How To Use the Heal Tool in GIMP {Complete Guide}

large featured heal tool

If you’ve recently transitioned away from Photoshop to GIMP, you’ll be happy to know that both share a lot of the same paint tools… for retouching. Including the magical mending powers of the Healing Tool.

Think of the Healing Tool… as a cousin of the Clone Tool on steroids! Oh, and the Heal Tool is smarter than its relative too. In this tutorial, you’ll learn what the Healing Tool is and how to use it properly. If you’re ready… let’s do it!

Table of Contents

What Is the GIMP Healing Tool?

original retouched with healing tool

Photo by Chermiti. The retouched image includes the removal of stray hairs and fixing the lips.

The Healing Tool is one of several paint tools in GIMP. The Clone Tool is another. The Healing Tool was designed for natural retouching results and is perfect for portraits. You can use it for natural results to remove things like pimples, scars, and other blemishes.

The key to using the Healing Tool is to give GIMP a reference point on your image to work from. It then analyzes the hues, texture, and contrast from the sampled area.

With that information, GIMP will then repair your image section that needs to be fixed (based on where you apply the tool). It then blends in that information for a more natural edit vs. the Clone Tool.

Heal Tool Option Settings

tool options

The Healing Tool is applied through a brush, and the Tool Options will increase its mending powers! To activate the Heal Tool, you can either click on its respective icon in the toolbar or use the keyboard shortcut, “H.”

You’ll notice the Healing Tool settings are similar to that of the Paintbrush tool. Although, there are a couple of new features located near the bottom of the options panel. Let’s go over each new option, and you can discover the other Paintbrush settings here.

Turned off by default, and when it’s activated, it will ignore the current brush’s fuzziness. This gives the brush a hard contour to the Heal area. Not recommended.

Again, not active by default, and it will sample only the pixels of the active layer. The power of this setting is its ability to sample multiple layers. For example, using a transparent layer to receive the pixels being healed… in other words, non-destructive photo editing.

The settings in this drop-down menu dictate how the source image point and your brush interact with each other. When set to “None,” the source point will reset to its original position after you’re done applying your edit.

This setting is more intuitive. The source point follows your brush continuously and never resets to the original reference.

Use this when you want to set the source image point and your brush to be the same. This is helpful when you want the pixels from one layer to be fixed or placed onto another layer.

Unlike None & Aligned, the source point will not move as you apply the Healing tool.

How To Use the Heal Tool For Retouching in GIMP

this shows where in the image the was retouched

I added a white background to show where I applied the Healing tool and how it is separate from the original image.

To be more productive and consistent, I always recommend photo editing non-destructively. What do I mean by non-destructive? Your edits should not alter the pixels of the original layer (image). Otherwise, you risk destroying it by not being to undo your edits if saved.

My recommendation is to duplicate the original layer and apply your edits to it. Or even better, set up the Healing tool options and work on a new, transparent layer.

For example, when you decide it’s time to retouch your image, create a new transparent layer to work from. Then, give GIMP a reference point in your image to work from by holding down your Ctrl key and clicking in that area.

This sets the control point, or sample area used to “fix” where you apply the Heal tool.

Before fixing the image, you’ll want to activate the “Sample Merged” setting in the options panel. As you apply the healing, the pixels will not alter the pixels of the original layer. Instead, the pixels will be added to your new layer!

How To Remove Blemishes With the Healing Tool

before image after using the healing tool

Note: After applying your edit, take a look at your new transparent layer. What do you see? The pixels that have been transferred, of course!

Once you know the secret keys for removing blemishes, doing so will be a piece of cake. In the last section, I gave you those secrets. Now, I’d like to provide some additional pro tips for outstanding results.  

For more pro tips and detailed, step-by-step instructions on retouching this image, go here.

What's Next?

As you just discovered, the Healing Tool is fantastic for retouching portrait images. Wouldn’t you agree? That being said, the Healing tool doesn’t have to be limited to only portraits. It’s safe to use on any type of image that requires a natural result!

But, you know what’s even more powerful? Using the Healing Tool in conjunction with other paint tools, like the Clone tool. It all depends on the image, though. So, check out the Clone tool next!

Ready to elevate your GIMP image editing skills? If so, you’ll be amazed by these free tutorials. Oh, and don’t forget these too.

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