Why and How to Retouch Photos Non-Destructively in Photoshop CC Using Retouching Tools

Why and How to Retouch Photos Non-Destructively in Photoshop CC Using Retouching Tools

Retouching photograph is a very common task in Photoshop. Most of the time we are using Smart Filters or retouching tools to substitute and blend or to distort pixels. Do you know that edits using Spot Healing, Healing Brush, Clone Stamp, Patch tool ... can be done non-destructively on a separate layer? A trick is an option in the Options bar for which you must know and what it allows you to do when using retouching tools.

In this tip, I will explain to you why and how to keep substitution pixels on a separate layer when retouching photos in Adobe Photoshop CC.

Benefits of nondestructive retouching

Using retouching tools nondestructively is only one part of nondestructive workflow which is forgiving and flexible. It is an excellent feature for professionals, occasional users, and learners who haven't developed their own style/strategy jet. Nobody is perfect gentlemen. It is easy to overlook something or to make an obvious mistake. When using nondestructive workflow fatal mistakes are almost eliminated. When a mistake occurs it will cost you less time/effort to correct it.

Here are listed some benefits of nondestructive retouching:

  • Nondestructive retouching on separate layer gives you the flexibility to quickly modify/improve substitution pixels or simply to hide/delete the layer and start over again.
  • You can save layered file then open it later and continue working/correcting mistakes.
  • You can use blending options even after saving re-opening file.
  • While learning you can learn some new, better technique and retouch from scratch by discarding the layer with substitution pixels and start again by creating a blank new layer.
  • Nondestructive retouching on a separate layer is reducing file size in comparison with the duplicated layer to preserve original pixels.
  • Another benefit is flexibility to retouch pixels on multiple layers without merging them.
  • Another cool feature is the ability to retouch pixels on smart object layer without editing its content what is very important when using linked smart object layers because original or referenced image will stay intact and can be used as such in some other context/application.

How to retouch on separate, blank layer

The process is simple and easy. Use this tip whenever you are working with retouching tools because original pixels will be intact. Another cool thing is that you can use this tip with Smart Object layers without editing its original content. Here are the steps:

  • Create a blank new layer above the layer(s) with pixels which should be retouched. 
  • Activate any of retouching tools like Spot Healing Brush, Healing Brush, Patch Tool, Clone Stamp Tool...
  • Check Sample All Layers in the Options bar. Sometimes you will see single option while other times there will be Sample drop-down list to choose between Current Layer, Current & Below or All Layers.
  • Ensure that blank new layer created in the first step is selected then start retouching or substituting pixels as you will normally do.
Retouch photo non-destructively on a separate layer in Photoshop
Steps to retouch non-destructively on a separate layer in Photoshop using retouching tool(s):
  • Crete blank new layer above layer(s) which contains pixels to retouch (substitute).
  • Activate retouching tool.
  • Check Sample All Layers in the Options bar.
  • Ensure that blank layer is selected in the Layers panel and start retouching pixels.

Product used in this tutorial:
Adobe Photoshop CC 2018

Retouch and repair photos
Nondestructive editing


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