Airbrushing - Natural Smooth Skin

Airbrushing - Natural Smooth Skin
Since the pre-digital era, glamour photos have been airbrushed by skilled photographers to remove imperfections on the skin. Now, with advance image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop, airbrushing can easily be mimiced with realistic results. However, many airbrushing techniques removes too many details causing the skin to look plastic and unrealistic. In this tutorial, we'll teach you an effective Photoshop technique to simulate airbrushing without losing the texture. Update: Check out our new tutorial!

Airbrushing - Natural Smooth Skin Photoshop Tutorial


Step 1

First, go to the File menu and select Open to open a photo you would like to edit. Because we will be working with fine details, it is important that the image is a high resolution so that the details of the skin can be seen. The image I used is a high resolution 10 megapixel image with plenty of skin detail.
Adobe Photoshop CS2

Step 2

In the next steps, we will be duplicating the layer twice and applying two filters to each of the new layers. Because the image I am working with is a large 31MB photo, processing the filters will be CPU intensive and slow. Before I continue to duplicate the layer, I'm going to use the Lasso tool to draw a selection of the skin and duplicate only that area. This will reduce the amount of pixels to work with and reduce the load on my computer. You don't have to do this if you don't need to. It may be helpful if you don't have a fast computer with lots of RAM or if your image isn't really large.
Photoshop Selection

Step 3

Now, press Ctrl+J or open Layer menu and select Duplicate to duplicate the layer. Do this once more so that you have two layers. Now, rename the top layer to "High Pass" and the middle layer to "Low Pass". As you may have guessed, on the High Pass layer, we'll be applying a high pass filter and on the Low Pass layer, we'll be applying a low pass filter.
Photoshop Layers Palette

Step 4

Lets work on the Low Pass layer first. In the Layers palette, click on the eye beside the High Pass layer to hide the layer and select the Low Pass layer that we will be working on.
Photoshop Layers Palette

Step 5

Instead of applying a low pass filter, also known as the gaussian blur filter, we'll be using the Surface Blur filter instead. Select the Filter> Blur menu and choose Surface Blur. The surface blur filter blurs the image but preserves the edges. It is great for smoothing skin without losing the edges. The Surface Blur provides two options:
  • Radius:This setting specifies the size or strength of the blur. Use a higher setting for larger images."The Radius option specifies the size of the area sampled for the blur." - Adobe Help Center
  • Threshold:This setting allows you to define the area to blur."The Threshold option controls how much the tonal values of neighboring pixels must diverge from the center pixel value before being part of the blur. Pixels with tonal value differences less than the Threshold value are excluded from the blur." - Adobe Help Center
First, set the radius and threshold so that the image becomes blurry but still recognizable. Then, lower the Threshold and stop just when the edges become sharp. Now adjust the Radius so that the skin is smooth.
Photoshop Surface Blur

Step 6

We're done with the Low Pass layer. Now we'll work on the High Pass layer that'll restore the tiny details such as the bumps and pores. Select the layer, click on the eye beside the High Pass layer, and change the layer blending mode to Linear Light.

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19 comments on “Airbrushing - Natural Smooth Skin”

    1. Check your layer setup - it should look like the image in step 13. Before you paint, make sure that you select the layer group's layer mask (click on the black thumbnail).

  1. Nice tutorial on skin retouching through airbrushing. It makes the face so appealing and attractive. It increases my knowledge. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Hi, I'm stuck at Step 10, I think I'm using a different version of Photoshop and I don't have a filter>other menu (CS6), can anyone help? Thanks!

  3. This is an awesome tutorial! it's really helped me figure out what looks way too airbrushed and what looks pretty natural while still deleting blemishes. Thanks for posting!

  4. STEP 14 IS FLAWED! I created a new red layer, filled it in, changed the opacity, click the group mask, went to go paint THEN NOTHING !!! WHAT DID I DO WRONG!!!! THE BRUSH WONT PAINT! YOUR INSTRUCTIONS ARE FLAWED

  5. I got stuck on step 14, obviously the tutorial misses the fine details because after i click on the Group Mask and try to paint, it doesnt turn red. and it has no effect while BRUSHING. Please HELP

  6. hello sir,
    i have many photos , that have not even skin tone there is major difference between face & hand or face & leg .etc
    will you please suggest how can i solve this problem in photoshop...?
    Thank you

  7. hi, I was wondering, at the end of the dodging and burning part on the video, it suddenly changed and goes to a thing where there are loads of different colour effects and lightings that you can choose from. Could you please tell me how you did it because I really would like to do something simular to my own photo, thanks a lot!

  8. Hi! After finishing everything I clicked the smart object 'original' once more then after that I cannot return to my finished images with 'dodging & burning' layer. Kinda stucked on the 'original'. How is that happening? Thanks.

  9. This is an awful tutorial. I felt like I was going to rip my hair out. Definitely finding a new tutorial...

  10. I'm using the brush tool and have followed the steps up to here but when I try and use the brush nothing changes in the picture, even when at 100% I can't see a difference, and when I put a red layer on above the high pass it is very very faint. Why is this and how do I fix it?

    1. It's under Image-->Apply Image
      Right under Duplicate in the Duplicate Section of the Image tab

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