Virtual Painter

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A collection of artistic filters with a difference - they really are artistic.

Whether it's giving a timeless feel to a wedding snap, adding a little class to that dull shot of head office or generating real creative impact for a poster, turning a digital photograph into a work of art is one of the most effective of photo-editing tricks - and hugely satisfying at the same time. What's more, if you do it right, you can produce some spectacular results with almost no artistic skill.

Most photo-editing applications from Paint Shop Pro through to Photoshop offer a batch of artistic filters designed to produce everything from watercolour to oil painting style effects. After the initial excitement though, disillusion tends to set in. To begin with there's usually no real control to these one-off effects and, when a near miss is as good as a mile, the misses far outweigh the hits. More importantly, while the results are undeniably different you couldn't really mistake them for real works of art. Let's be honest - there's a huge gap between a filtered photo and the labour of love built up by an artist over time.

Bearing this in mind I didn't have too high hopes for Virtual Painter. This is a collection of 12 artistic filters originally developed by Taka Umemura which work with any application that supports Photoshop-compatible plug-ins. And at first sight they look very much as you might expect. All the usual suspects are there from Watercolour and Gouache through to Colour Pencil and Oil Painting. And in the main Virtual Painter dialog, with its limited drop-down parameters and undersized and inaccurate preview, it's clear that you are really expected simply to accept the defaults and see what you are given.

But here's the difference - the Virtual Painter results are simply stunning. When you first apply a common effect, such as Colour Pencil, it's easy to think that you've just been lucky. When you apply some of the more unusual effects however, such as Drawing or Collage, you can see that Virtual Painter is very different. These filters aren't based on a hit-or-miss tweaking and smudging of pixels, Virtual Painter goes back to first principles and re-renders the image as areas of vibrant colour and freeflowing expressive lines just as a real artist might. At its best, you feel that there is real creative inspiration at work in the Virtual Painter results. And amazingly Virtual Painter is nearly always at its best. I set up a Photoshop action to apply the filters to a directory of photos and was impressed with every one!

Even better, when you explore Virtual Painter, you find that actually there is a lot more control than appeared at first. In particular if you click on the Adjust command a new dialog opens with 10 different variations based around the current settings so that you can hone in on a particular look. Right-click in the dialog and more options appear including the ability to take finer control over variations and to choose between 12 different canvas materials. You can also quickly define focus points on the image which leaves more of the original detail - ideal for preserving features such as faces.

There's still no question that, compared to an option such as PhotoArtMaster, the end user has comparatively little creative input. For most users though that won't be too much of a concern. For them what matters is creative output and it's here that Virtual Painter really excels producing work with real artistic flair at the click of a button.


Ease of Use
Value for Money

Tom Arah

July 2002

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