Many of us are blocks of painting or drawing. But most people are reasonably adept at taking photos, whether it’s a smartphone or a digital camera.
Thanks to image processing technologies in Adobe Photoshop and other software, you can easily convert these photos into cartoon-like drawings or picturesque works of art that mimic oils, pastels, or watercolors.
Here, we’ll show you some ways to apply artistic effects in Photoshop, from built-in filter effects to third-party plug-ins.
1. Filter the gallery
The easiest way is to use artistic filters installed with Photoshop. Most of these can be found in the Filter gallery (Filter> Filter the gallery), a collection of 47 effects. Some of them are designed to simulate natural substances such as watercolors or pastels. Others, especially poster edges, can create a cartoon look.
You can learn more about Photoshop filters in our guide.
In the filter gallery, you can preview each effect and adjust settings such as brush size, edge thickness, and detail. However, your ability to customize each effect is limited. And these filters have been in Photoshop since the mid-1990s, so they’ve been used too much up to visual clichés. This is especially true for the most popular effects, such as watercolor and poster edges.
You can get more varieties by stacking one effect on top of another, but the results can be messy. For more pleasing to the eye, it’s best to use Photoshop layers and blending modes in conjunction with filters.
2. Oil paint filter
Oil paint filter (Filter> Stylize> Oil Paint) is a more advanced effect that Adobe added to Photoshop CS6. You can customize the size, style, and details of the brush strokes. You can also activate the Lighting option to give the illusion of depth and texture.
3. Neural filters
Photoshop 2021 introduced a new series of artificial intelligence-ready functions called Neural Filters (Filter> Neural filters). One of them is style transfer, which uses a neural network to use style features from one image to another.
Here’s how it works: The filter presents a set of source images, including well-known works such as Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. You click on the source and wait a bit for the neural network to split the pixels. Once the style is applied to the image, you can adjust a few settings, but it’s not a very customizable filter.
This technology emerged from academic research first introduced in 2016, and similar artificial intelligence features have been introduced in other graphics software, including Corel Paintshop Pro, Topaz Studio (see below) and GRFX Studio Pro-AI From Auto FX software.
4. Photoshop functions
Photoshop users have long relied on functions to automate repetitive tasks such as adding frames or creating shadows. The software includes dozens of predefined functions, but you can also find all kinds of functions online, some for free and some for premium levels. Many of these allow for artistic influences.
Performing a first-class activity is like handing over a computer to a Photoshop artist. In addition to these effects, these features can help you learn how to create your own unique look.
Featured here is the RageStudion Cartoon Vector Photoshop Action that sells Envaton on the market.
It uses an oil paint filter along with five Filter Gallery effects. Each effect moves to a separate layer with defined opacity levels and mixing states. Finally, the feature adds two folders — effects and color combinations — with adjustment levels that allow you to customize colors. It is also a good example of the use of smart filters.
You will find more artistic activities on the subject Uncertain market and Creative markets. PanosFX offers a number of free and premium features for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, including the Cartoons and Pop Art package.
To import the functions you downloaded, open the Actions panel (Window> Actions) and choose Download Actions from the panel menu.
A few notes:
Functions can be customized to some extent, but they are usually single-trick ponies. If you want to use a wide range of effects, consider an extension of the third-party (see below).
Such functions usually work best in high-resolution images with sharp details. Check the documentation to see which images are best suited.
Some functions are designed for specific image modes. For example, some only work with RGB images or require the presence of a background layer. Check the documentation again.
Charge: Cartoon Vector Photoshop function ($ 6)
5. Topaz studio
Consider a third-party Photoshop plug-in in order to apply artistic effects should be as flexible as possible. One of our favorites is Topaz Studio, which features 34 filters from relatively modest image adjustments to a wild artistic look. Want to learn more about plugins? Here is our guide the best free Photoshop plug-ins.
Some of the filters come from Topaz Labs ’Simplify, Glow, and Impression plug-ins, which were previously sold as separate products. The software also includes AI ReMix, which is similar to Photoshop’s new Style Transfer feature. These filters can be combined in a variety of ways to produce a seemingly unlimited set of effects.
The easiest way to use Studio is to browse through presets, which Topaz calls “Looks.” Some of the layouts are designed to mimic the styles of well-known artists such as Degas, Monet, Renoir or Leonardo Da Vinci.
You can run Topaz Studio as a separate program for Macs and PCs, or as an extension for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Corel PaintShop Pro, and other image editing programs.
Charge: Topaz Studio for Mac or PC ($ 99, free trial)
6. Snap Art
While Topaz Studio offers a wide range of photo enhancements, Exposure Software’s Snap Art focuses specifically on painting and image effects. It offers 10 styles of effects, each with a wide range of customization options: cartoons, crayon, Impasto, oil paint, pastel, pen and ink, pencil drawing, pointillism, stylized and watercolor.
For each style, the plugin presents several presets that you can use as a starting point for your own work. Canvas features allow you to simulate painting surfaces such as textured paper, fabric, leather, or wood.
Snap Art works as a standalone program or plug-in for Photoshop, Lightroom, or the company’s own Exposure software.
Charge: Snap Art for Mac or PC ($ 79, free trial)
7. ToonIt! Picture
True to his name, Digital Anarchy’s ToonIt! Photo focuses specifically on cartoon effects. Usually, you start with one of the presets – Comic Noir, Graphic Novel, Old Time Toon, etc. – and then customize the look with the Effects palette. Several presets are designed to replicate the style of famous cartoonist Frank Miller and other pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.
One area with ToonIt! excels converts color images to black and white line art. We haven’t seen other software do it as well, but you have to fine-tune the controls to get the right detail. The plugin also produces color images with aplomb.
ToonIt! An image is expensive, but it’s worth looking at if you want to produce cartoon effects.
Charge: ToonIt! Picture ($ 129, free trial)
Tips for best results
Before you take any of these effects to turn your photos into art:
Try sharpening the image with the Blur Mask or Smart Sharpen filter. In general, images with sharp details usually work better than softer ones.
Consider removing or replacing the background, especially if it is noisy or busy.
For cartoon effects, you can use the Photoshop dust and scratch filter (Filter> Noise> Dust and scratches) or other cleaning tools to prepare areas where you prefer even colors.
Some effects do not scale well, so you may get better results if you change the image to the desired dimension in advance.
Never apply an effect to the original image file, just a copy. Otherwise, your valuable family or holiday photos can be permanently deported to the comic book country.
Other options besides Adobe Photoshop
The effects shown here only scratch what you can do with Photoshop filters, Actions, and extensions. And while we focused on Photoshop, you don’t necessarily need Adobe software to get that kind of look.
Topaz Studio and Snap Art both run as separate programs, and Photoshop options like GIMP and Corel PaintShop Pro include their own artistic effects. So don’t be afraid if you have all your fingers and thumbs when using a brush. As long as you can handle the mouse, no one needs to be wiser.
Plugins help change GIMP from a good program to a great one. They add new features, improve your workflow, and help make GIMP one of the best free options for Photoshop.
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