Ever wanted to turn a photograph into a drawing without spending an hour in Adobe Photoshop using layers and high pass filtering to finally separate out a line drawing of that photograph? It’s possible with a plug-in from Akvis Software. The last time I looked they had some thirteen sofware applications for Macintosh and PC computers. Running either as stand-alone software applications or as plug-ins for image editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. Each of their software are available in 10 day free trial versions. The versions range from home editions without commercial usage to professional versions for commercial designers. Check out http://akvis.com/en/store-software.php to see what is available.
But for the moment, I had some need for Akvis SKETCH and here’s a bit of a look at the software and the techniques for using it.
Running Akvis Sketch 9.0 as a plug-in inside of Photoshop will place it as the first item (alphabetical listing, remember) in the FILTER menu items. What you will really get is an item named AKVIS and SKETCH will be an option within it because Akvis has a large number of applications as I’ve already mentioned that can be purchased to run as either stand-alone applications or as plug-ins within Photoshop and Elements in both Macintosh and PC versions.
The first window that appears when your are in the plug-in version from inside of Adobe Photoshop will contain whatever image you already have open within Photoshop itself. You will have a toolbar at the top and an image window with a preview square within it on the left lower side of the frame, and a series of menus and sliders will be available on the right side of the frame. We’ll take a look at each component separately for a quick orientation of the icons and menus.
Below is a shortened version of the toolbar as it appears in Photoshop. Not present in the plug-in version is a way to print directly from the image as can be found in the stand-alone version. Instead, the plug-in version will require you to return to Photoshop to save or to print. Not every tool is explained here; only the ones to get you started with the least amount of work are covered. See the "?" to access the complete application tutorial.
Here’s the pertinent icons and what they allow us to do.
- Exports presets. You can save any number of presets. They will end in .sketch in a folder by the same name.
- Imports a list of presets from the .sketch file.
- Tells SKETCH to process the rest of the image into the same look as was shown in the preview window (the square which can be adjusted to cover different sizes or parts of the image you are working on).
- Tells SKETCH to process the image, close the plug-in, and return you to the image in Photoshop. There will be a brief delay depending on the speed of your processor before the image appears in Photoshop. In fact, several times I had to click off the image and back on it for it to refresh on my MacBook Pro, 17", C2D, 2.5 Ghz. I don’t know whether that was an idiosyncrasy of my MacBook or not.
- Allows you to exit the SKETCH plug-in without completing any of the menu choices. Without it you are trapped in the plug-in. This access is in the AKVIS SKETCH PLUG-IN item at your main screen left. This button will also bring up the screen where you may UPGRADE, ACTIVATE, or CONTINUE with the plug-in. It will have a BUY option if you have not yet purchased the software and are running it in the 10 day trial mode.
- Will access the HELP file which was part of the software installation from the downloaded application file. I suggest you actually begin here because all of the tools, menus, and windows are explained in depth here.
- Will access the preferences file where you can change the image preview window size as well as other options.
- +brush allows you to draw in blue while working on the BACKGROUND tab. This will select an area where you DO NOT want an effect to occur.
- –brush allows you to draw in green the area where you DO WANT an effect to occur.
- Is an eraser that allows you to modify or change lines done with either of the two brushes while working on the BACKGROUND layer.
Accessing the SKETCH window allows adjustments in WATERCOLOR, CHARCOAL, and COLORATION. Moving any slider bar to the right increases the effect. The WATERCOLOR effects become noticable at around 17. CHARCOAL becomes too heavy after a setting of 3 unless you are attempting a very overdone, sketchy look. COLORATION is readily visible by a setting of 13 and will almost match the original image by 95.
We’ll look at BACKGROUND next and return to the rest of the adjustments under SKETCH and STROKES in a moment.
With BACKGROUND chosen you have three options, SKETCH, SKETCH & PHOTO, and SKETCH & BLUR. When using SKETCH & PHOTO the effect is similar to using layers in Photoshop where the sketch effect is placed on top of the photo image and the two are blended at roughly 50%. If this is the control you are seeking, the effect is better done in Photoshop itself by combing a sketch image with a duplicate of the original and adjusting the opacity blend with more subtle control.
However, chosing SKETCH & BLUR you are able to define the background that you desire to blur and choose between motion, gaussian, and radial blur.
Still another option is the addition of TEXT. Chosing the TEXT window gives access to all of the fonts available through Photoshop. The font size can be chosen, the line of type (typed into the area that says AKVIS Sketch) can be stretched and postioned via the eight green arrows shown in LOCATION below. The TEXT can be given a color, an outline and a glow.
CANVAS is also an option chosen by USE CANVAS. The texture properties, repetion pattern, reflection, alignment and scale are variable choices. The brightness, embossment, texture, distortion and the direction from which the light is directed onto the canvas can be set in this window.
Returning to the front window, that is, the SKETCH window, the size and angle of the strokes in the sketch are available. The default 45 degree sketch angle approximates the stroke of a right handed artist. The width of the stroke is determined by the size choice and the minimum and maximum lengths of the stroke are chosen to approximate the contour-following strokes of the artist. Choices made with this menu is somewhat unique to each subject chosen and should be the result of experimentation.
If COLOR PENCIL is chosen you must be using some degree of COLORATION in order to really see the effect of the colored pencil. Increasing MIDTONE DENSITY will show more detail and result in a filling of the midtones in your image. Increasing the MIDTONES HATCHING will visibly darken shadow areas and has a tendency to look contrived when the number is too high. Experiment with this setting as well.
The rhythmic flowing of the contour lines in an image are a function of EDGE TRACING. SENSITIVITY increases the number of lines in the image as you move the slider to the right. Generally, a number below 35 combined with a WATERCOLOR number of 25 produces a pleasing watercolor/pencil look. But again, experiment to find what settings produce the look you are searching for.
Here’s a sample image from musicians in an Irish pub. This is a screen grab and the artifacts are normally visible in some preview windows in SKETCH. The triangle surrounded by the red box tells SKETCH to render all of the preview window. The check mark surrounded by the yellow box tells SKETCH to complete the rendering and transfer you back to Photoshop and close the plug-in window.
The original picture is the upper of the following two images; below it is black and white with settings on Watercolor 30, Charcoal 3, and Coloration on 0. Stroke angle is 45 degrees and size is 8, Minimum length is 2 and Maximum length is 9, Midtones Intensity is 5 with Midtones Hatching at 95. Colorization is not on in this black and white example.
The original picture is shown in the upper positon in the two following images, and the second image has the same settings as the upper except Colorization is set at 95.
Below is a detail of the above image with the already defined settings; here it is shown larger for you to examine.
Subjects with low contrast will fail to make separation as shown in the example below where the white of the drawing paper and woman’s blouse fail to separate from the wall behind them.
An example of a subject that works well is the trees in the left image. Both a color version and this black and white verson were tried with little discernable difference. Here the contrast makes for good separation of the branches and sky and produces a good sketch look of the trees.
Here is a self-portrait done with the computer camera on my MacBook Pro laptop.
Here is the same image done with the same settings as used on the bar scene except that COLORATION was about 13. The laptop screen is reflected in my glasses.
The following image is of stones and dead leaves from the countryside in Ireland.
The following image is the Stones and dead leaves using the already mentioned settings with the addition of Coloration at a setting of 13.
A photographer in the Irish countryside as the original image.
The photographer with the already mentioned settings and Coloration set at 0.
What you are getting with SKETCH is an outline drawing such as may be produced by using several layers of the HIGH PASS filter, or variations of THRESHOLD in Adobe Photoshop. You are not producing a contour drawing as an artist might attempt with a pressure sensitive drawing tool (Wacom tablet, pen and ink, graphite, brush, or similar drawing instrument); however, for the artistically-challenged, SKETCH produces an acceptable alternative for many instances of illustrative work.
It’s a useful tool in my filter menu of Adobe Photoshop and can be found at http://akvis.com/en/store-software.php. Look it over along with its companion programs; you will find numerous useful applications there.