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airbrush photoshopEver wonder how models seem to always have the perfect skin? It’s not always about great skin care (although sometimes this can be the case). A lot of the time their skin has been airbrushed to give a flawless appearance and to keep us non-models wondering how we can get our skin to look that good. Lucky for you, you can – sans beauty products. In this quick tutorial I’ll teach you how to airbrush your skin in Photoshop to give it a glowing, natural look similar to that of the magazine models. You have to be careful with airbrushing as you can quickly make it look incredibly unrealistic and plastic like. We don’t want that. Before we get started, familiarize yourself with Photoshop tools in this crash course.

Airbrush a Photo

Open Photoshop and go to File-> Open to select a photo you want to modify. Make sure the photo is high-resolution so you can see the finer details of the skin.

Now, to enhance the feel and look of the skin we are going to need to open two duplicate layers. Layers are what makes Photoshop so great, we can edit a layer, remove it and have the original image below. It allows us to modify certain parts of an image without making permanent changes. Photoshop is a fantastic tool to make any customizations necessary to a photo or an image. Learn the basics in Photoshop 101.

To create a new layer you will need to go to your layer panel and select duplicate layer. The layer panel can be found on the bottom right of your screen. If you don’t see it, press F7 and it will appear in the bottom right hand corner.


To create a duplicate you can either, right click on the layer containing your image and select duplicate layer, or hit CTRL+J. You need two duplicates, so do this twice. You should now have three layers in your layer panel – the original and the two duplicates.


Now, rename the layers. One should be high and one should be low. To rename, double click where it says layer 2 copy 0. We are naming them high and low to represent the high pass filter and low pass filter we will be applying to each respectively.


Now that we have the layers created, we want to start working with the filters. We will first work with the low layer so click the eye next to the high layer to make it invisible for the mean time.


Highlight the low layer by clicking on it. Go to the top of your screen and select Filter>Blur Menu and choose the Surface Blur option. This helps blur the pixels in the image (making it look smoother) without affecting the edges (we don’t want the face to blur into the background). Blur gives us two options to choose from: Radius and Threshold. Radius indicates the size and strength of the blur and threshold lets you define the area you want to blur. Filters give us a lot of options to customize photos. If you’re an artist you can let your creative juices flow and take some tips from the pros in Photoshop for Artists.

It’s time to get airbrushing. With the Surface Blur box open, adjust the Threshold and the Radius until the image is blurry – but you can still see what it is. Move the sliders around until you have a good blur going on. Now, lower the Threshold slider until you have definition back in the image. You should notice the skin already looking smoother.



Okay, that’s it for the low layer. It’s okay if there are still bumps or pores visible in the image. What we do with the high layer will help eliminate them. Now highlight the high layer and click on the eye again to make it visible. For this layer we are going to use the blending method of Linear Light. In your layer panel where it says normal, click on it and choose the Linear Light option.


We need to create a layer mask. To do this, look on the bottom of your layer panel and find the grey box with a white circle in it. Click this button. Now you will see a white layer added to the high layer.


Step 7

It’s time to apply the image. Go to Image>Apply Image at the top of your screen. Select layer 0 from the drop down list where it says merged. Hit OK.


You should see a black and white version of your image next to the thumbnail for the high layer in your layers panel. Now click on the colored thumbnail so we can do some fine tuning. Because of the precision needed to fix the remaining blemishes, you’ll want to zoom in a lot on the areas that need work. Zoom in by pushing CTRL+. 


Now go to the top of your screen and click on Filter>Other>High Pass. A dialog box will pop up and give you the option to adjust the radius. You want to adjust it in small increments until the skin begins to look more natural. Click OK when you’re done.


We’re going to tweak the layer mask, so go back to your layers panel and click on the black and white thumbnail in the high layer. Go to Image>Adjustments>Brightness/Contrast. Here you want to increase the contrast and adjust the brightness to make the bumps on the skin less visible on the dark areas and more visible on the bright areas.

We’re done smoothing the skin but you’ll notice that the whole picture is blurry now. In order to isolate the skin from the background we need to combine the low and high layers into a group and then painting the layer mask over the skin. So first, highlight both the low and high layers by holding down CTRL and clicking on each of them. Now push CTRL+G to create a group. You should now see a little folder icon with Group 1 written next to it. If you click on this you will see both the layers in the group. Now we need to get rid of the layer mask by going to Layer>Layer Mask>Hide All. You should see a black thumbnail next to the group layer. Your picture will look like you never edited it, but don’t worry, we’re going to fix that.


Okay, go ahead and create a new layer above the low layer by clicking on the icon at the bottom of your layers panel that looks like a dog-eared page. You want to fill this layer with red so you can see where you are painting. With the new layer highlighted, go to Edit>Fill and select color from the dropdown menu. Select red. Hit OK. Now change the opacity to 50% in the layers panel.


It’s time to paint! Click on the black thumbnail on the group layer. You need to get your brush tool so hit B to activate it. Now go to your picture and paint over the areas you want to airbrush. It will look red but this is just so you can see where you are painting. Adjust the brush size as necessary on the top left hand side of your screen.


Once you are done coloring in the desired areas, go back to your layers panel and delete the red layer mask. Voila! You have an airbrushed face.


Sometimes it’s not only faces that need a little lift. Learn how to make all of your photos look clearer, brighter and less blurry in this quick read: Photoshop Color Correction Tips.

Page Last Updated: April 2014

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