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How to Use the Liquify Tool in Photoshop

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What You'll Be Creating

The Liquify filter is one of the most powerful functions of Photoshop—it allows you to modify photos in a truly magical way. In this tutorial I'll show you how to use Liquify in Photoshop: where to find it, how to adjust its settings, and what to use it for.

If you have any problems with the Liquify tool, you may find the solution in this tutorial:

What You'll Learn in This Liquify Photoshop Tutorial

  • How to Liquify in Photoshop
  • Where is Liquify in Photoshop
  • How to undo Liquify in Photoshop
  • What to use the Liquify tool for

What You'll Need

You can use any photo you wish for this tutorial. Here are the ones I used:

1. Where Is the Liquify Tool in Photoshop?

First things first: where is Liquify in Photoshop? Open your photo in Photoshop. Before you start modifying it with the Liquify tool, it's good to turn it into a Smart Object—this way you'll be able to cancel or adjust the modifications later. To do this, right-click the layer and select Convert to Smart Object.

convert to smart objectconvert to smart objectconvert to smart object

Now go to Filter > Liquify. You can also use the shortcut Shift-Control-X.

where is liqufy tool in photoshopwhere is liqufy tool in photoshopwhere is liqufy tool in photoshop

2. Different Liquify Tools

The Liquify Tool consists of a variety of tools—it's like a program inside a program! Let's take a look at all of them, starting from the top.

Forward Warp Tool (W)

This tool allows you to "push" an area of the photo in a chosen direction. It's perfect for adjusting the shape of something.

forward warp toolforward warp toolforward warp tool

Reconstruct Tool (R)

Wondering how to undo Liquify in Photoshop? Did you go too far when using the previous tool? Don't worry, you can easily bring the original shape back with this tool.

Remember that you can always use the Undo function (Control-Z) to go back a few steps. In the past it wasn't possible, but if you have a current version of Photoshop CC, it shouldn't be a problem! Also, thanks to using the Smart Object functionality, you can reconstruct the changes even after closing the file and opening it later.

reconstruct toolreconstruct toolreconstruct tool

Smooth Effect (E)

If you feel you went too far, but just a little, this tool can help you slightly reduce the strength of the effect.

smooth effectsmooth effectsmooth effect

Twirl Clockwise Tool (C)

As the name suggests, this tool "twirls" a part of the image. Hold the Alt key to change the direction of the twirling.

twirl clockwise tooltwirl clockwise tooltwirl clockwise tool

Pucker Tool (S)

This tool shrinks the selected area. Hold the Alt key to achieve the opposite effect.

pucker toolpucker toolpucker tool

Bloat Tool (B)

This tool magnifies the selected area. Hold the Alt key to achieve the opposite effect.

bloat toolbloat toolbloat tool

Push Left Tool (O)

This tool works like a snowplow, pushing the content of the selection to the left edge of the brush. Imagine that the direction you're moving in is the front of the snowplow—then it will be easy for you to find the left side. Holding the Alt key will allow you to switch to the right side.

push left toolpush left toolpush left tool

Freeze Mask Tool (F)

When applying all these modifications, it's easy to affect a part of the image that you'd rather keep as it is. That's what masking is for! Use this tool to paint over the area that you want to keep untouched. Hold the Alt key to erase the mask.

freeze mask toolfreeze mask toolfreeze mask tool

Thaw Mask Tool (D)

This tool works like an eraser for the mask, but if you hold the Alt key, you can use it to draw the mask.

thaw mask toolthaw mask toolthaw mask tool

Face Tool (A)

If your photo contains a human face, Photoshop should be able to recognize its features and let you modify them individually. Just hover over the part of the face and click and drag the markers to change the angle, width, and height.

face toolface toolface tool

Hand Tool (H)

This tool allows you to move across the photo. You can also hold the Space key to activate it while using another tool.

hand toolhand toolhand tool

Zoom Tool (Z)

This tool allows you to zoom in on the picture. Hold the Alt key to zoom out.

zoom toolzoom toolzoom tool

3. Liquify Filter Photoshop Settings

The Liquify filter Photoshop feature has more settings, which you can find on the right-hand side of the screen. They are related to the tools on the left.

Brush Tool Options

Most of the tools on the left use the functionality of a brush. Here you can change the settings of this brush:

You can change the size of the affected area by changing the Size slider (the [ and ] keys will give you the same effect).

liquify brush sizeliquify brush sizeliquify brush size
Small Size
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Big Size

Pressure defines how strongly the area is affected by the brush.

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Low Pressure
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High Pressure

Density defines which part of the brush affects the selected area the strongest. The higher the Density, the "wider" the brush feels.

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Low Density
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High Density

Rate only applies to the tools that give you a gradual effect—it defines the speed of that gradual change.

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Low Rate
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High Rate

The Pin Edges option makes sure that the edges of the picture stay straight during the process of modification.

Stylus Pressure allows you to be more precise in your adjustments if you use a graphics tablet.

with pin edgeswith pin edgeswith pin edges
Pin Edges on
without pin edgeswithout pin edgeswithout pin edges
Pin Edges off

Face-Aware Liquify

These are the same settings you can adjust by using the Face Tool. However, here you can access the actual numerical values of each adjustment, which can help you be more precise.

face aware liquifyface aware liquifyface aware liquify

Load Mesh Options

The Liquify filter puts a special mesh on your photo—when you modify the photo, the mesh is modified as well. This mesh can be saved as a file—this way, you can modify one photo, and then apply the same modifications to other photos by using the Save Mesh and Load Mesh functions.

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Mask Options

If you have a Layer Mask on your photo, you can use it here too.

layer mask vs liquify masklayer mask vs liquify masklayer mask vs liquify mask

Replace Selection turns the black area of the Layer Mask into a Liquify Mask.

replace selectionreplace selectionreplace selection

Add to Selection removes the Liquify mask from the white area of the Layer Mask.

add to selectionadd to selectionadd to selection

Subtract from Selection turns the white area of the Layer Mask into a Liquify Mask.

subtract from selectionsubtract from selectionsubtract from selection

Intersect with Selection adds the black area of the Layer Mask to the Liquify Mask.

intersect with selectionintersect with selectionintersect with selection

Invert Selection removes the Liquify mask from the white area of the Layer Mask, while keeping the part in the black area.

invert selectioninvert selectioninvert selection

If you don't have a Layer Mask, you may still be interested in the buttons below:

  • None removes the mask.
  • Mask All turns the whole photo into one big mask that you can selectively erase later.
  • Invert All turns the masked area into an unmasked one, and vice versa.
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View Options

These options don't change anything about the photo—they just help you work with the filter.

Show Guides turns the visibility of guides on and off, if you have any present in your photo.

show guidesshow guidesshow guides

Show Face Overlay shows and hides the visibility of the guides that appear when you use the Face Tool.

show face overlayshow face overlayshow face overlay

Show Image shows and hides the image, in case you want to take a closer look at the mesh.

show imageshow imageshow image

Show Mesh shows and hides the mesh that the modifications are linked to.

show meshshow meshshow mesh

Show Mask shows and hides the mask painted in the photo. A hidden mask doesn't lose its effect.

show maskshow maskshow mask

Show Backdrop allows you to see the unedited version of the photo. You can change the settings of the overlay to make it more or less visible.

show backfropshow backfropshow backfrop

Brush Reconstruct Options

If you think you've gone too far, you can use the Reconstruct function to gradually decrease the degree of changes. But if you simply want to go back to the original, click Restore All.

revert changesrevert changesrevert changes

4. How to Use the Liquify Tool

Let's see how to use Liquify in Photoshop in more detail. Now you probably have a pretty good idea of what the Liquify filter can be used for: small corrections, "plastic surgery", special effects. But to help you fully realize the potential of this tool, let me demonstrate an example of using it from start to finish, to turn a lion... into a house cat!

Step 1

Open the photo of a lioness. This technique works the best for animals that don't have any pattern on their fur.

Use the Freeze Mask Tool (F) to paint over the muzzle. Then hide the mask and invert it.

mask the areamask the areamask the area

Step 2

Use the Pucker Tool (S) to make the muzzle smaller. This is the first difference between house cats and big cats—the latter have much larger muzzles in proportion to the rest of the head.

make the area smallermake the area smallermake the area smaller

Step 3

Show the mask again and reduce the size of the area a little.

change the maskchange the maskchange the mask

Step 4

Using the Forward Warp Tool (W) with a huge brush, drag the whole upper part of the head down. This will make the muzzle look short, which is appropriate for a house cat.

drag the unmasked area downdrag the unmasked area downdrag the unmasked area down

Step 5

Use the Bloat Tool (B) to make the eyes much larger.

resize the eyesresize the eyesresize the eyes

Step 6

Remove the mask and use the Forward Warp Tool (W) to adjust the shape of the rest of the head—make the ears long and pointed, make the forehead lower, and the eyebrows bigger. To make the border of the mask less visible, use the Smooth Tool (E) and the Reconstruct Tool (R).

change shape of the head and earschange shape of the head and earschange shape of the head and ears

These adjustments may take a while! Keep fixing things until you're happy with the result.

change shape of the neckchange shape of the neckchange shape of the neck

Step 7

Mask the eyes—we need to work on them some more to create a real house cat look!

mask the eyesmask the eyesmask the eyes

Step 8

Invert and hide the mask. Then use the Forward Warp Tool (W) with a low Density brush to drag the pupil down—this will give them that characteristic slitted look.

change shape of the pupilchange shape of the pupilchange shape of the pupil

Step 9

When you're done, click OK. To make the end result more convincing, use the Patch Tool (J) to hide the suspicious "seams". As powerful as the Liquify Tool is, you may still need some support from other Photoshop tools to achieve a perfect result!

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Good Job!

Now you know how to Liquify in Photoshop! Keep in mind that this tool gives the best results if you use it sparingly—the more you warp, the more traces of the modification you leave in the photo, and sometimes it may be impossible to hide them afterwards.

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Other Photoshop Tutorials

Did you like this Liquify Photoshop tutorial? If you're interested in photo manipulation, you may also enjoy these tutorials and resources:

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