What are the 3 R’s of editing? (replacement reduction and refinement)

What are the 3 R's of editing?

Image editing is an art, no doubt about it. Aesthetics and design sense require a decent level of in-born orientation for beauty, appeal, color coordination, symmetry, and artistic expression. However, a lot of art, especially commercial art is produced for a purpose. It therefore has to be produced to exacting standards. This means straddling the line between predictability & spontaneity and creativity & commercial metrics. In this blog, we will explore what are the 3 R’s of editing? (replacement reduction and refinement) why it is important and how it works.

Professional image editors get around this issue in two ways. The first way is to restrict one’s expertise to technical work- do exactly what the client wants, without letting one’s own design sense influence the outcome. This works well for experienced clients who know exactly what they want. 

On the other hand, brands, especially those just starting out, or those without experienced marketing asset managers need help of a different kind. They look to image editing specialists as not just technical experts, but also domain experts who can provide valuable inputs in aesthetics. We at Manipal Digital do have extensive experience- till date we’ve processed over 15 million professional edits for all sorts of applications, from high fashion to gaming. We have a large team of experts, each with significant depth in at least one domain. Therefore when we interact with brands which need a consulting approach, we advise a basic framework of image editing which has served us well over the years- the 3Rs approach.

The 3 Rs

The 3 Rs approach refers to “replacement, reduction, and refinement”. It was first proposed by two British biologists in the 1960s for applications in Animal Husbandry and Testing. Since then the framework’s simplicity and wide applicability has made it popular in a number of fields. Manipal Digital became the first major company in the Image editing field to do so at a time when air-brushing, color correction, body manipulation etc. techniques had been taken to an excess by some image editors, leading to growing backlash. 


Replacement refers to our use of proprietary automation to replace repetitive tasks. Our in-house R&D team explores new ways to automate or simplify tasks like background removal, silhouette creation, masking, swatch matching, etc. This frees up our artists to take on work that is more complex, needs subjective judgement, or creative artistry (such as to create composite shots). It also reduces our overheads of manpower, space requirements, etc. We believe in passing on savings to our clients based on “mutual growth” principles. This “automate what you can” principle goes down very well with our clients!


We have always believed that authentic is beautiful. There are of course aesthetic principles to uphold, like symmetry, Rule of Thirds, etc., but we believe including the slight imperfection in every human being is exactly the sort of realism that was missing from professional edits in the past. Therefore, we advise brands to communicate brand values through authenticity. Even brands which adopt “1% lifestyle” or “perfection” themes for their brand signaling have begun to realize the value of connecting with potential clients without “talking down” to make themselves more aspirational.

We at Manipal Digital therefore follow a “reduction” philosophy in image editing. The basic tenets are: In every element from prop to model, assess temporary imperfections and remove/rectify them, but leave permanent features untouched. This means clothing wrinkles, untoward shadows, and wayward hair strands should be removed, but model features should be handled with care- removing acne is ok, skin lightening is not. It gets pretty subjective pretty quickly, so communication and alignment with the client is very important. The result is a beautiful, authentic photo that re-focuses attention on the product while promoting body positivity, authenticity, and positive messaging.


Refinement is about developing proprietary techniques to produce better results. This includes better workflows, better job breakdowns, more targeted training for specialists, and continuous improvement to develop techniques which almost nobody else does. Need a fast way to wrap fabrics on mannequins with realistic-looking results? We gotcha. Automated templates to show products on shelves? Sure. Full-detail interior set-ups with and without models at blazing fast speeds? We gotcha.

To us refinement is about better techniques, better results, more streamlined workflows, and upskilling ourselves so we can satisfy unique client needs, whether the needs are volume based, time based, quality based, or uniqueness based. We like to think of ourselves as problem solvers that can be the best partners for brands, both big and small.


Image Editing mastery is the confluence of years of experimentation with new techniques, expertise in tools, and empathy towards customer needs. It pays to think long term, have customer-centricity in planning, and fill communication and awareness gaps as they arise, with an eye towards being the best. That has been the Manipal Digital Philosophy since its inception over a decade and a half ago, and will remain the basic tenet that makes us one of the best in the business.

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