Content-aware Fill

Adobe / User research, Product design, Prototyping / 2021, 2018


Content-aware Fill is an iconic Photoshop feature that seamlessly fills selected portions of an image with content sampled from other parts of the image. First introduced in Photoshop CS5 (2010), it has since undergone significant improvements in 2018 and 2021, with a focus on enhancing user experience and achieving product goals.

Demo: Content-aware Fill

Target Customers

The primary users of Content-aware Fill are image retouchers who need to remove unnecessary objects from images.

Project Overview

The main issue with the traditional Content-aware Fill was that it often produced unwanted content due to the lack of a user-defined sampling area and preview capability. Users had to apply the feature multiple times to the same region, hoping to achieve the desired results. Our goal was to eliminate this tedious approach and improve the overall experience.

Process and Challenges

Discovery and Research

In collaboration with Product Manager Meredith Payne Stortzner, we conducted surveys and customer interviews with Photoshop beta forum users. We identified their goals, workarounds, and tools used with Content-aware Fill. These insights guided our iterative design, prototyping, and validation process.

It required applying traditional CAF(Content-aware Fill) multiple times to the same area for reasonable results. Frequently customers used the Clone Stamp tool to remove artifacts from traditional CAF.


Photoshop's architecture limited the preview's flexibility, and the updated Content-aware Fill engine had numerous parameters to control. We had to balance technical feasibility with a better design experience while simplifying control knobs and creating default values that work for most cases.

Design Explorations and Outcomes

We focused on three main aspects: live preview, customizable sampling area, and fill settings. Our design explorations included developing smart defaults for sampling areas, providing different entry points for the feature, and using multiple image sources for improved filling.

Overview: Content-aware Fill workspace

Live Preview

The new Content-aware Fill offers a live preview, allowing users to see the filling results in real-time as they edit the sampling area or adjust fill settings.

It shows a live preview of the filling as a customer edits the sampling area or fill settings.

Customizable Sampling Area

By default, the sampling area automatically samples relevant pixels. However, users can refine the sampling area using the Brush tool for more control.

Example of the rectangular sampling area and edited version using the Brush tool in the workspace
Design exploration: Smart defaults for sampling area
It defines where to sample the content from. By default, it automatically samples relevant pixels. If the default doesn’t work, customers can use the Brush tool to refine the sampling area.

Fill Settings

The fill settings provide a list of options for controlling the filling process. We also created animated tooltips to demonstrate the effects and use cases of each option.

A list of options to control the filling.
I made animated tooltips to show the effects and use cases of each option.

Additional Feature: Content-aware Fill on iPad

Content-aware Fill was highly requested for the Photoshop iPad version. Although resource constraints limited the scope, we successfully designed an essential version of the feature for the iPad.

Design exploration: Content-aware Fill for iPad and iPhone
Design spec: Content-aware Fill on iPad and iPhone
Design spec: Content-aware Fill from fill tools
Design spec: Content-aware Fill from the floating menu
Design spec: When Content-aware Fill is not available

Results and Impact

The updated Content-aware Fill introduces an interactive editing experience, offering users full control over image retouching. Key benefits include:

  • Elimination of randomness in filling results
  • Reduced time spent removing unwanted objects from images
  • Improved user experience with smart default settings and easy-to-use tools

By addressing the challenges and constraints, we have significantly enhanced the Content-aware Fill feature, making it more efficient and user-friendly for image retouchers.


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