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Snap Art 2 review

Verdict:

Aimed more at the home enthusiast than the professional user, Snap Art is a joy to experiment with.

Review Date: 29 May 2009

Price when reviewed: (about £128); upgrade $99 (about £63.65)

Reviewed By: Steve Caplin

Our Rating 4 stars out of 5

It's possible to create reasonably authentic painting effects using Photoshop's built-in filters. However, to make the effect look real involves combining several filters and is a tricky, complex process even for seasoned Photoshop artists.

Snap Art 2 from Alien Skin is a Photoshop plug-in that's capable of creating a variety of natural media styles quickly and, in most cases, with a high degree of realism. The available styles include Colour Pencil, Comics, Impasto, Oil Paint, Pen and Ink, Pencil Sketch, Pointillism, Stylize and Watercolour, and each is faithful to its real-world counterpart.

Some styles work better than others. Best of all is Impasto, which reproduces the effect of thick, gloopy paint on a canvas background. The three-dimensional, lit and shaded paint follows the contours of the original image, a feature not found in any of the built-in Photoshop filters. For an instant Van Gogh effect, this one's hard to beat.

At the opposite end of the artistic scale, Comics produces work of outstanding clarity and vigour. With coarse dot screens, stylised posterisation and thick ink outlines, the images are graphic, powerful cartoon interpretations of the original.

A few of the styles are less successful. The obligatory Pointillism does little more than Photoshop's built-in filter, although it does rather neatly have a 'Seurat' setting that's closer to the originator's intentions, but it's hard to recapture the true flavour of Seurat. The Pen and Ink style is perhaps the least convincing of all, resulting in an image that looks more like rough charcoal than the medium it's supposed to represent.

Snap Art's interface is clean, multi-paned and comprehensive. The Settings menu in each case divides the various preset types into three broad categories: Abstract (low realism), Landscape (moderate realism) and Portrait (most realism). Whether you choose to follow these recommendations or not is up to you, but they make a good starting point. Within each category, sensibly named presets such as 'Large Brush, curved strokes' give a good idea of what's to come.

Choosing a preset is just the beginning. Subsequent panes let you modify brush size, photorealism amount, stroke curvature, canvas type and strength, lighting direction, paint thickness and much more, so you can really customise the output.

A useful innovation is 'focus regions', variable soft-edged elliptical selections that let you pick out specific areas within which the plug-in retains extra detail and realism.

Unusually for an Alien Skin product, there's some awkwardness to the interface. The filter opens with the image shown at small size, rather than 1:1, and you can't see any of the painting effects clearly at reduced scale. There's also an unaccountable delay of several seconds between moving a slider and the progress bar beginning its (admittedly rapid) progress; this tends to discourage experimentation, which is the key to successful operation of the plug-in.

Snap Art 2 produces gorgeous, lush and authentic paintings from just about any image. The poorer-quality tools can just be ignored, as the truly great ones more than make up for any shortcomings.

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