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Photoshop Tutorial : Using The History Brush Tool

With more people using adjustment layers, the History Brush Tool isn’t used as often as it used to be. It is still useful to know how the tool works though, just in case you ever find the need to use it. I’m more likely to use the HB tool in image restoration than anywhere else, but it can do other things – lets have a look at a couple of them here.

After you have performed a change to an image in Photoshop, it becomes a History State – and by default, Photoshop allows 20 history states. So once you hit 21 history states, the first change you did to the image will disappear forever. You can change the amount of History States in Photoshop by going to Preferences and changing the amount. The more History States you choose, the more memory Photoshop will need/use.

You can borrow my image below to practise on if you like, the copyright remains mine etc.,

If your History Palette isn’t visible, go to Window>History to open it. Open my/an image in Photoshop. Lets use the image itself to do some dodging and burning on the flower. You can either press the Y key on your keyboard to bring up the History Brush tool, or go to the side toolbar to open it.

Once you have the History Brush selected, you can use the top toolbar to choose a brush size/type, change the blend mode, opacity and flow. Change the mode to Multiply – Opacity to 25% and leave the flow at 100% (unless you want to change it) Go to the Layers Palette and duplicate the b/ground by dragging it to the new layer icon at the bottom of the layers palette, or pressing Ctrl + J on the keyboard. Go to the History Palette and click in the area at the left of the start image (where the eyball would normally be in the layers palette) See image below.

Now paint on the image in some of the darker areas to give them some more depth. After you have done this – go to the blend mode and change it to Screen, then paint on the lighter areas. You can vary the opacity of the brush as well if you want. Change the blend mode of the history brush to Soft Light and paint over the b/ground to darken it, you can change the opacity of the brush to 100% for this. Try out different blend modes and opacities to see what you can come up with. You can also use different brush tip sizes and shapes. A comparison image is below.

So lets look at other things you can do with the History Brush. Have the image open again and duplicate the layer , go to Filter>Artistic>Paint Daubs and choose something you like. Mine were Brush size 8 – Sharpness 7 and Brush Type simple. Take a snapshot of the image – see image below.

Name the snapshot Paint Daubs. Name the layer you did the filter on, Paint Daubs also. Because the history brush has to have a corresponding layer we are going to delete the contents of the layer named paint daubs. Select the layer in the layers palette (not the history palette). Press Ctrl + A on your keyboard to select the contents of the layer, press either the backspace button or delete button on your keyboard to clear the layer contents, then press Ctrl + D to deselect the marching ants. You should end up with a palette that looks like the image below

With the History Brush selected, in the History Palette click on the area on the Paint Daub state which says ‘Set the source for the history brush’ (see earlier image) Make sure you are working on the Paint Daub layer in the layers palette and brush away. You can change the blend mode, change the opacity etc., You can also duplicate the b/ground again, use a different filter, follow the steps above to take a snapshot, clear the contents of the layer, set the history brush source and paint the b/ground (example) I chose a palette knife effect for the b/ground in the image below. You can continue to build up different effects to your hearts content using this method. If you make a mistake while painting, simply use the eraser tool to correct and then carry on.

One of the ways that you are most likely to see the History Brush used, is in image restoration. Along with the Dust and Scratches filter, Surface Blur, Median Blur etc., it can save huge amounts of time, compared to using the Healing brushes, Clone stamp tool etc., So lets have a quick look at how that works. You can use the image below to practise on, copyright is mine etc., It comes from another tutorial that you’ll find in my journal entries, where I took a new image and made it old.

Open the image and then duplicate it (Ctrl + J) You will be concentrating on the white and black spider lines that I made on the image. Go to Filter>Noise>Dust and Scratches and you can use the same numbers that I have if you like.

Click OK to accept the settings, then take a snapshot – name the snapshot dust and scratches. Go back to the layer in the layers palette and rename that as well. Then use Ctrl + A to select the contents of the layer – hit the backspace key to clear the layer and then hit Ctrl + D to deselect the marching ants. Grab the History Brush and in the History Palette click in the little box to the left of the Dust and Scratches snapshot to set that as the source. Make sure that you are working on the Dust and Scratches layer in the layer palette – choose an appropriate sized soft edged brush and check that the top menu is set to Normal and 100% opacity (you can try a smaller amount if you want). Zoom in on the layer, and then start to paint over the spider lines – see image below.

Continue to go over the white and black spider lines until they have gone. You can see in the final image below that I haven’t lowered the opacity enough on the bridge (where the white spider lines were) so it looks smudged. The idea would be to take a bit more care 🙂

Have fun!

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