Pro Review: Alien Skin Snap Art 2
By Betsy Finn
Alien Skin’s Snap Art 2 is a natural artistic plug-in for Adobe Photoshop that allows you to choose from different media and to perform limitless combinations and adjustments.
My college art training regimen included painting, drawing, and art history, so I was excited to see how closely Snap Art 2 could approximate different visual media techniques. Snap Art 2 offers a number of basic starting points: color pencil, comics, impasto, oil paint, pastel, pen + ink, pencil sketch, pointillism, stylize, and watercolor.
The Snap Art 2 interface includes options containing a variety of Abstract (low realism), Landscape (moderate realism), and Portrait (most realism) settings. I selected the “Color Comics – Large Feature Size” and added a focus region to retain detail in the cat’s face. Before applying the filter, I made sure to save my modifications as a new custom setting.
The comparison below shows several of my favorite media selections. I’ve enlarged the comic version so you can see the shading detail. The watercolor media setting, when set to abstract (with a focus region), was one of my favorites in the series (also see detail comparisons).
Snap Art 2 creates a duplicate layer with your modifications, which is very convenient if you want to try out a few different filters on one image. Each time you create a new filter effect, Snap Art 2 titles the layer with the name of the factory setting and notes if modifications have been made (see below).
Alien Skin offers several resources on their site to help you get started with Snap Art 2. There are several video tutorials, as well as case studies, and even printing advice. One “add-on” I found extremely useful was the Photoshop panel, a free download to help you use Snap Art 2 more efficiently.
The Snap Art 2 panel allows you to quickly and easily access your filters without having to go through the full menu navigation. Before I discovered the free panel add-on, I had been thinking, “It would be nice to be able to easily switch modes.” While you have to exit one media filter to enter another, having the panel makes this process much simpler. One caveat: I noticed that when applying filters from the panel, the resulting layer titles only list the general media rather than the factory setting details as mentioned above.
Alien Skin has included a method, of sorts, for previewing filters. In the Snap Art 2 panel, clicking the button “Preview All Filters Gallery” will generate a jpg composite file. This may be helpful for getting a general feel of “where to start.”
After consulting the preview gallery, I settled on the Impasto filter for my next image. I ended up running the filter twice, because the first time I forgot to apply a focus region (see examples below).
While testing out the focus region, I noticed that when the filter is set to very abstract, adding a focus region did not bring that area back into focus. In the end, I ran the filter without a focus region, and just masked out part of the watercolor rendition (using a partially opaque brush).
The image below was created using the “Colorized Portrait Sketch” mode in the sketch panel. Note how the highlights and even some of the midtones become dramatically lighter as a part of the process. This is meant to approximate the blank paper “canvas.”
I found that the sketch panel default filters did not work well on my high key image; the “Portrait Sketch” function washed out the subject’s entire face. By manually adjusting the filter controls (e.g. decreasing brightness), I was able to achieve a more realistic (and usable) rendition, below.
I’m always curious to see whether a plug-in provides functionality that can be approximated using Photoshop itself (and if so, how easily). After spending a few minutes playing with the default filters in Photoshop, I gave up trying to replicate the sketch texture—I just couldn’t get it to match. For a quick filter application that creates a “work of art,” the Snap Art filters provide much more flexibility than those found in Photoshop.
Some of the rendering effects betray a hint of automation – but I do think Snap Art 2 would be a nice addition to a canvas gallery wrap or artistic print. I’m a big fan of the dramatic impressionistic applications, and I liked how easy Snap Art made it to add texture and depth to my images. While not a substitute for real hand-created art, Snap Art does a good job at automating a once-tedious process. The plug-in should be useful for photographers who don’t have time to create a digitally painted image, or anyone looking an easy way to create artwork effects inside Photoshop.