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How to Smooth with the Photoshop Elements 11 Smudge Tool

The Smudge tool in Photoshop Elements 11 performs a kind of warping effect by pushing your pixels around as if they consisted of wet paint, using the color that’s under the cursor when you start to stroke. However, don’t view the Smudge tool as a simple distortion tool that produces only comical effects.

You can use it on tiny areas of an image to soften the edges of objects in a way that often looks more natural than when you use the Blur tool. You can also use the Smudge tool to create a soft, almost-painted look. Just don’t get too carried away, or you may obliterate detail that you want to preserve.

[Credit: ©istockphoto.com/agmit Image #1725665]
Credit: ©istockphoto.com/agmit Image #1725665

Smudged areas may be obvious because of their smooth appearance. Adding a little texture by using the Noise filter after you smudge is often a good idea if you want to blend a smudged section in with its surroundings.

To apply the Smudge tool, just follow these steps:

  1. In the Photo Editor, in Expert mode, open the image and select the Smudge tool from the Tools panel.

    Press R to cycle through the Smudge, Blur, and Sharpen tools.

  2. In the Tool Options, select a brush from the Brush Preset Picker drop-down panel and use the Size slider to specify your desired brush diameter.

    Use a small brush for smudging tiny areas, such as edges. Larger brushes produce drastic effects, so use them with care.

  3. In the Tool Options, select a blending mode from the Mode drop-down menu.

  4. In the Tool Options, select the strength of the smudging effect with the Strength slider or text box.

    Low values produce a lighter effect; high values really push your pixels around.

  5. If your image has multiple layers, select the Sample All Layers option to make Elements use pixels from all visible layers when it produces the effect.

    The smudge still appears only on the active layer, but the look is a bit different depending on the contents of the underlying layers.

  6. Use the Finger Painting option to begin the smudge by using the foreground color.

    You can create interesting effects with this option. Rather than use the color under your cursor, this option smears your foreground color at the start of each stroke.

    You can switch the Smudge tool into Finger Painting mode temporarily by holding down the Alt key (the Option key on the Mac) while you drag. Release Alt (Option) to go back to Normal mode.

  7. Paint over the areas you want to smudge.

    Pay attention to your strokes because this tool can radically change your image. If you don’t like the results, press Ctrl+Z (Command+Z on the Mac) to undo the changes and then lower the Strength percentage (discussed in Step 4) even more.

    This tool can be a little destructive. If you’re looking to preserve reality, use it with restraint. If you want to get wild, go crazy.

  8. When you finish, choose File→Save to store your image.

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