Today’s Question: What is the difference between the Spot Healing Brush tool and the Healing Brush tool? They seem to provide the same capabilities.
Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two key differences between the Spot Healing Brush tool and the Healing Brush tool. The Spot Healing Brush tool includes the “Content-Aware” technology, and the Spot Healing Brush tool also chooses the source of each image cleanup area automatically.
More Detail: To be sure, the Healing Brush tool and the Spot Healing Brush tool are very similar to each other. Both enable you to perform cleanup work in your images, removing blemishes and other distractions by replacing those areas with pixels taken from other areas of the photo.
The Healing Brush tool is the more basic of these two tools. It does not include the Content-Aware feature that is available with the Spot Healing Brush tool (and that is also found in other tools in Photoshop). That does mean that in some cases the Spot Healing Brush tool is the better choice for cleaning up blemishes in complex areas of your photos.
In addition, with the Healing Brush tool you need to choose the specific source area for pixels that will replace blemishes within your photo. So if, for example, you wanted to use the Healing Brush tool to remove a dust spot from the sky, you would first hold the Alt/Option key while clicking on a clean area of sky, and then paint over the blemish to replace it with a copy of the source pixels.
Because the Spot Healing Brush tool chooses the source area automatically, you don’t need to choose a source of cleanup pixels yourself. Simply paint over blemishes within your photo using the Spot Healing Brush tool, and Photoshop will cleanup the blemish for you automatically.
In general the Spot Healing Brush tool provides more advanced and automated cleanup. Therefore, it is often the first tool I go to when I need to cleanup a blemish in a photo. However, in some cases the automation that is included as part of the Spot Healing Brush tool can produce results that aren’t quite ideal, in which case you might want to exercise a little more control over the cleanup work by using the Healing Brush tool instead. And of course there are other cleanup tools that may be helpful in certain situations as well.