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How to Remove Text and Objects From Photos Using Cleanup.Pictures for Free in Your Browser

Cleanup is a free, open source, web-based tool to help you remove text and objects from pictures. In this article we take a look at how it works and if it's worth the hype.

How to Remove Text and Objects From Photos Using Cleanup.Pictures

What is Cleanup & How Does it Work?

Cleanup.pictures is a web application to help you remove certain things from pictures, like the content aware tool in Photoshop. Cleanup is free and uses LaMa, Samsung’s open-source software to help fill in and cover areas where an object has been removed. Cleanup itself is open source, too.

clean-up screenclean-up screenclean-up screen
The cleanup.pictures screen

Hi-Res and Compression

The first thing I wanted to check is what size images you can upload, and do you get a high-quality version back when downloading, or is it compressed.

When I tried to drag a large image in I got a message ‘error: file too large.’ Then I spotted the HD button in the corner.

upgradeupgradeupgrade
Flipping to HD triggers an upgrade prompt

Flipping that on will prompt this popup asking you to register with an email to get up to 2k pixels wide and that the free version is limited to 720p. It doesn't say whether the upgrade is free or the purpose of collecting email but let's assume you're like me and don't like giving it out freely. That's okay, we can still test the 720p free version.

Test 1: Free Version, 720p, Simple Image

I resized this photo to 720p and saved it at the highest quality JPEG which came out at 222kb. I’d have liked to test it by re-downloading it unchanged, but unfortunately you have to use the tool at least once before you can do that.

Plain white yogurt / Envato ElementsPlain white yogurt / Envato ElementsPlain white yogurt / Envato Elements
Plain white yogurt / Envato Elements

Image on Cleanup

Here it is and you can see my only options are the brush size or download which is greyed out until you make a change.

image uploaded to cleanupimage uploaded to cleanupimage uploaded to cleanup
Image uploaded to Cleanup

Painted Over Image

You have to hold the mouse button down as you paint and if you let go the process will run, so you need to cover the whole image in one ‘click’ ideally, which might be tricky. You don’t have to do that, but obviously it’s going to run based on whatever you have coloured in, which might then mean parts of the left-over object are used to recreate the background.

painted over imagepainted over imagepainted over image
Painted over image

Result

It only takes a few seconds to run and this is the result of the brush-over in the previous image. The object is definitely gone but there are a few specks that can be tidied up. I think ultimately what we’ll be left with here is a darker patch.

result 1result 1result 1
Result 1

There’s an option to compare the picture to the original too, so you can remember how it looked and see how accurate the removal is.

Same image after CleanupSame image after CleanupSame image after Cleanup
Same image after Cleanup

This was the best I could get it. The object is definitely gone, but the background is a little messy, you can see a repeating pattern plus some odd shading. The downloaded image is now only 55.8kb which is considerably smaller.

Photoshop Test

I wanted to see how the results would compare to content aware in Photoshop, so I used the same image and drew roughly around it in the same way I’d brushed over in Cleanup, then ran content aware.

Photoshop content awarePhotoshop content awarePhotoshop content aware
Photoshop content aware

Result

The saved image came out at 199kb which seems about right for the detail removed. The result is still not perfect but I think the texture matches a little better than on Cleanup.

After PS content awareAfter PS content awareAfter PS content aware
After PS content aware

Test 2: Free Version, 720p, More Complicated Image

We’ve tried with quite a plain background an object, but let’s take it a little further and remove  a building from a cityscape.

Aerial view on Eiffel TowerAerial view on Eiffel TowerAerial view on Eiffel Tower
Aerial view on Eiffel Tower / Envato Elements

Resized to 720p this Eiffel Tower shot comes out at 335kb. I tried to be a little neater with the brushing over the tower this time.

Cleanup brushed over Eiffel TowerCleanup brushed over Eiffel TowerCleanup brushed over Eiffel Tower
Cleanup brushed over Eiffel Tower

Result

This looks quite good, it benefits from the background being a ‘busier’ photo, so the filling in of the gaps isn’t as obvious as it was on a large textured surface where any repetition is clearer.

After CleanupAfter CleanupAfter Cleanup
After Cleanup

The saved image came out at 109kb which again seems to be quite a hit in size for the small amount of detail we’ve lost and I think that's quite noticable in the quality.

A Closer Look

It’s easier to see the changes if you know exactly where to look, so here’s a sliced version of the photo with the original on the left and the removed tower on the right.

Half and half image showing the before and afterHalf and half image showing the before and afterHalf and half image showing the before and after
Half and half image showing the before and after

I’ve circled the most obvious issue but from a distance at that size it’s not hugely noticeable. Let’s take a look and see if PS handles it any better.

Photoshop

content aware Eiffel Towercontent aware Eiffel Towercontent aware Eiffel Tower
Photoshop content aware on the Eiffel Tower

I used the same process as before, drawing around the object in full (as opposed to brushing over) and then using the content aware fill tool.

Result

After PS content aware fillAfter PS content aware fillAfter PS content aware fill
After PS content aware fill

It’s not great. Even from a distance you can see there are a lot of jarring areas that make it obvious something has been removed.

Healing Brush

Photoshop content aware healing brushPhotoshop content aware healing brushPhotoshop content aware healing brush
Photoshop content aware healing brush

In the interest of fairness I tried using the healing brush so I could be more specific to the tower and not get the bits in the middle.

Result

As suspected the result was even worse.

Photoshop healing brush resultPhotoshop healing brush resultPhotoshop healing brush result
Photoshop healing brush result

Conclusion

I'm always in awe of open source developers who make really useful tools to share with the world. Cleanup.pictures is great, even if it does have a little way to go yet before you'll want to desert Photoshop for it, which of course has a number of tools that you can use in conjunction with one another in order to get a better result. At the moment, I think Cleanup is great for fun and for small-scale projects where quality doesn't matter too much, like posting on social media. What I'd love to see in future is a more adaptable brush tool, so you can make several passes at an object before choosing to run the process, rather than it happening automatically when you release the mouse.

Here are a few of the main pros and cons:

Pros

  • It's free!
  • It works better on more complicated backgrounds
  • It's quite new and will no doubt continue to be developed and keep improving

Cons

  • The sizes are small and compression seems high
  • To get the HD version you'll need to give up an email address
  • It can't handle large objects on textured backgrounds particularly well

When it comes to complex photographs with a lot going on, Photoshop's downfall (only in comparison to the 'quick fix' of Cleanup) is that it requires more time and a greater level of input in order to get a better result, and in that respect, Cleanup would never - and I assume isn't trying to - compare. Each tool has its own distinctive uses and where as Photoshop's content aware tools are for professionals and come with a hefty price tag in the form of a subscription, Cleanup does a great job at its level, and that's as a free, super quick clean-up tool that can be used by absolutely anyone. 

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