Removing tattoos in the real world is a long, painful and expensive process. But if you want to remove a tattoo for a professional portrait or a family photo, a few simple edits in Photoshop will do the trick.
Start by opening your image in Photoshop. Create a new layer. Select the Spot Healing Brush tool in the lefthand tool bar.
At the top of the document, make sure Mode is set to Normal and Type is set to Content Aware. Then check the Sample All Layers box. The top of the document should look like this:
Now you’re going to use the Spot Healing Brush tool to erase the tattoo in small sections. Make sure you select a patch of skin with each stroke so that the tool has a skin tone to pull from. It’s important to do this with a smaller brush so that the tattoo is being erased fairly evenly, rather than flattening out the entire area of skin with one big eraser stroke.
The outcome isn’t going to be pretty yet, but don’t worry. This is just the first step to remove the details of the tattoo. Don’t worry if the results are a little messy.
Your image should eventually look something like this. It’s far from perfect, but the black lines of the tattoo are completely gone. Now we’re going to paint back over the skin to even out the splotchy areas.
Create another layer. Zoom in on the section of the photo with the tattoo. Select the brush tool, and sample a highlighted part of the skin by holding down Alt or Option and clicking on a highlight. The brush will automatically become that color.
Resize the brush to about the size of the area you want to cover up. Reduce the flow to 20 percent, and start to paint the skin color over the currently botched coverup. With the flow set so low, you’ll have to brush on a lot of layers until the paint shows through. Continue sampling different colors to match the new skin with the surrounding shades. Make sure you sample shades from a highlight, a midtone and a shadow.
The results will probably look pretty fake at first, but continue sampling different shades and slowly adding in more highlights and shadows until the skin looks more realistic.
Make sure you zoom in on the area you’re working on, and apply the brush in one direction to give it a more natural feel.
At this point, the tattoo shouldn’t be visible at all, and the botched eraser job should also be covered up, but the skin will now look a little bit too perfect without any of the texture real skin normally has. Now we’re going to use some filters to bring that texture back in.
Create another layer. Click on the marquee select tool and make a selection of the area with the tattoo – make sure all of the tattoo is within the selection. Then go to Edit>Fill, and in the Content drop down box, select 50 percent gray. Then click OK.
In the drop down menu next to the Opacity setting, change the Blending Mode to overlay. Once you click overlay you should be able to see the image, rather than a gray box.
Then go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise. Increase the setting until there’s just a little bit of noticeable texture when the image is zoomed in. You can play around with the Uniform versus Gaussian, and Monochromatic settings to see what works best for your image.
Then go to Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. Increase the setting to around 1px. If you bump the blur too high, the skin will look clearly distorted. These settings will vary from image to image, so keep tweaking them until you like the results.
Your final result should have a nice, even skin texture and no tattoo in sight.
This is an easy trick for anyone who wants to cover up a problematic tattoo in an image without spending hundreds of dollars on a painful tattoo removal.