Turning a photo into a digital painting using Topaz Studio 2

Earlier I published a tutorial on how to turn any photograph into a digital painting using Adobe Photoshop cc. The most time consuming way to do this is to paint. If you want to do this faster and easier I also published a tutorial using Adobe Photoshop cc in combination with Topaz Studio 2 and an even easier method using Photoshop Actions.

Using Adobe Photoshop cc needs a subscription. I subscribed to the photographers subscription, combining Adobe Photoshop cc and Adobe Lightroom cc. Before the existence of the subscription model I owned a copy of Photoshop. For me the subscription model is a great way to get all the latest versions and features. I use Photoshop on every work I make extensively so the subscription is a no brainer.
But I know it still costs a lot of money to pay for a subscription when you are not often using the software of just use it as a hobby. That is why I tried to create a work similar to how I make them using Photoshop but using the software Studio 2 from Topaz Labs.
I already use this as a plug-in from Photoshop, so it was a small step trying to make art using just this piece of software.

Glow settings Topaz Studio 2

If you want to follow along with the same photograph I am using you can download the file here. Just unzip the file and open up the .JPG file in Photoshop (as a smart object if you prefer). Feel free to publish your result but I would very much like it if you give attribution or a link to this tutorial.

After loading up the file you want to work with I started out by using a glow filter on the dark areas of the photo by using the luminance mask of Studio 2.
The Glow filter is set to ‘Light’, the strength to 0.43 and the rest of the sliders you can lookup in the screenshot on this page.

The glow creates a softer contrast around the harder edges while also increasing the local contrast to start with the painting.

Next I create a base layer version of the painting by adding a new Simplify filter layer.

Dial up the ‘Simplify Size’ slider until you have lost all small details. I usually pick a value between 30 and 60 depending of the type of image I am working with.

Next it is time to create a Rough painted layer similar as how I use this in the Photoshop version of this tutorial.

In the Rough layer I use an Impression filter without textures (check if it is turned down when you scroll down the adjustments plane).


In this step we have to create a rough painted version of the image. Make sure to turn of textures (last option) but feel free to play around to get the best result that best suits your taste.
I will show you my settings for this image.

For a rough painted version I use a squar-ish brushstroke with a low number of strokes.

Impression stroke settings

As you can see I raised the ‘Paint Opacity’ slightly to make sure the brush strokes will be a little bit sharper or have more contrast. Lowering this slider will make a much softer effect.
Raising the ‘Paint Volume’ slider will give a more saturated and structured image I like very much but not at this stage of the painting. We will add this later on. By changing the ‘Stroke Rotation’ and ‘Rotation Variation’ you change the shape of the strokes. Also a very nice touch later on in this tutorial. 
I slightly raised the ‘Stroke Color Variation’ a little to bring a little more differences in the colours.

Impression stroke settings II
Impression stroke settings II

The ‘Stroke Width’ and ‘Stroke Length’ I kept at 0.00 but this will be different for all images depending on the image type. A Rough layer for a portrait painting for instance I will use longer and wider brushes.

The ‘Spill’ slider also raises contrast and structure of the strokes, so I raised it just slightly and the ‘Smudge’ slider blurs the brush strokes. By raising both the spill and the smudge I play around with the contrast and structure of the strokes but usually a Rough layer in my work will have a low contrast softer look with softly structures brush strokes.

The ‘Color’ and ‘Lighting’ sections I keep at their default values and the ‘Textures’ section needs to be set to zero.
For your convenience you can save this filter as an effect so you can easily apply this effect again on the next work you will create.

Next it is time to start painting on the mask of this filter in the layers pane. Paint white where you want this rough painted effect to appear or paint with black to remove this effect. Keep painting until you are happy with the results.

We repeat the same steps from the rough filter layer but this time name it ‘Medium’.

This time I choose the first (default) brush stroke and choose a ‘Medium’ Number of Strokes with a slightly larger ‘Brush Size’ and ‘Paint Volume’ and raised the ‘Paint Opacity’.
All other settings I left at their default values, but I encourage you to play around here to really make this layer to your taste. The key here is that this should be a layer with medium amount of details and colours.

When you are ready don’t forget to save the look for later use and click the accept button to save the results to the ‘Medium’ layer.

Again paint the medium effect using the mask next to the filter on the layers stack. Take your time to work on the image until you get the effect you are looking for.

If you are satisfied with a little bit of a rough look for the work you are creating you can start finishing the work, but if you want more finer details you can repeat the last step again but with a smaller brush and more brushstrokes and call the look ‘Fine’ when you are done and start to paint the finer details of the work.

The next step is to help make brush strokes a bit more visible by adding a ‘precision detail filter’ layer set to around 0.6.

Quad Tone filter effect, Topaz Studio 2

Next it is time for some color grading using the ‘Quad Tone’ filter layer. Picking the tones you want to appear in the image. Don’t overdo this effect. I left the opacity at 20%.

It’s fun to play around with the colours to give the image a different feel then the original photo you started with.

Next we need a bit of grunge and texture so it’s time to add a Texture filter layer. This filter comes with a lot of different kinds of textures to choose from. Just set the blending mode to ‘Soft Light’

Topaz Studio 2 Edges filter to create a sketch effect

The last step I took for this image is the ‘Edges’ filter. I used this filter in multiply blending mode with a strength set to about 0.5 to create a sort of sketch effect I usually also add in Photoshop. It won’t be a very convincing sketch effect but will add some detail and contrast like a sketch effect will do also.

As you can see using only Topaz Labs Studio 2 it is possible to create a digital painting similar to the version made using Adobe Photoshop but saving yourself the cost of the Adobe CC subscription.

If you want to take a look at the project file I used to create this tutorial, you can download ik here (cc-by license). Hopefully you learnt something with this tutorial. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

Scheveningen harbour digitally painted using Topaz Labs Studio 2
Scheveningen harbour digitally painted using Topaz Labs Studio 2

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