Topaz Impression is a very powerful and highly customizable plug-in/standalone program for transforming photos and other images into digital artworks, such as drawings and paintings. It is also a resource-intensive program that works best on fairly high-end computer platforms.
There are two ways of using Impression: just adjusting what I will call the effects panel or starting with a preset and then adjusting its effects panel. Since Impression offers a cornucopia of presets, many users will use the program that way. I treat the presets as a starting point that usually require significant tweaking.
There are far too many presets to list here. Based on the activity in the lively Facebook Topaz Impression group, most users tend to focus on the painting presets, which are grouped under the Impressionistic (Cezanne, impasto, Monet, Renoir, and van Gogh effects among others) and painting categories. I like the charcoal, da Vinci, and pastel presets.
Each preset typically has multiple variations that can be previewed. After picking one, you can refine the preset using its effects panel. Although users can easily create artworks by just clicking on presets, the real power of Impression is unleashed by modifying the effects panel settings.
Here's a rundown of the effects panel options, using paint as an example:
- Bush: There are currently 17 different bush options.
- Brush size.
- Paint volume: How thick does the paint look.
- Paint opacity: How transparent is the paint.
- Stroke rotation: If enabled, rotation variation can also be controlled.
- Stroke color variation: Increasing this value makes strokes have a wider range of color.
- Stroke width.
- Stroke length.
- Spill: Strokes "spill" out over their normal edges.
- Smudge: Strokes are blurred, losing detail.
- Coverage: How fully does the paint cover the canvas. If enabled, transition and coverage center can be controlled.
- Color: Each major color can be varied by hue, saturation, and brightness. Where the color is present in the image can be previewed. Hue, saturation, and brightness of the entire image can also be controlled.
- Lighting: brightness, contrast, and vignette can be altered. The vignette center and transition can be determined. Light direction can be set.
- Texture: Choose between a number of background materials and determine background strength, solidity, and color.
As you adjust these settings you can zoom in on the image, preview it in different ways (e.g., side by side with the original), alter the overall strength of the effect, and change the blend mode (e.g., soft light).
After tweaking your settings, you can save them as a custom preset.
Clearly, this is a high-end program, and, for $99.99, what's not to like? While Impression's performance may be zippy on a Mac Pro, it's performance on a 2.6 GHz Intel Core i5 64-bit Windows 8.1 computer with 6 GB of RAM is slow, mainly due to preset previews. If preset previews could be requested rather than being automatically displayed, getting to the point of actually working on an image would be much quicker. The ability to categorize user presets into user-defined groups would also help. As is, you repeatedly sit through too many slow preset previews. You can use the effects panel directly to bypass the presets, but then you have to create your own effects from scratch. The inability to import and export presets is an unfortunate program limitation, which prevents easy preset backup and sharing.
Before buying this program you should definitely read the program requirements and download a trial version. Having OpenGL 3.2 installed on your system is important.
Overall, Impression is a versatile, full-featured digital art program at a very reasonable price, and it will give Alien Skin's Snap Art 4, its primary competitor, a run for its money.
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