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The Best Software for Creating Digital Art from Photographs, Version 12

Interested in turning photographs into works of digital art, such as cartoons, charcoal drawings, ink drawings, oil paintings, pastel drawings, and watercolors? Here are brief descriptions of some key software tools for desktop computers. Unless otherwise noted they work in Photoshop as plug-ins.


FotoSketcher is a versatile standalone Windows program that allows you to create drawings, paintings, and a few other effects. It can transform photos into cartoons, oil paintings, oil pastel drawings, pen and ink drawings, pencil drawings, watercolor paintings. and other types of artworks. It is standalone freeware.

Sliders and other controls for each effect allow you modify image rendition. For example, for the oil pastel sketch effect you can control minimum stroke size, maximum stroke size, number of iterations, edge intensity, and filter precision. You can also soften edges, add a frame, add texture, add text, and use a retouch brush. There is a small preview window in the floating control panel.

This program is especially useful for oil paintings, oil pastel drawings, and watercolors.

Snap Art by Exposure

Snap Art is a full-featured Windows/Mac plug-in/standalone program that allows you to easily create charcoal drawings, color pencil drawings, comics, crayon drawings. impasto paintings, oil paintings, pastel drawings (including hard, oil, and soft pastel), pen and ink drawings, pencil sketches, Pointillism paintings, stylized illustrations, and watercolor paintings.

There are a variety of presets for each effect, and slider controls for background (e.g,, for oil paint: brush size, photorealism, coverage, stroke length, and color variation), detail masking (similar controls as background), colors (e.g., brightness, contrast, and saturation), lighting (e.g., angle, direction, and highlight characteristics as well as vignette effect), and canvas effects (e.g, pastel paper). You can create your own presets. The ability to close side-panel controls permits a large preview space.

This program is especially useful for charcoal drawings, colored pencil drawings, oil paintings, and pencil drawings. It has good canvas and paper texture effects.

Dynamic Auto-Painter by MediaChance

Dynamic Auto-Painter, a Windows/Mac stand-alone program, allows you to paint in the style of famous painters, such as Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh. It allows you to create a wide variety of types of artworks.

There are a variety of controls for each preset, such as brush strokes, canvas, detail brushes, faithfulness, realism, palette, and quality. It supports advanced (e.g, color shift), retouch, outline, canvas, material, color, and layer adjustments. It is highly customizable. Artwork rendering occurs in stages, with further user fine-tuning possible during some stages. It typically renders vivid, saturated images, but image saturation can be adjusted.

While the presets can be used to easily create artworks, the real power of this program is not revealed until you start using the advanced controls and directing brush strokes during the creation process.

This standalone program is especially useful for aquarelle/watercolor paintings and oil paintings.

Other Digital Art Software to Consider

Depending on your artistic requirements and style, the following software may also be of interest.

Useful Photo Editing Software

The following software is recommended for editing artistic works:

  • Exposure (standalone and plug-in; very powerful full-featured photo editor with numerous useful presets; highly recommended)
  • Exposure Blow Up (high quality image enlargement; highly recommended)
  • Luminar (standalone and plug-in; powerful full-featured photo editor; highly recommended)
  • ON1 Photo RAW (standalone and plug-in; powerful full-featured photo editor with numerous useful presets)
  • Topaz Denoise AI (very effective noise reduction)

Purchase Advice

It is highly recommended that you download and test digital art software demos prior to purchase. Try all the presets. A software company's idea of what a good art effect is may not match your own, so experiment with changing the settings of unsatisfactory effects before concluding that the program cannot do what you want.

Some programs do not have a variety of presets. It is more difficult to create your own presets from scratch rather modifying presets.

It is especially important to test the limits of a program and to determine what features can be disabled. For example, see how much detail you can get in a painting and check whether it is possible to turn off the texture effect (i.e, canvas).

In some cases, it is worth buying a program for one or two unique effects even though the rest may not be satisfactory or may duplicate effects you already have in other programs.

If possible, save older versions of software. New versions may drop or significantly change features you rely on.

Software Licensing and Sales Policies

AKVIS has separate home, home deluxe, and business licenses. Only business licenses allow commercial use. Dynamic Auto Painter has home and pro versions.

Companies may offer one or more software bundles, which reduce the prices of included products.

Some companies, such as Exposure, offer their products at substantial discounts during sales, which typically occur during major US holidays. These are especially good times to buy software bundles.

About the Author

Digital artist Charles W. Bailey, Jr. transforms photographs into noncommercial digital artworks using specialized Photoshop plug-ins and art programs. He has made over 600 digital artworks freely available under versions of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial licenses, providing detailed information about how each artwork was created.

Now 41 Members: "UT System Joins Texas Library Coalition to Improve Access to Scientific Journals"


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In 2017, Top-Performing Universities Published ~ 80-90% of Their Research Open Access: "Meta-Research: Evaluating the Impact of Open Access Policies on Research Institutions"


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