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Review: Alien Skin Snap Art

By Joan Sherwood

While some of us yearn to free our inner painter and take a summer in Tuscany to study art and technique, the real world often has other plans for our time. Or perhaps, if you're like me, your initial attempts at painterly portraits may have been a blunt introduction to your lack of painterly talent and how much time it takes to make a painted photo look like real art. This is when software like Alien Skin Snap Art can offer a satisfying compromise between your artistic vision and cold reality.


Pastel, Still Life imported custom setting from Snap Art forums.
All images ©Joan T. Sherwood

Snap Art styles come in 10 categories: Color Pencil, Comics, Impasto, Oil Paint, Pastel, Pen and Ink, Pencil Sketch, Pointillism, Stylize and Watercolor. Within each style, there is a long list of one-click settings, descriptively titled for the user's convenience (see below). These settings are combinations of fine-tuning elements (Basic, Colors, Canvas and Lighting) that put your initial attempt at an artistic rendering at a point that already looks like a finished work. If you want to adjust the look, you can go into to any of those adjustment tabs and tweak to your heart's content. Random buttons in tabs will change the random elements of the filter to give you slightly different results.

Pastel settings panel:


Pastel Basic menu:


Pastel Colors menu:


Pastel Canvas menu:


Pastel Canvas drop-down menu:


Pastel Lighting menu:


When you find settings you love and want to repeat, you can save them in your own User Settings list. And if you want to share, you can send that settings file to someone else. When you register your software, Alien Skin also kindly points you to a location in the user forums where one of its Snap Art artists has posted dozens of outstanding custom settings ready to download and import. To import settings, you simply store the setting file where you want to keep it, double-click it and then click OK. Couldn't be easier.

To begin, open your image in a compatible image editing program like Adobe Photoshop (CS or later), Photoshop Elements (4 or later) or Corel Paint Shop Pro (XI or later). Put it in the size and resolution you want for your output. Duplicate your background layer so that you're not affecting the original. In the Filter menu, go to Alien Skin Snap Art and select your choice of style. The image will open in a large window where you can view it as a split preview or click a button to get a quick switch to the original image. Each change that you make may take several seconds to preview, as long as 10 seconds for my high-resolution images, which makes the job much longer if you tend to do a lot of experimentation and fine-tuning.


The split preview menu offers nine different configurations.

You can bypass some of the experimentation by using the thorough, well organized Help menu documentation. It provides concise information on what each of the tab's sliders and buttons affects, often with visual examples. The software interface is intuitive and takes almost no time to understand and use effectively. Compared to Photoshop's artistic filters, Snap Art comes out way ahead for realistic looking brush strokes that follow contours of shading and color, far more canvas/texture options, and better control over specific aspects of the artistic style.

Snap Art is a collection plug-ins that take as little as five seconds to apply. They're beautifully designed, but you shouldn't try to pass it off or sell it as the same kind of custom work that Corel artists spend hours and days perfecting with unique style and careful hand application. However, once you find a well-rounded selection of your favorite Snap Art styles and settings, you'll have a fantastic go-to well of creative effects for wedding album designs, senior portfolios and children and family portraits.

Here's a sampling of my experimentation.


Impasto, High detail, a little warmth imported custom setting from Snap Art forums.


Oil Paint, High detail, little warmth custom setting imported from Snap Art forums.


Stylize default


Stylize, Line art, small features


Original for Stylize tests


Watercolor with custom settings: smaller Brush Size, lowered Fine Edge Detail, Natural Fiber canvas.


Watercolor with Brightness/Contrast adjustment layer to make the color and contrast pop.


Original for Watercolor tests


Comics, High detail, bold colors



Comics test original

Snap Art is one of the plug-in collections offered alone or as part of the Eye Candy Effects Collection from Alien Skin, which also includes Eye Candy 5: Impact, Nature and Textures, and Xenofex 2. Individually, the sets would total $575, but the collection is available now for $399. Snap Art alone sells for $149, or $99 if you are the registered owner of another Alien Skin product. If you purchase Alien Skin Snap Art, take advantage of the forum on their Web site for great tips on settings, brushes, printing and more.