Anyone familiar with my blog knows I’m a fan of artistic, digital image file manipulation. Be that through actions, plugins or standalone software, I like to use my pictures in a variety of different ways. One thing I’ve always wanted to be better at, but was never able to hone my skill, is painting. So, into my life fell digital photography, but there was that tactile, artistic void left behind. I have tried Corel’s Painter, which is an amazing program, but one that requires just short of a masters degree to fully understand, and is in my opinion much better utilized by those who are already decent actual painters. Well, I’ve always wanted to be able to finely tune, and offer digital painting as a conversion for a digital picture file both personally and professionally, and until I tried my hand at Alien Skin’s Snap Art 3, I had resigned myself to putting it on the bucket list. A plugin for either Photoshop or Lightroom, the seamless and intuitive interface can help you produce digital paintings and drawings with a variety of media in a matter of seconds. Read on for initial feelings and examples…
At first, when I’d heard about the Snap Art series, I’d just kind of ignored it as I’ve had so many other cool plugins and standalones that I’ve used and enjoyed to get my images where I want them to be. The Alien Skin team has just released the third iteration of this plugin, and because it is my first go around with it, I can’t compare it to the previous releases, but man oh man is this program awesome.
Of course, if you don’t like the idea of turning your high resolution digital images into a painting, then read no further I guess. But, aside from the remarkable control from oil paint, watercolor and impasto, you can instantly change you image into a comic, or colored pencil sketch, chalk or oil pastel and more. With over a hundred presets (I lost count), and next to unlimited modification from brush size, coverage, surface texture and medium you might say it is as complete an automated digital painting program as most any photographer may need. Add to that, the ability to mask (selectively remove effect) directly inside the program to bring back detail for portraits, macros or creatively applied surreality and you have a really powerful and concise image creation plugin. Actually, I think that deserves a second immediate mention. You can mask inside Snap Art 3 revealing a completely user controlled amount of “photo reality” within the software! Three times in one image!!! Simply put, that is spectacular and endlessly useful. While Photoshop is still king when it comes to layer masks, the ability to produce 3 individual, manipulatable masks within Snap Art means, a more complete and useful plugin with less time spent overall in Photoshop being necessary! Want a single subject to stand out from a background, easy. Want that subject’s face to be even clearer/realistic still? Easy. How about the eyes? Yeah, throw a third mask on there to bring them back to near pure reality to make them pop!
When I was jotting notes as I went through the software, initially I thought it would be good to walk you through the interface and all that it offers. After playing around with it, I realized that it is so intuitive, it’s best to watch a couple of the videos on Alien Skin’s website to grasp the basics and everything just easily unfolds through a little experimentation.
Here are a few areas that I instantly found the Snap Art 3 plugin to be useful and produce fun results.
With about 30 seconds of experience with the plugin under my belt, I realized how useful this would be for me in portraiture, wedding photography and any other “people” (or ‘pet’ for you animal loving photogs) application where the offering of a personalized digital painting would be beneficial. Using the mask inside Snap Art 3 made the need to mask in Photoshop completely unnecessary (for this shot anyway). The above shot literally took about 30 seconds where had I tried to replicate this in Corel’s Painter, would have taken me closer to 30 minutes if not a lot more. Add to this, the use of textures or composite layers within Photoshop, and the possibilities are endless. (I was having a lot of fun with the smudge tool.. :) )
2) Canvas Prints:
I’ve always loved images printed on canvas. I’ve always loved paintings on canvas. So, it was only natural that I would use Snap Art 3 along with some of my images to print on larger canvas. While Alien Skin suggests adjusting your image dimensions and establishing your “print size” in Photoshop prior to running Snap Art 3 to optimize resolution, I round tripped my images from Aperture (as a full sized, 300dpi TIFF file) through Photoshop, saved back in and printed in Aperture to final size (which in my case was on 11″ x 14″ canvas) and the results are beautiful. Because I rarely print directly from Photoshop, I’m not the best to ask about this, but I would take Alien Skin’s word for it and the info can be found on their website (linked below). One suggestion I would pass along when printing on a textured surface (canvas, cotton rag, etc) is to adjust the “Canvas Preset” surface texture in Snap Art 3 (on the “Canvas” tab) to “No Texture” as your paper will provide it for you. If printing on a smooth, flat (especially a matte) paper, play around with the surface texture to provide the dimensionality of various surfaces. You can even adjust the angle and direction of the light while manipulating the specular highlights on the thicker paints! Another subtle, yet brilliant detail provided in this software.
3) Low Res or less than compelling Snap Shots:
We all have them. The boring shots we can’t bring ourselves to get rid of as they provide little moments that, while we may want to remember, we may not want to waste ink and paper on. Well, my wife loved this image of our son. Sure, it’s cute, but nothing special considering we have thousands of images of him. Well, this one reminded her of times past and struck the right chord. Only problem was, the native resolution was 1.8 mega pixels at 180 dpi making for a rather sloppy looking print above 4×6″ so I ran it through Snap Art and while it still isn’t the prettiest file, by “painting it” it really helped erase the inherent shortcomings of quality by creating a more artistic look. I don’t think Snap Art would be a printing answer to a 72 dpi, 300 pixel wide thumbnail image per se, but I do think you can get a little more milage than you would otherwise.
Long story short…
Snap Art 3 provides you with an instant cache of artistic digital options with an easy to understand and use interface that can provide a photographer with both an end all, or a spring board from which to start to build an even more complex work of digital art. Like all of Alien Skin plugins within Photoshop, it puts your Snap Art 3 version on its very own layer when you save it from within the plugin so that you can instantly play with the blend mode, mask for effect, add to or subtract from as it is it’s own layer.
Other applications for this program are limited only by imagination and creativity. As with most software, if you’re manipulating large, high resolution files the “lag” can grow to a few seconds between refresh, but that’s more to do with your computer and your image file sizes, so I cannot mention anything that I found to be less than beautifully thought out, intuitive or even remotely restrictive. Once again, I feel that Alien Skin has produced a wonderfully useful and remarkably fun plugin which can allow users to quickly produce beautiful, user controlled, artistic renditions of their photographs. I didn’t realize how much fun I was having until I realized my weekend had evaporated and my desk disappeared under stacks of prints and canvases.
Don’t take my word for it though. Try out their full trial for free here: Snap Art 3!
Also, after downloading the free trial, spend a couple minutes viewing Jimmy’s Snap Art 3 videos HERE.
We can’t all be master painters, but with a couple clicks, we can transform our digital image files into masterful digital paintings, and for this I am very thankful. As always, thank you very much for the read and happy shooting. I put a few more examples below if you’re interested in seeing a few of my results from the first couple days I spent with Snap Art 3.
If interested, here are a couple other equally as fun Alien Skin plugin/program articles :