Tooth Whitening

Tooth whitening with both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements is a nice straight forward technique you can master in a few minutes.

Now - why would anyone want to do a tooth whitening (digital dental hygiene) on an image?

Here's why ...

Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself and cringed in horror and emabarassment because the only part of the picture you saw was unsightly yellow teeth?

Yikes ...

No matter how good the overall image it just seems the eyes snap to those teeth.

tooth whitening tooth whitening
Tooth Whitening - Before and After

Be calm - take deep breaths - this tutorial will show you how to remedy this problem quickly and effectively with Photoshop and Elements (unless you decide to visit a real, live dental hygenist).

Digital Dental Hygiene
Dodging Stains

The stain removal process is only necessary if any stains can be easily seen in the image like in a close up shot.

To begin your digital dental hygiene you need to decide what has to be done and what Elements  tools are best suited for the job at hand.

Obviously the easiest and fastest method is take the brush and paint white over the teeth - but that would look awful - don't do it!  

We want to maintain the surface texture of the teeth, remove any unsightly stains and then do an overall whitening without blowing the teeth out.

In our example there are some nasty yellow stains between the teeth and the overall color needs to be whitened.

tooth whitening original

The best approach at the beginning is to clean up the stains before whitening.

The stain removal can be done with either the Dodge Tool or with the Clone Brush.  In the video on this page I have used the Clone Tool but it can be problematic if care is not taken with the cloning.

When you are cloning you are moving pixels from one place to another and the source pixels can often have a different appearance from the destination pixels and this messes up the integrity of the image.

This will be done with the Dodge Tool set to the following settings:

  • Brush that changes opacity with pressure (with a Wacom tablet installed).
  • Small Brush size
  • Range set to Midtones
  • Low Exposure

like this ...

tooth whitening dodge

Duplicate your Background layer (you cannot dodge on a separate layer with Elements and you don't want to work on the original image).  Zoom way in so an area that needs stain removal until it fills the screen.  With the dodge tool set up correctly start working the stain around each tooth.

Speed is not important - accurately blending the stain into the normal tooth is the important thing.  In this less is really more and when you zoom out and look at the before and after there may not be a huge difference.

tooth whitening pre tooth whitening post
Before Dodging After Dodging

Oops - darn it!

OK - there is a problem with this effort at dodging out the stains.  The separation between the teeth has also been dodged out and the area just looks - well - wrong.

Here is the problem ...

tooth whitening problem

The space between the first and second teeth on the left looks natural while the space between the second and third and the third and fourth doesn't look right, does it?

I have two choices now - I can

  1. Ignore the problem and hope you don't notice, or
  2. Own up to the problem and show you how to fix it so it looks more natural.

Here's how to fix this problem.

tooth whitening Step 1 - zoom in tight on the space between the first and second tooth and create a selection of the darker natural looking area.

Make the selection with the Marquee Selection Tool.
tooth whitening Step 2 - Ctrl-C or Cmd-C to make a copy of the selection and then Ctrl-J or Cmd-J to paste the copy on a new layer.

Grab the Move Tool, make sure the newly created layer is activated and drag the selection over to its new home between the second and third teeth.

Notice that the selection now has a little bounding box with a handle at the bottom.
tooth whitening Step 3 - Position the selection exactly where you want it.  The selection may not be oriented correctly and that is easy to remedy.

tooth whitening Step 4 - To make the selection longer or shorter just grab one of the handles on the bounding box and move up or down until it is the correct length.

If the selection is at the wrong angle place your cursor over the little handle at the bottom of the box and the cursor will change into a circle with little arrows on it - thismeans you can change the angle of the selection.

When the first one is satisfactory then follow the same steps with any other problems like this that need repairing.

That's pretty much it for removings stains - now its time to add some digital polish to those teeth with a Soft Light Layer  ...

Whitening With A Soft Light Layer

Now for the rest of the technique - you can start the actual tooth whitening!

Create a new layer and when the New Layer Dialog comes up, drop down Mode: and select Soft Light Layer.

Directly below Mode there is a check box (Fill With Soft-Light neutral color (50% gray)). Put a check mark in the box and click OK.

tooth whitening softlight layer

Now press the D key on your keyboard to bring up the default foreground and background colors (black and white) and if white is not the foreground color (the top color) press the X key.

Almost there ...

Drop down the Tablet Options and select Opacity so that the harder you press the pen the lighter the image.

Start lightly painting the teeth and they will become progressively whiter. Resist the temptation to spend too much time in one place or you risk getting the teeth too white. What you want is some natural tooth whitening - like a good digital dental hygienist!

Keep at it utooth whitening all layersntil you are satisfied. Zoom out to check your progress from time to time.

Here is the final layers palette ...

Layer 2 is the Soft Light Layer

Separator 1 and 2 are the small dark areas copied and moved between the second and third teeth and between the third and fourth teeth.

And the final image ...

tooth whitening final

Thats pretty much it for doing some digital dental hygiene.  Its amazing how a small change like tooth whitening will improve the overall appearance of a smiling face.


Tooth Whitening With Photoshop Elements
And A Wacom Tablet

Tooth Whitening

This is a fabulous technique to whiten up dingy teeth and to remove stains on the teeth.

It is amazing how making small changes in the teeth will make a portrait image look so much better!

Why Use A Wacom Tablet
For Tooth Whitening?

This Tooth Whitening technique is painting intensive with the ...

  • Dodge Tool
  • Clone Tool (perhaps)
  • Brush Tool
A Wacom tablet makes it much easier to get into the tight areas between the teeth because of the high resolution of the tablets.

You can also set the Brushes to change opacity with pressure so you have much more control with the pen.

 Learn elements now
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