How to Smooth with the Smudge Tool in Photoshop CS6

By Barbara Obermeier

Although grouped among the focus tools in Photoshop CS6, the Smudge tool can be used for smoothing. This tool performs more of a warping effect, something like the Warp tool in the Liquify dialog box.

Smudge pushes your pixels around on the screen 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 blurring tools. The Smudge tool can come in handy when retouching images to create a soft, almost painted look. Just don’t go gung-ho, or you may obliterate detail that you want to preserve.

[Credit: © Image #3790696]
Credit: © Image #3790696

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 in a smudged section with its surroundings.

To apply the Smudge tool, just follow these steps:

  1. Open the image and select the Smudge tool from the Tools panel.

  2. Select the settings you want from the Options bar:

    • Select a brush from the Brush Preset picker or Brushes panel.

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

    • Select a blending mode from the Mode pop-up menu.

    • Select the strength of the smudging effect with the Strength slider or text box.

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

    • * If you are using a pressure-sensitive tablet, click the last icon. Doing so overrides any settings you made in the Brush Preset picker or Brush panel.

    • If your image has multiple layers and you want Photoshop to use the color information from all the visible layers to produce the smudge effect, select the Sample All Layers option.

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

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

    You can get some interesting effects with this option. 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. If you are using a pressure-sensitive tablet, click the last icon. Doing so overrides any settings you made in the Brush panel or Brush Preset picker.

  4. Paint over the areas you want to smudge.

  5. Watch the screen carefully while you smudge so that you can redirect your daubs to achieve the look you want.

    This tool can be a little on the destructive side. If you’re looking to preserve reality, use it with restraint. If you want to get wild, go crazy. Either way, it’s best to try it on a duplicate layer. That also enables you to adjust blend modes and opacity with the original layer or any other underlying layers.

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