eXtensions - Sunday 18 February 2018


TouchRetouch - Highly Useful iOS Editing Tool for Removing Power Lines, Street Furniture, People and More

By Graham K. Rogers


There are some amazing apps available but many are lost from sight until something drags them to the surface. TouchRetouch is a strong editor that allows removal power lines in an image as well as other objects, or even people if you need.


I took a lot of photographs recently on a trip to Tak in the north of Thailand with students and colleagues. Although I was fairly careful with the film camera I use (film economies) and a little restrained with the Nikon DSLR I have, I snapped away quite happily with the iPhone X I use, although I did take reasonable care to select my subjects.

I was interested to see Apple's "Today" section in the App Store for Saturday, which included a section on "Taking great family photographs", with an emphasis on Chinese New Year. There were a number of useful suggestions on Photo and Editing apps, some of which I already use. My interest was piqued by a detail editing app, TouchRetouch.

On my journey last week I stopped myself several times from taking landscape shots from the bus (put the lens up to the window to reduce reflections) because of the power and telephone cables beside the road. These are a common feature of streets in Bangkok too, although in some areas efforts are being made to remove them. The screenshots and video for TouchRetouch in the app store showed the possibilities of also removing these from photographs and with the price of 69 baht ($2.99) this was worth the investment.

Power lines at the sides of nearly all roads here

As I was working on my iPad Air 2 when I first saw this app, I downloaded the iPhone version to that device. There is a separate iPad version at the dame price which those who usually work on an iPad (especially the iPad Pro) would find more worthwhile. Even in the x1 and x2 display I tried, the results were remarkable.

Power lines removed from left side but not the right (small marks are antennas)


Among the photographs I had from last week, I had taken a long shot from an island in the Ping River back to a market and had not noticed what I expect are power lines from left to right. Using the specific Line tool and just touching the cable, highlighted it (in green). And then it was gone. Mostly. Looking closely, I could still see a couple of traces so repeated the action. Apart from these minor sections, the cable had vanished and there was no smearing or other cloning from the original.

Using this tool with other images later, in most cases the tool dealt with a cable in one go. That original try might have been improved by adjusting the settings with one of the other options (Thin, Medium and Thick). The Line tool also has a Segment Remover. And on that first image, by examining another taken of a nearby scene, the cable was actually plural (cables).

I later looked at a street photo I had taken of a colorful character directing traffic near the market at Ban Tak. I had taken several images of the same man as a motorcycle was in some photographs. I used the Object Removal tool on one of these and painted the rear wheel (the same green color as the Line tool) of the motorcycle.

TouchRetouch TouchRetouch

As the object painting is taking place (Brush, Lasso and Erase are available as well), a loupe is available showing a magnified section for greater accuracy. The image may also be enlarged using the iOS "pinch". Once fully highlighted, I pressed the "Go" button and the motorcycle wheel disappeared.

The tarmac that remained was a little darker, but unless anyone knew (I do of course) that would probably go unnoticed. If I were really serious, a Dodge brush would tidy that up more, but one of the other tools in TouchRetouch will also help here. The Clone Stamp allowed me to select a suitable area of tarmac with a target and paint over that darker area.

TouchRetouch TouchRetouch TouchRetouch

Limits and Extras

There are limits. I found that on one of the multi-line junctions on top of a pole, the mass of lines was difficult to clear without some smudging from nearby artefacts. I also found this when removing text in the background of some fashion displays in a shopping centre. Where the text abutted the jacket or dress, there could be some color transfer. If there was a small gap, this would be avoided.

Once an image is cleaned up, there are several options for saving: as a copy; original image (permission needs to be granted for modification); to Instagram, FaceBook, Tumblr, Twitter; as email; to Clipboard; or to another app (Open in).

TouchRetouch TouchRetouch

On the really plus side, edited images may be saved as JPEG, PNG, or TIFF files. Each has four size settings (Small, Medium, Large, Original). JPEG images can be saved as Medium-70, High-95 or Max-100. This indicates the amount of compression: 100 is least, but creates a larger file. I set image exports for PNG and Original size; but at times I am sure I will want to use TIFF. As a guide, a square iPhone X image (3024 x 3024) produced a file of 36 MB when exported (oddly, in Photos on the Mac the same image was 37.8MB).


As soon as I started working with TouchRetouch I was impressed with the results. I did note with some images, such as a train shot in the UK, removal of power lines could introduce an unrealistic sense to a photograph, so editors should think first before reaching automatically for this tool in certain cases.

I pushed its feature strengths once or twice with a less than perfect outcome, but in most cases, the edited image removes the lines effectively, and will also delete some quite sizeable objects. Indeed, as a way to push this to its limits, I was able to remove a person from an image, although there is some smearing of the wall behind. As this only took me 5 seconds or so, had I taken more time (and care) I might have produced a result that Stalin's photo technicians would have been proud of.

TouchRetouch TouchRetouch

Joking aside, the ability to tidy up images quickly and effectively is a boon to those whose street photography might otherwise be marred by power lines and other unwanted debris. This app is actually 7 years old which shows how easy it is to get lost in the App Store. It was last updated (4.1.8) about 3 months ago with some major improvements coming a year ago. How does a gem like this disappear? At the 69 baht ($2.99) price TouchRetouch was an easy choice and is highly recommended.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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