Get Crazy With The Photos

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gcwtpYou’re busy putting together your fifth monthly newsletter to your clients–you’ve come up with new stories, updated your price lists, and improved your layout. So why are you running the same old, boring product shots? The answer may be that there’s not enough money in the budget for hiring a professional photographer to do a big shoot or an outside artist to spice up your newsletter with illustrations in place of snapshots. Whatever the reason, you no longer have to have the image blues. With software that lets you manipulate images, you can make any picture interesting.

Just what kind of oomph can you add to your images? The answer is anything from a sedately modified effect to an all-out distorted look. The result depends on the effect you choose and the values you use to apply it. The practical applications of products such as Aldus Gallery Effects, Fractal Design Painter and Fractal Design Sketcher, and Micrografx Picture Publisher include enhancing plain-Jane images by using a pastel finish for a softer appearance and quickly turning any image into an illustration with a distorting watercolor effect. Effects like these allow you to transform ordinary, everyday photographs into final art that looks as if it were created with anything from a paintbrush or a graphic pen to mosiac tiles.


In order to apply these special effects, you’ll first need to scan your original photographs to create digital files your computer can use. If you don’t own a scanner, most service bureaus will scan prints or slides for a small fee. Or you may be able to use some of the predigitized stock images available on disk or CD-ROM from companies like Corel Corp. and 21st Century Media. These vendors offer their images with almost unlimited rights for use in in-house work.

With your images in hand, it’s time to explore what you can do to them and which kinds of images respond best to which effects. Suppose that you want to include an image of a person–perhaps a picture of yourself in your regular column to your clients–or a product–maybe the plendid Widget that you’ve invented. In cases like these, tread gently. After all, you want your clients to be able to recognize you or your product. Image-manipulation programs often give you such a variety of tools that one of your biggest problems will be keeping yourself from goin overboard.

The best effects for subtly modifying an image, especially if you plan to output to a black-and-white device, are named after black-and-white sketching media, such as dry brush, charcoal, and chalk and charcoal. Also, any texture effect, such as film grain or paper textures, can work quite well because they modulate an image slightly, without drastically changing tonal values. Of course, it’s also the degree to which you implement an effect that determines how the final image turns out. Even the most subtle effects can turn any image into a mess of unsightly blobs if all the variables–brush size for a dry-brush effect, for example–are set to their maximum values.

Next, imagine that you need to bring three diverse images–perhaps head shots of your staff–together onto the same page. The problem is that these photographs may have been taken under different lighting conditions and against different backgrounds, and displaying them as is might ruin the consistency of a document’s look. Luckily, some of the effects we’ve just talked about can be used to unify these images. For instance, applying a texture effect like a film grain will draw the viewer’s eye to the similarities of the textures and play down different lighting and background conditions.

Sometimes you want to avoid the subtle and go all the way, turning an original photograph into an outright illustration. This is a good choice when you’re dealing with original images that may not be of the best quality–a poorly exposed snapshot of a client’s newest factory, for example, may be better off if you make it look like a commissioned watercolor. Any image that is being used as an illustration, rather than to supply pictorial information, is also a perfect candidate for some of the more distorting effects. These are usually of the painterly variety: fresco, watercolor, mosaic, and craquelure.

For something completely different, you can even layer various effects so that an image may be, say, done partially in watercolor and partially in graphic pen. This probably works best on elements that you’ll use to add design impact, like icons.


Now that you’ve seen what you can achieve, how do you get there? One thing to remember is that not every package offers the same number of effects or even the same kind of effects. But one of the simplest tools to offer a broad range of these capabilities is Aldus Gallery Effects. In Gallery Effects: Classic Art, Volume 1 ($199 for Windows or the Mac), you get a collection of 16 effects, including Film Grain, Charcoal, Watercolor, Chrome, Fresco, and Emboss. Classic Art, Volume 2 ($99) brings you 16 more filters, including Rough Pastels and Photocopy.

These effects all work well on either grayscale or color images in the TIFF, PICT, BMP, or TARGA formats. The Classic Art volumes come as Abode Photoshop plug-in (an industry wide standard for add-on modules for the Mac and PC), so they can be used from within the Photoshop image-editing program or any Photoshop plug-in compatible graphic program, including Fractal Design’s Painter and Sketcher, Aldus PhotoStyler, and Micrografx Picture Publisher. (You don’t have to use Classic Art, Volume 1 from within any of these programs; you can simply make your adjustments directly and then import the files into your page-layout software.) The Gallery Effects collection offers a myriad of image-processing effects and doesn’t force you to become an expert to use them. The Mac version of Gallery Effects applies effects to an entire image only, making it easy to use is somewhat less flexible than a true image-editing or paint program, where you can paint or modify selected portions of an image. The Windows version of Gallery Effects offers the same ease of use but provides more flexibility with three selection tools that can be used to apply effects to parts of an image. You can preview the effect you choose before applying it and vary its intensity or scope.

Other Photoshop plug-ins to alter your images are also available. HSC Software’s Kai’s Power Tools ($199 for the Mac and Windows) has effects that range from mild adjustments to distortions that essentially leave you with an entirely new image. Xaos’s Paint Alchemy and Floppy Full of Brushes ($99 and $20, respectively) and Mac-specific products. Paint Alchemy comes with 75 different preset styles that can be combined with 36 different controls to create millions of custom effects. Floppy Full of Brushes provides an additional 50 effects. These products let you paint effects on sections of an image, or you can make life easier by selecting the entire image and modifying it it one step.

Moving up in terms of options and complexity is Fractal Design’s Sketcher, a grayscale painting program ($149), and its full 24-bit color sibling, Painter ($399). Both are available for Windows and the Macintosh. These packages apply their effects to images saved as TIFF, PICT, BMP, PCX, or TARGA formats in two ways: either on a selected portion (which could be the entire image), or as individual brush strokes. Both also offer a full suite of image-manipulation tools for retouching, such as painting and airbrushing. Fractal also now sells two Really Cool Textures packages for Painter and Sketcher, which add intriguing options for modifying or distorting your images.

High-end–and higher-priced–image-editing programs, like the $895 Adobe Photoshop, $595 Micrografx Picture Publisher, and $795 Aldus PhotoStyler come with their own effects. (Adobe Photoshop is available for Windows and the Mac; the others for Windows only.) Picture Publisher, like most high-end image-editing programs, supports imagers saved in the TIFF, GIF, BMP, PCX, TARGA, EPS, and other popular formats, but it comes with a better selection of effects than most competitors in its class, and it offers one of the best interfaces for selecting them. You turn to its Effects Browser to see the effects grouped in categories, with headings such as Artistic and Color Adjust. Picture Publisher lets you access, modify, and preview all of the effects from within the Effects Browser dialog box. But truly robust image-editing programs like these may offer more features than you’ll need, so think about whether lower-cost options are sufficient for what you require before you buy.

However you choose to get there, applying special effects like these to images to something that can actually deliver on desktop publishing’s original promise–giving anyone access and control over graphic tools.

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