Turning a photograph into digital art is no easy task. Fortunately, Alien Skin's Snap Art plug-in for Adobe Photoshop and other photo editors takes the heavy lifting out of creating sketches, paintings, comics, and stylized illustrations from photographs.
Designed for both hobbyists and professional artists, Snap Art consists of 10 natural-media art filters: Color Pencil, Comics, Impasto, Oil Paint, Pastel, Pen and Ink, Pencil Sketch, Pointillism, Stylize, and Watercolor. All are available from Photoshop's Filter menu.
Snap Art filters offer a cornucopia of customisable effects. You can choose from a long list of built-in presets for each filter. And if that's not enough, you can download additional settings files from Snap Art forum posts on the Alien Skin website. Don't hesitate to venture beyond the factory settings to tweak the many individual controls for each filter, including brush, colour, canvas, and lighting options.
Applying a filter is easy, thanks to Snap Art's simple, well-designed interface. Factory settings are listed with descriptive names, along with any custom user settings you define. Individual controls are grouped conveniently into tabs. Click on a factory or user setting or adjust an individual control to see the effect in a large image preview.
A choice of split-screen views and a toggle button come in handy for comparing a filtered preview to the original photograph. Familiar Photoshop-style pan, zoom and navigator controls help you move around the preview. Visit the Basic tab and select Create Output In New Layer Above Current to automatically create a duplicate layer for the filtered result; this way, you protect your original image.
Admittedly, rendering time can feel slow, depending on the filter settings you choose, the size of the image, the computer you're using, or the Photoshop version you have installed. For example, on a MacBook Pro, the Oil Paint filter at the default setting took six seconds to preview and 35 seconds to finally render on an 18MB photograph in Photoshop CS3. In Photoshop CS2, the same tests took about twice as long (13 seconds to preview and 68 seconds to finally render).
Some of the Snap Art filters (such as the unique Stylize filter, which offers a nontraditional effect) produce more artificial-looking results than others (such as the rich Impasto and Oil Paint filters). However, the wide range of looks that Snap Art offers promise something to suit every taste.
Snap Art is compatible with Photoshop CS3, CS2, and CS, as well as Photoshop Elements 4. It can be installed in more than one application by running the installer multiple times.