If you imagine yourself using Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator filters to change your photo into digital art, but don't picture yourself paying for expensive software to do so, then free FotoSketcher - a fun, artistic, easy-to-learn photo editing program - is for you. But don't let FotoSketcher's price fool you into thinking it's a basic program. On the contrary, this little freebie includes some pretty powerful tools, and the FotoSketcher filters especially are not only cheaper than Photoshop's: They're better.

After you first open an image in FotoSketcher, you use the intuitive UI to easily crop, resize, and modify. Adjustments include Luminosity, Contrast, Saturation, and Blur/Sharpen. You can also simplify your image on a sliding scale, which is useful if you are to take full advantage of FotoSketcher's drawing filters. The editing tools in FotoSketcher are nowhere near as complex or complete as those found in Photoshop or even GIMP (a free, open source, photo editor), but the simplicity and ease of creating artwork with FotoSketcher's filters easily makes up for having to have an additional tool in your art box. See also: Group test: what's the best photo-editing software?

FotoSketcher includes about 20 base filters, from pencil sketch to oil pastel to watercolor painting to vintage photo. For each, you can adjust Edge Threshold and Intensity, Stroke Length, Darken/Lighten, and Color Intensity. In addition, you can soften edges or add a frame, canvas texture, or text.

You can achieve very different results with FotoSketcher's drawing filters depending on the resolution of the image you're working on, but FotoSketcher's preview thumbnails show only a certain number of pixels. Therefore if you're working on a 300 dpi (ie, print worthy) image in FotoSketcher you can only see a tiny area of your image, which can make it difficult to make fine adjustments.

FotoSketcher's filter effects are more artistic thanCameraBag 2 a similar photo editing tool that features nostalgic camera and film effects, or MAGIX Photo Designer, a free editing tool that includes many artistic presets. But both CameraBag 2 and MAGIX's image editing controls - like brightness and contrast adjustments - are more sophisticated and complete. FotoSketcher includes one tool, however, that's really valuable: the Manual Retouch Brush. After you've rendered your image into a sketch or artwork, you can use the manual brush to touch up, blur, and swirl areas of your art that don't work quite right.

The effects take anywhere from a couple of seconds to a few minutes to render, depending on the resolution of your source image - and an 8-megapixel image straight from my Nikon SLR used all of my 4GB of RAM to process. However, even with multiple changes, FotoSketcher never crashed, hung, or threw an "out of memory" error message, which did happen when I tested the same large image with similar Photoshop, Illustrator, and PhotoPlus X5 filters. I also liked the simplicity of making minor changes and the end result using FotoSketcher.

My biggest annoyance with FotoSketcher was that the installer downloaded an additional installer for the Ask.com toolbar, even though I selected the option not to install it. It's a minor irritation though for freeware. If you don't want the Ask.com toolbar, you can delete it without ever opening the file.

FotoSketcher 1.12: Specs

  • Microsoft Windows 7, Microsoft Windows Vista, Microsoft Windows XP
  • 4GB RAM
  • Microsoft Windows 7, Microsoft Windows Vista, Microsoft Windows XP
  • 4GB RAM

OUR VERDICT

FotoSketcher is very easy to use and produces very elegant effects. It's a great free program to experiment with turning photographs into fine art.

Find the best price