Your inner Picasso – Creative effects with Photoshop

Header your inner Picasso

Many times we see paintings made from pictures some photographers shoot and you may ask yourself: How can I make that?. Start by creating effects with Photoshop like a pro!

What is needed for creating artistic effects in Photoshop?

First of all, you need a good bunch of Plugins. Snap Art from Alien Skin or Topaz Labs Simplify is a must.

Also, you need to have a basic knowledge of Photoshop filters, layers and blending modes if you want to do it the old way (which sometimes works better for certain effects).

Is up to you the workflow you want to follow, the important thing is to have fun while doing this stuff, otherwise, it won’t have the sense to do it.

Artistic effects with Plugins

For this tutorial purpose, I am going to work with Topaz Labs Simplify since I really prefer it over Snap Art.

When we open Topaz Labs for the first time, it has a sort of tiny tutorial to show us how to work with the plugin, which can be useful for new users.


Since I am working with the last photo I processed for the RAW processing tutorial, it’s worth mentioning this photo already has effects and WB correction applied to it, so your end result may look different if you work with a non-processed photo.


Topaz Labs plugins open up a new window where the plugin works as a Standalone. This is a different approach from plugins that work using the Photoshop interface, although, for most popular paid plugins, the Standalone interface is common given the wide range of tools inside of them.


At the Collections panel, you can see which categories of presets we have available to work with them, also this is the area where you can create a new collection of your own made plugins.

Each collection contains a good bunch of effect to play with, so naturally, first you need to select the collection you want to work with and then click at a preset you like. Fortunately, as with other plugins from Topaz, Simplify shows us a preview of what our image will look like after applying the effect.

Now I chose a ‘Cartoon II’ effect from the Line and Ink collection.


On the upper right corner is located a multi-tab panel which lets us choose between a Navigating view (for easy zoom in), a Loupe view and the Histogram.

Below that are the Global Adjustments for the effect. Below I will list the meaning and effect of each slider.

  • Simplify Size: Applies a parameter in relation to the overall image size which defines the minimum detail size. Any detail with a size smaller than the Simplify Size selected will be erased, leaving only the higher size features of the image.
  • Feature Boost: Enhances the main features of the images and exaggerates the details on it.
  • Details Strength: Defines how much detailed our image is going to be.
  • Details Boost: For enhancing those tiny details of the image.
  • Details Size: Determines the size of the image features to be considered as details.
  • Remove Small: Removes details smaller to the selected size
  • Remove Weak: Removes weaker details of the image

Also, the Global Adjustment panel gives us the possibility to adjust digital processing elements in case our image wasn’t previously post-processed, as well as a curve adjustment element. Since as I mentioned before, the image is already post-processed, I won’t use any of this tabs for the tutorial, but feel free to test them.


Notice that Simplify also gives us the option to apply which mode of the effect we want to give to the image. If it is going to affect the edges, the overall colour or both. Combined is the default, but please take a look at the other effects possible under the same preset. For this image, the colour only is the best shot and is under the Base tab.


The Local Adjustments panel is used in case you want to add Dodge, Smoothness or Burn to certain areas of the image. Unless you want something really specific, you won’t be using them too much.


And Finishing Touches panel is for giving an “extra” to the effect, for if you want to add Vignetting, give a Quad Tone or to regulate the transparency (opacity) of the effect applied.

As you can see, working with plugins is really efficient because with very few clicks you actually get nice looking results.


Depending on the size of your image and how powerful your PC is, is the time that Topaz needs to ‘render’ the effect on the image. Work with small sizes for a faster time (and do not try to work with images over 50 MB otherwise the plugin will freeze).

Working the old way

Now if I want to add a ‘watercolour effect’ the old way to our image, this are the steps I should follow.


Duplicate the background layer about three times with CTRL+J, then turn off the first two layers.


Make active the selection on Layer 1 and apply a Cutout filter (located at Filter Gallery under Artistic filters). Use the default values and hit ok. Change the layer blending mode to Luminosity.


Now I turn active the second layer and apply another filter from the Artistic category, this time a Dry Brush with the following values. Change the layer blending mode to Screen.


Finally, turn on the last layer and apply to it a Blur filter, which in this case is going to be a Surface blur with the following values.
Change the layer blending mode to Soft Light.


And this is the end result. You can then tweak a bit the values of the opacity of the layers, or add adjustment layers.

If you want to reduce the overall lighting of the resulting image, reduce the opacity at layer 2, since it is set to Screen mode it adds too much light sometimes.


Conclusion – Plugin vs Traditional method

As you can see, the two approaches are valid, although the last method can take a long time to see the effects.

Some people may say that anyone can use a plugin whereas making creative effects the old way is for apt users. Don’t listen to that and use the method you feel more comfortable with.

A third choice on this behalf can be added if we consider the role Photoshop Actions actually take on digital post-production. By this I don’t mean to make the procedure we displayed above a PS action of its own, as that wouldn’t bring any extra value to our work. Instead, take time to go through PS Action galleries made by professional artist and scroll down until you locate the effect you always dreamed to apply. Photoshop Actions aren’t expensive and they should be considered an investment for the porfolio of any photographer; although, be sure to visit respectable sites that showcase how do the effects work not only by images – which can be faked – but also through videos explaining the workflow to follow. That’s the main reason why users get so frustrated when buying these kind of actions, as working procedure isn’t explained and most probably it requires some layers to be renamed on your end or to do a series of steps prior even activating the action.

Hope this guide was useful for you all and see you next time!

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