7 Ways to Convert Your Photos Into Art Using Photoshop

Many of us are klutzes when it comes to painting or drawing. But most people are reasonably adept at shooting photos, whether it’s with a smartphone or a digital camera.

Thanks to the image-processing smarts in Adobe Photoshop and other software, you can easily transform those photos into cartoonish drawings or painterly artwork that mimics oils, pastels, or watercolors.

Here, we’ll show you some ways to apply artistic effects in Photoshop, ranging from built-in filter effects to third-party plugins.

The easiest approach is to use the artistic filters installed with Photoshop. Most of these are found in the Filter Gallery (Filter > Filter Gallery), a collection of 47 effects. Some are designed to simulate natural media such as watercolors or pastels. Others, especially Poster Edges, can create a cartoon look.

You can learn more about Photoshop filters in our guide.

Within the Filter Gallery, you can preview each effect and modify settings such as brush size, edge thickness, and detail. However, your ability to customize each effect is limited. And these filters have been in Photoshop since the mid-1990s, so they’ve been overused to the point of being visual cliches. This is especially true of the most popular effects such as Watercolor and Poster Edges.

You can get some additional variety by stacking one effect on top of another, but the results can be messy. For more eye-pleasing effects, a better approach is to use Photoshop’s layers and blend modes in combination with the filters.

2. Oil Paint Filter

The Oil Paint filter (Filter > Stylize > Oil Paint) is a more-advanced effect that Adobe added in Photoshop CS6. You can modify the size, style, and detail of brush strokes, and you can activate the Lighting option to give the illusion of depth and texture.

3. Neural Filters

Photoshop 2021 introduced a new set of AI-empowered functions dubbed Neural Filters (Filter > Neural Filters). One of them is Style Transfer, which uses a neural network to apply style characteristics from one image to another.

Here’s how it works: The filter presents an array of source images, including well-known works such as Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. You click on a source and wait a bit for the neural network to churn the pixels. Once the style is applied to your image, you can adjust a few settings, but it’s not a highly customizable filter.

This technique emerged from academic research first presented in 2016, and similar AI features have been deployed in other graphics software, including Corel Paintshop Pro, Topaz Studio (see below), and GRFX Studio Pro-AI from Auto FX Software.

4. Photoshop Actions

Photoshop users have long relied on Actions to automate repetitive tasks, such as adding frames or creating cast shadows. The software includes dozens of pre-defined Actions, but you can also find all kinds of Actions online, some free and some premium. Many of these enable artistic effects.

Related: Essential Photoshop Actions to Try Today

Running a premium Action is like handing over your computer to a master Photoshop artist. In addition to offering cool-looking effects, these Actions can help you learn how to create your own unique looks.

Shown here is the Cartoon Vector Photoshop Action by RageStudio, which sells on Envato Market.

It uses the Oil Paint filter in combination with five Filter Gallery effects. Each effect goes on a separate layer with specified opacity levels and blend modes. Finally, the Action adds two folders---Effects and Color Combinations---with Adjustment Layers that allow you to modify the colors. It’s also a good example of the use of Smart Filters.

Related: How to Apply a Smart Filter to Multiple Layers

You can find more artistic Actions on Envato Market and Creative Market. PanosFX offers numerous free and premium Actions for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements, including the Cartoons and Pop Art bundle.

To import Actions you’ve downloaded, open the Actions panel (Window > Actions) and choose Load Actions from the panel menu.

A few caveats:

  • Actions can be customized to some extent, but they tend to be one-trick ponies. If you want to apply a wide range of effects, consider a third-party plugin (see below).
  • Actions like these tend to work best on high-resolution images with sharp detail. Be sure to check the documentation to see what kinds of images are most suitable.
  • Some Actions are designed for specific image states. For example, some work only on RGB images, or they require the presence of a background layer. Again, check the documentation.

Download: Cartoon Vector Photoshop Action ($6)

5. Topaz Studio

For the greatest flexibility in applying artistic effects, consider a third-party Photoshop plugin. One of our favorites is Topaz Studio, which features 34 filters ranging from relatively modest image adjustments to wild artistic looks. Want to learn more about plugins? Here’s our guide to the best free Photoshop plugins.

Some of the filters are derived from Topaz Labs’ Simplify, Glow, and Impression plugins, which were previously sold as standalone products. The software also includes AI ReMix, which is similar to Photoshop’s new Style Transfer feature. These filters can be combined in various ways to produce a seemingly unlimited array of effects.

The easiest way to use Studio is to browse the presets, which Topaz refers to as "Looks." Some of the looks are designed to mimic the styles of famous artists such as Degas, Monet, Renoir, or Leonardo Da Vinci.

You can run Topaz Studio as a standalone program for Macs and PCs, or as a plugin for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Corel PaintShop Pro, and other image-editing software.

Download: Topaz Studio for Mac or PC ($99, free trial available)

6. Snap Art

Whereas Topaz Studio offers a wide range of photo enhancements, Exposure Software’s Snap Art focuses specifically on painting and illustration effects. It offers 10 styles of effects, each with extensive customization options: Comics, Crayon, Impasto, Oil Paint, Pastel, Pen and Ink, Pencil Sketch, Pointillism, Stylize, and Watercolor.

For each style, the plugin presents several presets that you can use as starting points for your own work. Canvas features allow you to simulate painting surfaces such as textured paper, cloth, leather, or wood.

Snap Art runs as a standalone program or as a plugin for Photoshop, Lightroom, or the company’s own Exposure software.

Download: Snap Art for Mac or PC ($79, free trial available)

7. ToonIt! Photo

True to its name, Digital Anarchy’s ToonIt! Photo focuses specifically on cartoon effects. Typically, you’ll begin with one of the presets---Comic Noir, Graphic Novel, Old Time Toon, etc.---and then use the Effects Palette to modify the look. Several presets are designed to replicate the style of famed comic book artist Frank Miller, and another mimics pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

One area where ToonIt! excels is converting color images to black-and-white line art. We haven’t seen any other software do it as well, though you’ll have to fine-tune the controls to get to right level of detail. The plugin also produces color images with aplomb.

ToonIt! Photo is pricey, but it’s worth a look if you want to produce cartoon effects.

Download: ToonIt! Photo ($129, free trial available)

Tips for Getting the Best Results

Before you apply any of these effects to turn your photos into art:

  • Try sharpening the image with the Unsharp Mask or Smart Sharpen filter. In general, photos with sharp detail tend to work better than softer ones.
  • Consider removing or replacing the background, especially if it’s noisy or busy.
  • For cartoon effects, you can use Photoshop’s Dust & Scratches filter (Filter > Noise > Dust & Scratches) or other clean-up tools to prep areas where you’d prefer flat colors.
  • Some effects don’t scale well, so you may get better results if you resize the image beforehand to the desired output dimensions.
  • Never apply an effect to the original image file, only a duplicate. Otherwise, your treasured family portraits or vacation shots could be permanently exiled to cartoon land.

Other Options Besides Adobe Photoshop

The effects shown here only scratch the surface of what you can do with Photoshop filters, Actions, and plugins. And though we focused on Photoshop, you don’t necessarily need Adobe software to get these kinds of looks.

Topaz Studio and Snap Art both run as standalone programs, and Photoshop alternatives such as GIMP and Corel PaintShop Pro include their own artistic effects. So fear not if you’re all fingers and thumbs when wielding a paintbrush. As long as you can handle a mouse, no one need be any the wiser.


6 AI Tools That Add Color to Old Black and White Photos

For years, production companies have used costly techniques to colorize old black and white movies. But now artificial intelligence is placing that capability in the hands of everyday users, allowing you to add color to old family photos, historical images, or black and white video frames in seconds.

It works like this: A developer feeds a large number of color images into a neural network, which is AI-speak for software modeled after brain functions. Over time, the software learns to recognize different objects and determine their likely colors.

These algorithms are incorporated into online services as well as software that you can download and run on a computer. At their best, they produce results that seem to add color to old photos as if by magic.

In this article, we look at some easy-to-use colorization tools, all of which you can try for free if you want to add color to black and white photos.

1. DeOldify

This free, open-source software uses an AI technique known as Generative Adversarial Networks, in which a second neural network, dubbed a "critic" or "discriminator," helps teach the first one to produce better images. The results are impressive: Portraits, interiors, and outdoor scenes all appear with realistic colors.

It's among the best colorization tools we tested, but getting full access to its capabilities will be a challenge for everyday users. It runs on Ubuntu, a popular Linux distribution, and requires a fair amount of technical know-how if you want to install it on your own computer. (Learn more about Ubuntu in our guide pitting Debian vs. Ubuntu vs. Linux Mint.)

For the rest of us, lead developer Jason Antic has set up a website where you can upload black-and-white images and then download the colorized result. The main drawback is that photos are scaled down to a maximum of 800 pixels in either direction.

If you want to remove the size restrictions, another option is Google Colab, an online service that lets you run code written in the Python language. Antic’s Github page has links to Colab notebooks for three flavors of DeOldify, including the default "artistic" version.

You hit a series of buttons to run the code, enter a URL that links to the black-and-white image, and wait for a while as the software generates a colorized version.

If you want to colorize an image on your computer, you’ll have to upload it to an image-hosting site such as Flickr or Imgur. The whole process might look daunting at first, but it’s not all that difficult. And the Github page links to a video tutorial with step-by-step instructions.

If you’d rather not deal with the hassle of that, several other developers have incorporated DeOldify into their own apps with friendlier user interfaces. A couple of these are outlined below.

Visit: DeOldify

2. MyHeritage In Color

MyHeritage, an online genealogy service, offers an enhanced version of DeOldify as part of its max-level $199/year subscription plan. The company licensed the technology from Antic, who describes it as the best version of his software. Our testing bears that out.

Related: The Best Free Genealogy Websites to Use

For example, a photo from California’s Big Sur had a slight blue cast when colorized in the older version, but it looks much better in this one. After colorizing the image, you can run a second operation that sharpens it.

Colorization alone does not justify a $199/year subscription, but the app is a small part of MyHeritage, which allows you to set up private websites where you can trace your family tree. You can try the colorization software for free on up to 10 photos.

Visit: MyHeritage In Color

3. Image Colorizer

This might be your best option if you want the quality of DeOldify in a simple user interface without a big price tag. It’s available as a free cloud-based service and as free apps for Android and iOS devices.

The developer also offers Picture Colorizer, a Windows app that combines colorization with scratch removal and other image-processing functions. A Mac version is currently in beta.

The cloud-based service has a simple drag-and-drop interface and lets you colorize photos up to a maximum resolution of 3000x3000 pixels.

It’s not 100 percent clear that the software is based on DeOldify, but it sure appears to be. Across all of our test images, the programs generated identical results.

Download: Image Colorizer for Android | iOS (Free)

Download: Picture Colorizer ($29.95, with free trial available)

4. ColorSurprise AI Pixbim

This easy-to-use desktop software combines AI-based colorization with image-processing functions that allow you to adjust the color temperature, intensity, contrast, and gamma. The software also provides a brush tool in case you want to fix areas that have been incorrectly colorized. You can colorize images individually or in batches.

The results are impressive, stacking up favorably to DeOldify.

ColorSurprise is available in on macOS and Windows. It’s a bit pricey at $79.99, but you can download a free trial version that places watermarks on saved images.

Download: ColorSurprise ($79.99, with free trial available)

5. Algorithmia Image Colorization

This online microservice, hosted by AI vendor Algorithmia, is based on the Colorful Image Colorization project from researchers Richard Zhang, Phillip Isola, and Alexei Efros.

Compared with DeOldify, the software is a mixed bag, performing well on some images but not on others.

For example, in our Big Sur image, portions of the beach appeared in red, and in another, portions of green foliage were colored brown. The developers freely acknowledge these issues on the project’s Github page.

Visit: Algorithmia Image Colorization

6. Movavi Photo Editor

This entry-level photo-editing program includes an AI-based colorization tool. In our testing, it did not perform as well as other software in this roundup. Colors in some photos were muted, and in the portraits we tested, some areas of the subjects’ skin appeared to be discolored.

Related: Lesser-Known Free Online Image Editing Tools

On the other hand, Movavi Photo Editor offers a host of other image-editing features, including noise reduction, background removal, skin smoothing, and lots of special effects filters. It’s worth considering if you want an inexpensive all-around photo-editing tool. But if you just need colorization, you should look elsewhere.

Download: Movavi Photo Editor for Windows | macOS ($44.95, with free trial available)

Add a Splash of Color to Your Photos

None of these AI colorization tools is perfect, but the best ones generate images realistic enough that you’d never believe the photos were shot in black and white.

And even if the colors are slightly off, you can use image-editing software such as Adobe Photoshop to tweak the results or even replace one color with another.

Do we have a preference? The MyHeritage app, based on an advanced version of DeOldify, produces the best results, but it’s not worth the $199/year price tag unless you want to make use of the service’s other genealogy features.

So, taking everything into account, we would give the nod to Image Colorizer, which offers the colorization quality of DeOldify in multiple easy-to-use packages, including the free cloud-based version.

Whichever tool you choose, you now have a great opportunity to rummage through old family albums or historical archives and bring the past to life.