System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.4 or later, 256MB RAM, 2GHz or faster processor
Review Computer: 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo MacBook, 4GB DDR2 RAM
Price: Free for simplified online version, $39.99 for standalone program
Availability: Out now
Dying to try the Content Aware Fill feature in the Adobe CS5, but missing the $180 entry fee? There is hope! A nifty little program called Inpaint provides similar functionality, for about $140 less in software license fees and without the steep hardware requirements. For extending the functionality of iPhoto (or as a great extension to the Mac-only photoshop alternative Pixelmator), Inpaint provides a great improvement on more labor-intensive healing brush techniques.
I’m Gonna Wash that [object] Right Outta my Photo
According to the Inpaint website, the program, “… is a revolutionary application for Mac that lets remove unwanted objects from photo in one click.” Prior to content aware fills the best option was usually a cloning procedure, where a clone point (i.e. a blue sky) is chosen, and then unwanted objects are painted over with the source texture. Inpaint’s marketing spin is half true: the replacement operation no longer requires the tedious brush strokes and careful calibration of the clone source. Inpaint still requires that you paint the object for removal, and then select a source texture to replace that object. The difference is that the selection painting is easy compared to the old cloning process; you never have to worry about your source straying out of the desired texture. Paint the object for removal, adjust the source box, hit the Inpaint button, and bam: your object, for the most part, disappears:
As you make a selection, Inpaint automatically guesses at the clone source texture, as indicated by the dashed line. This box can be moved and resized independently of the Inpaint selection, allowing for very fine control over what texture replaces your unwanted object. In the camera gear examples above, the selection included some of the black UV filter, so Inpaint did not completely replace the painted lens hood with the blue striped background. Narrowing the selection box to just the desired texture not only speeds the program, but makes it much faster. In this case, cutting a ruined church out of the picture left behind only faint traces of the windows; a few quick swipes with a cloning tool and a bit of blurring are required, but the overall time spent is drastically less than manually cloning it out:
When you first fire up the standalone desktop version of Inpaint, its bare bones interface and lack of button labels can be a bit offsetting. The program (which is really just a repacked version of the online Flash application) toolbar contains buttons to open and save, as well as some basic image viewing controls like zoom in and out. Three buttons are dedicated to the Inpaint process: a round red button with a number (indicating the brush size), a red “X” that removes the Inpaint selection, and a button that resembles a Play icon (right facing arrow). Choose your brush size, make your selection, and hit play. Apart from the lack of clearly labelled functionality, the brush size is a hit-and-miss guessing game, as the pointer does not change to a scaled brush icon. It is not possible to know how large an Inpaint selection you are about to make until you actually click and drag. Once you get comfortable, the results can be impressive.
Inpaint will likely not dethrone Adobe as the reigning kind of image manipulation, but for the price it is definitely an asset to the prosumer photographer. Adobe has priced themselves out of this market, and the Photoshop Elements product rarely gets enough whizbang features to keep us geeky shutterbugs happy. In this scenario, it is wonderful to see innovative programs like Inpaint step up. The results are not magical, but for basic object removal (stray powerlines, the occasional tourist, etc.), Inpaint does a great job in conjunction with a touch of a spot healing brush, clone tool, and/or some slight blurring. Kudos to the developers for giving users without Photoshop a chance to revive otherwise-unusable photos!