Using Touch Up Wisely

Using Touch Up Wisely

If you’ve seen Kung Fu movies, you know the bow. The left hand, in a fist, is met by the palm of the right hand, with fingers wrapped around it. Some say this is meant to symbolize power (left) and discretion (right). So it is with Touch Up, grasshopper. PicMonkey’s Touch Up tools wield tremendous power over your portrait photos but, like the sifu master, you must exercise restraint in using that power.

PicMonkey staffers submitted their own portrait shots to Design Sifu Jen Shetterly for tips on retouching. Here’s her work and her comments on how she did it. Open a portrait in Touch Up and test your skills!

First of all, I want to point out that photo retouching isn’t about making anyone perfect. It’s more about bringing out the best of what’s already there by getting rid of inconvenient truths like harsh light, stray hairs, or a brow that your subject didn’t intend to furrow.


Jenn is a ray of sunshine with great taste in music and an easy laugh. She manages our community efforts and figures out solutions for folks whose browsers are behaving badly.

Touch Up Tutorial 1


Jenn was a good sport to demonstrate that embarrassing food-in-the-teeth scenario. If someone didn’t do you the favor of telling you “Uh, you got something in your teeth,” well, Clone is your new best friend.

When using Clone for a face, choose a small brush size to fit the area you’re cloning and zoom in to see the detail. For Jenn’s teeth I used a size 4 brush. Teeth have subtle shading and color so I sourced different areas of clean teeth to clone. To get a nice smooth tooth surface I did a second application of Clone with the Fade slider set to around 30%. Check out our Clone tutorial Use Clone to Remove That Stray Thumb  if you want to become a Clone Master.

Teeth Whiten

When whitening teeth, use a small brush and adjust the fade for a natural smile— you don’t want that glow-in-the-dark look. If you get some on the gums, click the Undo button in the top toolbar or click the Teeth Whiten Eraser button to remove any stray marks.

Lip Tint

I brushed Lip Tint on with the default brush size and then switched to the photo eraser tool to clean up around the edges, using a smaller brush size for the mouth corners. I used the Intensity slider to adjust the brightness of the color and the Tone slider to adjust the contrast. For Jenn, I wanted a natural look so I kept the color a shade darker than her natural lip color.


A little goes a long way with Airbrush. Jenn has beautiful skin, so I used the Natural setting with some fade to smooth out her complexion, just like putting on face powder.

Final polish

Clone helped get rid of some stray hairs around the face and head. A bit of Eye Brighten made the eyes pop. And lastly, I applied Film Stock (in the Effects tab) using the Velvia filter to add some warmth and rich color.


Charlie’s our awesome chaos wrangler; he keeps the trains running on time, and chases down bugs and engineers. He’s mad for Cross Fit these days, and we always know when he’s had a great workout because he comes to work exhilarausted (exhausted and exhilarated at the same time).

Touch Up Tutorial 2

Wrinkle Remover

Don’t go too far with Wrinkle Remover or you’ll end up looking like Joan Rivers or Bruce Jenner. Charlie was squinting a bit, so I applied a little bit between his eyebrows and around his eyes using a size 3 brush so I didn’t blur out the great freckles on his face. Then I did a second application using a size 20 brush to soften the lines cast by the sun, under his eyes.

Eye Tint

Charlie has hazel eyes but they needed to stand out more so I brushed on some teal eye tint, adjusting the fade to 80%. With PicMonkey it’s easy to change eye color.

Final polish

I went minimal with Charlie. I brushed on Teeth Whiten to polish up his smile and then Cross Process (in the Effects tab) using the green filter to complement his eyes.


Lisa’s a human cyclone. She directs marketing and connects with PicMonkeyers at conferences and in social media. She can work on five things at once, and riffs killer headlines, puns, and word associations like other people breathe.

Touch Up Tutorial 3

Basic Edits

Lisa’s original photo was a bit dark so I used Auto adjust in Exposure (Basic Edits tab) to lighten it up.

Eye Brighten

Lisa has beautiful eyes but the photo wasn’t showing them off. I used Eye Brighten with a small brush and then adjusted the Lighten slider to make those baby blues really sparkle. You can also apply this effect to the whites of your eyes if they’re looking dull.


Mascara is the Wonder Woman of our Touch Up effects. Apply it over the eyelashes, use it as an eyeliner, or as a quick eyebrow pencil to darken light eyebrows. I used it on the eyelashes and eyebrows in this portrait.

Final polish

To smooth out the skin around Lisa’s eyes, forehead, and chin without making her look Barbie-plastic-y, I used Wrinkle Remover with the fade set to around 30%. Then a quick application of Lip Tint, Teeth Whiten and Clone to remove a couple stray hairs. To give Lisa’s photo that finished look I applied Intrepid (in the Effects tab) with the fade set to 60%.


And here’s me: designer chick. Sometimes people think that all designers live this Martha Stewart life with everything perfect and coiff-y. I’m more casual, and I like to keep things real. So I don’t always try to make my shoes match my purse, especially while I’m slaying Orcs in Lego Lord of the Rings.

Touch Up Tutorial 4

Blemish Fix

This is the easiest Touch Up effect of the bunch; with a mouse click you can cover a zit, a mole or whatever you want to hide.

I applied a bit of Wrinkle Remover around the eyes and forehead. I also like to use this as an alternative to Airbrush. A quick dash of Eye Brighten, Lip Tint and Mascara were faster than putting on real makeup. And then I disciplined some bad boy hair strands with Clone.

Spray Tan

For my fair skin (hello, I’m Irish!), Spray Tan gave me a little sun glow without the sunburn or spray fumes. To avoid streaks, turn up the Darken slider all the way so you can see where you’re applying your color. Then play with the Intensity and Darken sliders to set your color.


And to finish up my pic, I applied Tranquil (in the Effects tab) at about 40% fade which gave a soft look with a bit of blue tone. Try different effects to see what looks good with the photo’s colors and lighting and how it enhances the personality or mood of your portrait.

And there you have it: a Fab Four of photo touch up jobs to inspire and inform your own portrait editing. Go forth in subtlety, friends.


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This article was written by PicMonkey Staff, a multicellular organism of hive-minded sub-parts who just wanna get you the ideas and information you crave, so you can make good pictures and take over the world.