How to Use the Photoshop Smudge Tool


The smudge tool is one of many photo enhancement techniques you can use in Photoshop. The tool creates an effect similar to dragging your finger through wet paint. It picks up color from where you initially place the tool and smears it into adjacent colors. The smudge tool is often used in painting, but it can be used to rub out a blemish or touch up details in a photo.

  • Select the smudge tool from the drop-down menu or the tools palette. The smudge tool looks like a pointed finger.

  • Set the strength (pressure) of the tool. This modifies how powerful your smudge is. The higher the strength setting the more pronounced the effect. If you set the pressure to 100 percent, you will wipe away all the existing paint. Setting it to 20 percent will make it seem as if you are trying to smudge dried paint. This is located in the options bar.

  • Specify a blending mode and strength on the options bar. This controls how pixels in the image are affected by the smudge tool.

  • Position your cursor on the point in the image that you want to smudge. You can then drag the cursor across the image to smudge the colors.

  • Use the finger painting option on the tool bar if you want to begin the smudge with the current foreground color. This is similar to dipping your finger in a bit of paint before creating a smudge while finger painting.

  • Select the "Use All Layers" option to smudge colors from other layers in the image onto the layer you are currently working on. Leave this option blank if you want the smudge to pick up color from pixels on the active or target layer only.

  • Consider using brush options such as "Darker" or "Lighter" to change the intensity of the smudge.

Tips & Warnings

  • Each tool will retain the settings you create when you switch to one of the other tools.
  • Hold down "Alt/Option" to temporarily turn finger painting on or off.
  • Use the Visual Training Help Center for an example of a photo touched up using the smudge tool (see Resources below).
  • The sharpen tool is the exact opposite of the smudge tool. It helps refine the edges of a photo detail.
  • Adobe offers online information that could be helpful when selecting a blending mode for the smudge tool (see Resources below).
  • Be careful not to overdo the smudge effect in Photoshop. The result can be a distorted, blurry photo.
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