At first glance, Topaz Clean 3 seems like a simple, straightforward plugin. A few presets give you distinct looks which blur detail anywhere from slight to cartoony. If utilized properly, it can provide a great skin softening plugin, or an abstract, artistic pixel obliterator. Coming in at under thirty bucks, it might just be the plugin you didn’t know you were looking for.
The two immediate benefits I’ve seen with Clean 3 are its use in a quick and efficient skin retouching plugin, and an abstract, artistic tool.
First, let’s look at what is probably Clean 3’s intended use, skin retouching.
You can apply the filter to the entire photo, but for the image above, I selected the model’s face by way of the quick selection tool and created a new layer with just that selection by pressing CMND (CNTRL – Win) + J which pastes the selection to its own duplicated layer. (If you are going to use the Clean 3 Filter on the entire layer, make a duplicate of your background to apply the filter to, Topaz will not automatically place the adjustment on its own layer!). By using the default settings for the preset “Skin Even,” it applied a nice, softening effect to her face. I masked the adjusted layer, and with a soft black brush (B) I painted over her eyes and lips to bring back all of the texture. Here’s the result:
While the default setting looks good, I think with a little light masking, you could bring back some more natural texture in the chin and far cheek. I think overall though, for a quick couple of clicks, it does pretty damn well. I wanted to show the default here without any manipulation other than masking out the eyes and lips, but I think I’d probably use a soft brush at about 15% opacity to just slightly bring back a little more in those areas as opposed to dropping the overall opacity of the layer which would bring back more of the texture in her near cheek, which I think looks good, relatively natural and much better than it did before. This is also done without any cloning done before hand, which of course you’d want to do to take care of the major blemishes.
Skin retouching is an art in and of itself, and there are many tactics that professional retouchers use to make images look “magazine ready” so to speak. Software plugins are available to aid and assist a program like Photoshop to do the lion’s share, and until using Topaz Clean 3, I’ve not found one that can be employed as effectively at such a low cost. While I wouldn’t say it is geared to provide the results or fine tuning that other, more expensive plugins are built for, the price is great for what it provides.
Let’s move to the other trick that Clean 3 has up it’s sleeve. Photo purists turn your heads. This is an effect I’ve seen but, until now, not been able to replicate. Largely due to the fact that the main software plugin that accomplishes this is a PC only plugin, so being on a mac immediately eliminates my potential patronage, until now… There is a catch which I’ll explain below, but I’ve also figured out a decent workaround for said catch.
Here is the effect:
Certainly an abstract application. Not one that will garner praises from photojournos or purists, but luckily, I’m neither. While I wouldn’t want every picture I take to end up looking like this, I am drawn to it in certain situations as I’m always looking for fun and creative ways to play with my imagery. The catch here, is that because Clean 3 is basing all of its adjustments on pixel based measurements, the larger the overall file, the less intense this effect (because the pixels are relatively smaller). The way I’ve found this styling to be most effective is to export your full sized file to an output size of roughly 1000 pixels on the long side (I think this was a 1024 pixel long file) which means that my image is squished down into smaller dimensions ultimately enlarging each effective pixel which allows this type of effect to take hold giving it this whimsical style.
With a decreased image size, a quick way to “resize” it back to near original dimensions is to save the file as is and reopen it in photoshop as a smart object. Resize from there and voila. Yes, you do not automatically regain the original pixel measurements, but you do get a much cleaner upsizing than if you were to merely stretch the pixels in the original prior to converting it to a smart object. I will go deeper into the settings in a later post as I further tweak my end results, but if it is something you’re into, check back in, or subscribe at the top right of the page with your email address to get the article delivered to you once I finish it up.
In summation, for $29.95, you get a very affordable plugin that is good at softening skin along with providing an artistic modification ranging from a smooth overall result to a much more abstract image as I’ve shown above. Is it worth it? It is to me. Give it a free trial by downloading it directly from Topazlabs.com.
Enjoy and happy shooting!