Photoshop tutorial: Retouch photos using Photoshop’s Liquify tool

Tigz Rice reveals how to achieve the best results when retouching using the Liquify tool – results that are true to life and truly beautiful.

Intro


The Liquify tool is a great feature in Photoshop which allows you to manipulate pixels by pushing, pulling and stretching them across your digital canvas to reshape or restructure a person or object.

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The tool is great for adding volume to hair, or reshaping clothing or unflattering bulges caused by your model’s pose. Just remember not to go too far: the Liquify tool is responsible for some of the worst excesses of the media in making men and women – and usually women – look unrealistic. Chances are, if a photo of a celebrity is accused of being “Photoshopped” – ie retouched too far – the Liquify tool has been overused.

In this Photoshop tutorial, Tigz Rice reveals how to achieve the best results when retouching using the Liquify tool – results that are true to life and truly beautiful.

Software used

Photoshop CS5 or higher

Step 1

STEP 1

Open your chosen image in Photoshop and double-click on the background layer to unlock it. Now convert your layer to a Smart Object by right clicking on it and choosing Convert To Smart Object.

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This will allow you to make any Liquify modifications as a non-destructive, fully editable Smart Filter rather than directly on the layer.


Step 2

STEP 2

Now go ahead and open the Liquify tool. To access the Liquify Tool’s dialogue box, go to Filter > Liquify or press Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + X.

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Step 3

STEP 3

On opening the Liquify tool’s dialog box, the default tool selected will be the Forward Warp tool (W). This is the main tool used for most image manipulation and its cursor looks like a normal brush tool.

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To use the Forward Warp Tool, click on part of the image and drag the cursor to drag those pixels with you across the screen. You’ll probably get an effect that looks something like this. Press Cmd/Ctrl + Z to undo.


Step 4

STEP 4

There are two key factors to getting the best results from the Forward Warp tool. The first is to use the right sized brush for the area you are trying to manipulate, which is usually slightly larger than the actual area itself.

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Brush size can be manipulated using the Size slider in the Brush Tool Options panel on the right side of the Liquify window.


Step 5

STEP 5

The second key factor for getting the best results from the Liquify Tool is to apply any changes in small increments rather than attempting to achieve the same results with one brush stroke.

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This can be controlled by restricting the amount of movement per brush stroke or - more commonly - by reducing the Brush Pressure slider in the Brush Tool Options. Reducing the Brush Pressure applies the same results but at a slower rate, giving you better accuracy.

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Step 6

STEP 6

By ticking the Advanced Properties box, Photoshop will also give you access to a whole range of extra settings for controlling your Liquify amendments, including Brush Density - which affects how much of the brush’s diameter is being manipulated. This will automatically be set to 50%, but you’ll get better results at a higher percentage      

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Step 7

STEP 7

From the Brush Tool Options box, you can also turn on Stylus Pressure if you are using a graphics tablet, which allows you to use pen pressure to control the amount of pressure applied with each stroke.

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It’s a great time saver if you like to switch up your brushes regularly.


Step 8

STEP 8

It is also a good idea to turn on Pin Edges, which protects the edges of your image when editing the pixels nearby so you don’t end up with missing sections around the edge of your layer. This can also be found in the Brush Tool Options box.

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Step 10

STEP 9

Red is the default masking colour for Photoshop - but if you’re struggling to see your quick mask as it’s blending in with the colours of your image, you can change the colour of your mask to a choice of seven.

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These can be found in the Mask Color dropdown box in Advanced Mode settings.


Step 11

STEP 10

You can also use the Thaw Mask tool (D) to refine your Freeze Mask for complex masks or to remove masks altogether. Alternatively, the None, Mask All and Invert All buttons in the Mask Options box in Advanced Settings are really handy for making large changes to your quick mask.

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Step 12

STEP 11

It’s incredibly easy to go a little too far with the Liquify tool, which is where the Reconstruct tool (R) comes in handy.

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Brushing over areas of your image with the Reconstruct Tool will push the pixels in that area back towards their original state, so you can have another attempt at getting it right. The Reconstruct Tool can also be accessed easily from the Forward Warp Tool by holding down the Alt key while brushing over the image.

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Step 13

STEP 12

Alternatively, if too much of your image that needs reconstructing, you can also use the Restore All button in the Advanced Settings to reset the image to its original state and start again.

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Step 14

STEP 13

Another handy feature is the Load Last Mesh button at the top of the Advanced Mode settings, which remembers the changes you applied last time you used the Liquify tool. This can be useful if you’re working on two very similar images and only need to make minor adjustments.

See also: 86 Best Photoshop tutorials