One of my favorite software companies, Topaz Labs, has just released an upgrade to their DeNoise software, rasing version 3 to version 4. This is a free upgrade to version 3 owners and is a major upgrade. Check it out at here. It’s not just that the “look” has changed, but the new layout makes it much easier to navigate and also incorporates a new “IntelliNoise” technology.
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.
A few weeks back I wrote about TopazLabs application TopazAdjust3, and I liked it so well that it obviously influenced me to take a look at its sister (brother?) application DeNoise. Topaz Labs makes applications for both still and video imaging, and it is the digital still imaging area that have my interest because Photoshop from Adobe is the center of my workflow and I like things that plug-in to Photoshop. I thought if noise control in its own plug-in could be any better than the noise suppression panel in TopazAdjust3, then it might be extremely useful. So I decided to give it a try. DeNoise is a bit more expensive than TopazAdjust3. Where the latter is priced at US $49.95, DeNoise comes in at US $79.95. All of TopazLabs software has a 30-day trial key which allows you to try it out thoroughly to see whether you like it or not.
So here is one I tried DeNoise with; it was shot with a 3.1 megapixel point-and-shoot camera in Morocco in the summer of 2000. Look at the color artifacts in the shadow under the palm leaves and in the shadow on the floor on the right.
Going to Filter > Topaz > DeNoise we get the panel below.
The default in the Main>Noise Suppression is 1.0 when it opens. You can use the Reset button on the bottom right to force Noise Suppression to open at 0 if you choose. We’ll take a look at all the adjustments possible before we make corrections.
The Advanced panel allows us to make adjustments in (1) Color Noise, (2) JPEG Fixer, (3) Smoothness, and (4) Add Grain. It opened with a default of 0.05 in Color Noise.
The third panel, Presets, gives us the options of settings for (1) SRAW Normal, (2) JEPG High Quality, (3) Large Grain Noise, and (4) Supersmooth. Choosing and Applying one of these presets will make adjustments in the Main and Advanced panels.
Finally, the About panel will allow us to reach (1) Tech Support, (2) On-Line Resources, (3) Check for an update, and (4) enter our registration Key if we have not already done so.
Now, we’ll go back to the original image and the noise in the shadow and brick areas.
In the following image the Noise Suppression was set at 2.88. Remember, the default was 1.0.
A slight amount of curves was applied to lighten the shadow area.
Now, here’s the detail close-up so you can see the original grain in all its gruesome glory.
Here’s the example with the Noise Suppression at 2.88.
Now here is a completely different means of removing the Color Noise.
Pretend you ignored all the steps under the Main panel and went directly to the Advanced Panel and chose to make your corrections through the Color Noise and Smoothness adjustments. You will get results similar to the ones below, which are not identical to the answer you received working with the Main panel and Smoothness. But this simply shows that there are more than one way to reach an acceptable answer to the noise problem.
On the left side we can see an area corrected only by Color Noise and Smoothness sliders. The original, grainy, image is the right side of the image.
Here we have the image totally corrected by using the Advanced panel and the Color Noise and Smoothness sliders.
I think we have another winner here. I’m going to use Topaz BeNoise to save many of the photographs I took with the 3.1 Megapixel point-and-shoot camera while we were traveling in Morocco.
Check out DeNoise at http://topazlabs.com where it is priced at US $79.95 as a download. A CD with the program can be ordered at extra charge, but saving the download with a copy of the key which is emailed to you after purchase can be done in only a few minutes. After all, the DMG file is only 5.2 megabytes and is a quick download even on dial-up. DeNoise is another good additon to your toolkit and workflow.
I don’t know how many hours I have put in writing actions to allow me to produce some of the currently popular photoshop effects; really more than I want to admit. By the time I’ve worked my way through reading tutorials, performing the action(s), refining the effect(s), redoing the action(s) and getting client feedback, I have quite a bit of time committed to some projects. Not that I don’t think some of the techniques aren’t pretty cool and I admire the developers of the concepts; some are dynamic visual improvements that will be around for quite a while and a few will be temporary trends or fads and soon be ignored.
But as a photographer I have often wished that Photoshop had a particular plug- in that would simplify some of the things I want to do. Photoshop has a number of built-in filters and plug-ins but it also has the ability to add third-party plug-ins either under the filter menu or sometimes under the automate menu. You can spend as much money for Photoshop plug-ins as for Photoshop itself.