Smooth Skin

When you use this Photoshop Elements smooth skin technique in conjunction with the portrait category of the Smart Brush tool you can create some fabulous results.

The Portrait category includes seven different adjustments that do a great job on their own. The adjustments include ...

  • Bright Eyes
  • Details
  • Lighten Skin Tones
  • Lipstick
  • Pearly Whites
  • Spray Tan
  • Very Pearly Whites
How to use the Smart Brush Tool is fully explained in this tutorial - right here - if you're familiar with the Smart Brush then we can move on to the addition of smooth skin to your portraits.

The Image

Here is the image we are going to use for this tutorial.  It was downloaded from Stock Exchange.

smooth skind marianne original

There is absolutely nothing wrong with the image as it is, however it's easy to add a glamor look  using the portrait tools and the smooth skin technique.

Portrait Effects

Before you start make a copy of the original image by dragging the Background to the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette.  Now do the portrait adjustments on the Background Copy.

I used three of the portrait effects with the Detail Smart Brush Tool ...
  • Bright Eyes
  • Details (eyes and hair)
  • Lipstick
to arrive at this result ...

smooth skin smart brush

This version seems to have a bit more pop than the original, don't you think?

Smooth Skin

The smooth skin technique uses the Surface Blur filter.

This is what Elements has to say about this filter ...

The Surface Blur filter blurs an image while preserving edges. This filter is useful for creating special effects and for removing noise and graininess.

Surface Blur Dialogue

The filter is found in Filter > Blur > Surface Blur and this is the dialogue.

smooth skin surface blur dialogue

The adjustments are the Radius and the Threshold.  This is what the Help file says about the two adjustments ...
  • The Radius option specifies the size of the area sampled for the blur.

  • The Threshold option controls how much the tonal values of neighboring pixels must diverge from the center pixel value before becoming a part of the blur. Pixels with tonal value differences less than the Threshold value are excluded from the blur.
Probably the best thing to do is mess with the sliders (start with Radius) until you get something you like.

To see the effect of the settings you can turn the Preview off and on or move your pointer over the preview in the dialogue.  The pointer will turn into the hand tool - tap your pen (or left click) to switch between the original and the adjusted (smooth skin) view.

What you'll notice is that the stronger the Blur the more it will remove small details - things like hair strands, eye lashes, jewelry, blemishes, skin creases and other small, fine features. In some cases that is what you want while in others eliminating the fine features is not such a great thing.

When you're happy with the result click OK to accept the settings.

amooth skin blurred

The first thing you notice is that not only is the skin smoothed out, everything is smoothed out and that's not what we want - bet you thought your eyes were suddenly out of focus

Add A Layer Mask

smooth skin layers paletteHere's the layers palette after doing the three portrait adjustments, doing the Surface Blur on the Background copy and then adding a layer mask by clicking on the little Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers Palette (outlined in red).

With the Layer Mask white (like it is here) the Surface Blur adjustment will still be visible so we need to fill the Layer Mask with Black.

To invert the Layer Mask type Ctrl-I/Cmd-I - now the image no longer shows the Surface Blur Adjustment.

Select the Brush Tool, make White the Foreground Color and set the Brush Tablet Options to change Opacity with pressure on your Wacom pen.

Paint On The Mask

Now zoom in tight on the face and start painting the Surface Blur back in where you want it. Be careful around the eyes, eyebrows, lips and any other detail that should not be blurred. Zoom in and out to get an overall impression of the progression of your smooth skin technique.

smooth skin layer maskThis is the Layer Mask after painting with white.  It's kind of unsightly but it sure does make a difference

You can look at your layer mask on its own by pressing and holding the Alt key and then tap your pen (or left click) on the Layer Mask.

To get back to the normal view do the same thing again - press and hold the Alt key and tap your pen on the Mask.

You can see where I was careful around the lips, the eyes, eyebrows, the small strand of hair on her forehead and around the necklace.

If you make a mistake switch your foreground color to black and paint out the mistake and then go back to white and continue working.

When you figure your done zoom out and be critical of your work.

If you feel the blur is too severe then start lowering the opacity of the Background copy layer.  As the opacity of the Background copy layer becomes less then more of the Background (original) layer will show through.

Compare Before and After

When you want to quickly compare before and after and you've got multiple layers here's how to run off all of the layers except the Background.

Put the pointer over the eyeball on the left of the Background layer, press the Alt key and click the eyeball.

This will turn off all of the layers except the Background.  To quickly get all of the layers back on just do the same thing again.

smooth skin original
smooth skin finished
After Modifications

All that's left to do is try out the smooth skin technique for yourself.  As you can see it's very effective.

Page Links


Portrait Effects


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