image data itself? We find it ourselves!!!

Luckily, this too is made relatively easy by Photoshop, using the 'Clone Stamp Tool'. This tool gives us the ability to duplicate image data from one part of the image to another, again just by clicking and dragging.

First select the tool, and then decide two things. Where you want to copy image data from, and where you want to put it.

To select the source, hold the 'Alt' key down, and click somewhere on your image. The destination will be a point relative to the source, and will be set by the next place you click.

From now on, when you click and drag, image data will be pasted under your cursor from the other area of the image that you specified.

This is a slightly difficult concept to imagine (and explain!), and so if you have never used the clone tool before, I advise you to go and experiment with it now for a bit, until you are used to how it functions.

The basic idea now is to replace the damaged area of the image with more natural data from elsewhere. There are some important settings on the clone tool that will help you achieve much more natural results.

Clone Tool Settings

The clone tool has a reasonably large number of settings, visible in the options bar at the top of the screen. Discussing all of these in great detail is beyond the range of this article, but I will briefly cover a few, because they have such a big effect on how good your repairs look.

Pictured below are the settings I used for my clone tool during this tutorial:

Clone Tool Options

The first option is the brush shape which the tool uses. Almost without fail, I use a soft edged circular brush. If you use a hard edged brush, it tends to be very obvious where you have cloned data, because the edges are solid. A soft edged brush gives a gradual transition between the original image and the repairs you make.

The size of the brush should be adjusted according to where you are working. Generally the bigger the better, but don't use a brush so big that you overwrite data which you want to keep.

The next important setting, possibly the most important of them all, is the opacity setting. I rarely leave this set to the default 100%, for the same reason that I rarely use a hard edged brush.

Using a lower opacity may mean that you have to go over an area several times with the tool, but it gives you that smooth transition which stops your repairs sticking out like a sore thumb.

The image below illustrates these issues. The bottom left hand corner uses a hard edged brush, and the top left hand corner uses 100% opacity. In both images, it is clear where the image was cloned.

The image on the right shows the smooth transition we are aiming for with a soft edged brush of 60% - 70% opacity.

Clone Tool Opacity

As for the other options, the mode should almost always be set to 'Normal', and 'Aligned' should always be ticked for our purposes. 'Use All Layers' is a feature which I rarely deactivate, but it does have it's uses in obscure cases.

But My Repair Still Looks Obvious!

So you've attacked your rip with the clone tool? Made sure you were using the best Source spot to copy image data from? Sometimes even the best repairs still stick out a little.

Time to put the last weapon in our arsenal to work! The 'Blur Tool'...

Most users will have made use of this tool before, but basically it does what it says on the tin. Blurs things.

If an area of your image looks a little bit suspect, and the clone tool has left some edges or other marks, gently blur the mark until it merges into the background.

The same settings apply as with the clone tool. It is generally best to use a soft edged brush, with an opacity anywhere between 10% and 80% depending on the mark you're repairing, and how delicate that part of the image is.

Feel free to blur a bit, review it, and then undo it if it hasn't improved things. The approach we're taking here is very much a 'light touch' one.

Finally, don't be scared to use appropriate brush sizes. I used the blur tool at 30% strength, and a size of 400px when repairing the sky in my example. If a very big or very small brush is needed, don't be afraid to use it.

Final Touches

After the major damage is repaired, take some time to apply any final changes. My image still had a border round it from where it had been scanned in, and was heavily discolored.

You can find out how to recolor faded images in my other article on Old Photo Repair.

Once you're happy with your image, you're free to use it however you want! Replace that torn photo from the album, or simply use it as your desktop wallpaper!

What's important is that you now have the skills to repair unwanted image data in any picture you come across! It's not just repairing torn photos, you can remove anything undesirable from your pictures! There's always that object which just sneaks into the side of the photograph when you're not looking. Now you can get rid of it!

A Review

To help summarize this rather lengthy tutorial, I've included step by step images of my example. Click on the links to display the picture at each stage of the repair.

1 - Original Image

2 - Minor Blemishes Removed

3 - Major Damage Removed

4 - Color Fade Repaired

I hope you've found this tutorial on Photo Repair useful. If you'd like more free Photoshop tips and tutorials, sign up to my Free Monthly Newsletter and get them delivered straight to your inbox!

Kind Regards

Robert Redwood Robert Redwood - Bio
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