Scratch Repair



Scratch repair is something that you need to address early on when you are restoring an old photo.  If you have them they always seem to big and ugly and very distracting.

Some problems in a old picture (like a nasty color cast or the picture being too light or dark) can be completed with simple 3 or 4 step Photoshop technique.

Simple and quick do not belong in the same sentence as scratch repair. The cleaning part, including repairing scratches, can take hours or days and is real Photoshop grunt work.

The Tools


To repair a scratch you will be use a variety of different Photoshop tools including:

  • layers - lots of layers (it's a darn good thing layers are free)
  • clone tool
  • patch tool
  • healing brush tool
  • spot healing brush tool

Let's look at a typical picture that is in need of scratch repair ...

How To Remove The Scratch


This picture of the cute little girl was taken in the early 50's and this is a scan of the original print.

Restore Dawne


You can see a rather large and impressive scratch (from folding) in the top right corner and there is one on right on the beach) as well.  Let's fix the worst one first ...


scratch repair crack

This is what the scratch looks like when enlarged - it's really quite impressive, isn't it?

The best way to eliminate this crater is to use a Wacom Tablet and the Clone Tool.  I'm using an Intuos 3 with one of the Express Keys set as the ALT key (which is the default setting for one of the Express Keys) and another Express Key changed from its default setting to select the Clone Tool (keyboard shortcut S).  

The Brushes Palette is set to change opacity with pen pressure.

You can eliminate this scratch with a mouse but it will be much more difficult than it is with a tablet.



Before you start doing any cloning create a new blank layer and put a check mark in (or select) scratch repair use all layersUse All Layers.  As you work through your restoration project you will likely turn Aligned off and on depending on the situation and the complexity of the area you are working on.

You really should create a new layer every once in awhile.  If you work on a single layer and mess up badly right near the end of the process then you have to start over.  If you have multiple layers and mess up on one small portion then it is much easier to get rid of that layer and start that portion over again.

With a busy background like this I was constantly changing the Aligned selection.  If you are working an area more like the beach (where there is another scratch) then keeping Aligned checked will probably work best.

The best way to approach this nasty scratch is to zoom waaay in (about 1600%), reduce your brush size down to a couple of pixels and carefully start working abound the edges - save your work a lot!

Make sure you set a lot of different source points by ALT-clicking - this will prevent those annoying and unsightly patterns from showing up on your work.

Work slowly and zoom out to see how things are progressing regularly.

scratch repair 1

You can see the scratch is slowly and methodically disappearing.  Even with the Wacom tablet I made a few errors and created some patterns that became evident when I zoomed out.

Continuing on brought the image to this point. 

scratch repair 2

This one looks better but there were still a few problems that needed attention.  


scratch repair 3


Eliminating that ugly scratch took about an hour and it was worth the effort from a personal point of view.  

Give it a try and go slowly and you will be pleased with the results.  Those old family photos are worth the effort!

scratch repair before scratch repair after
Before Restoring After Restoring

Now the rest of the damaged picture needs to be addressed - but at least that nasty scratch is gone!

That's it for scratch repair - now go find a scratched image and give it a go ...





Photo Restoration

Taking the time to restore old photographs is one of the most enjoyable things you can do when working with graphics.

Some folks go on from doing restoration as a hobby to making a good living using their computer to restore photos for others.










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