Photos 2 Sketches

by Lee Poh Peng

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Since young, I have loved art drawings and pencil sketches. I have an artbook titled “Secrets to Realistic Drawing” by Parks & Parks promising that everyone with a desire to draw can draw! Though I still believe in it, I guess my desire is a wee bit low on energy since I still can’t draw a horse to look like a horse!


Recently, I came across this software by AKVIS called Sketch – a software that converts your digital photo into pencil sketches and watercolor drawings. Sketch is  rated #1 on their Top 10 softwares’ list. You can download a free 10 days trial version, available for Mac and PC system from their website http://akvis.com/en/index.php . This article is to share my 10 days of joy and fun working with the software.

AKVIS SKETCH

When I first tested Akvis Sketch software, I was really awed with the pencil sketch results – to me, the final output really looked like an artist’s sketch. I have already converted a few of my badger’s series into art sketches. Because the Sketch’s interface was very simple, I could achieve a very satisfactory result with just a few clicks of button using the presets supplied.

This is what I did.

(1)  Open an image in Photoshop (PS) (p/s I duplicate a copy of the image into a new layer so that I can keep the original background layer untouched in case I need further editing)

(2)  Under the ‘Filters menu’ in PS, I choose ‘Akvis Sketch’ which bring me to a new screen below.

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(3)  Choose a preset – here, I have chosen ‘Akvis Charcoal High’

(4)  Click the “After” tab to preview the sketch in full view.

(5)  Click the “Tick” button on the top right to accept the conversion.

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(6)  Sketch interface closes, and revert to PS with the layer converted to a sketch image.

(7)  Save the file – Finish! Easy and in mere seconds!!

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MORE on PRESETS

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American badger
Preset : Akvis Default

I mainly use the ‘EXPRESS’ mode and the default Presets to convert my images during my 10 days trial period. EXPRESS mode have only a few parameters that you can adjust to fine-tune your sketch (edges strength and midtones hatching). You can select “ADVANCED” mode if you want more control over the sketch output. There are a variety of parameter settings that can be adjusted under Advanced mode such as ‘length of strokes, its angle and direction, strength and width of edges, hatching intensity, background effect, choices of canvas effects and option to add text into the image.  The Software also allowed you to set your own parameters and saved them as custom presets for future use.

There are 11 presets available in Akvis Sketch.

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‘B&W Sketch’ preset is my all time favorite. Lines and strokes on details are so varied, making the image very interesting and artistic. With the subject on a smooth bg, most of the bg would be rendered white making the subject stood out really well. I find the software ‘catches’ the edges of the subject so well that I am beginning to wonder whether this can add up as a selection tool for masking work.

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Canadian goose
Preset: Akvis B&W Sketch

The first preset, ‘Default’ preset, also renders the image very well and in most cases, I noticed that it would also shade the bg to a darker shade. It would be fine for subjects that have lots of white space.

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Chickadee
Preset: Akvis Default

‘Charcoal’ presets – both the High and Low Charcoal presets were also interesting with bold dark strokes on the outline, making your images very artlike indeed.

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Crested serpent-eagle
Preset: Akvis Charcoal High

For landscape images, I find the Charcoal’s bold strokes can be a bit overbearing, so I would prefer ‘Akvis Sketch’ or ‘Akvis Sketch Light’ for landscape images.

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Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park
Preset: Akvis Sketch Light

Color pencils and pastel presets are like the B&W Sketch and Charcoal respectively except that the output is in color, ie using the colors of the original image. Although interesting, I still prefer the classic B&W pencil sketch much better. I am a real B&W addict.

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Changeable lizard
Preset: Akvis Color Pencil High

I didn’t like the Watercolor presets in the software though. None of my images converted with this preset turned out acceptable. The result looked just like a ‘blur filter’ has been laid over the subject. I like my subjects sharp, so I didnt like this blurring effect. ”Lead pencil” preset used very fine and light strokes for the image, and thus, I find the end result still looked too much photo-like to be called a sketch.

Having tested all the presets, I observed that I get best result with images that are sharp and have good details. I love getting my changeable lizards’ images turned into sketches because of the texture of the lizard’s skin!

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Changeable lizard
Preset: Akvis B&W Sketch

Noise and denoising can have effect on your final output. Noise may appear as specks of dots all over upon conversion whilst a very denoised image may end up with a ‘painted over’ look due to blurring of details/edges….or left ‘empty white’ as highlights.

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Without Noise reduction

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With Noise Reduction
(less spotty but check the dark shadows – it looked painted over rather than sketched)

Another extreme example of noise on image (left) and after denoising (right). This image was highly cropped and because of shadows in the background, there were lots of digital noise on the image. Noise reduction is applied before converting it  into sketch. NR saves the day for this one….

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For human portraits, unless the model have very smooth complexion, I find the default Presets may ‘create’ scars or wrinkles on the face which is not very complimentary to the model, especially if it was a lady!! In this case, I would choose to work in Advance mode so that I can control the strength and intensity of the strokes, edges, and so forth.

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A young Mexican girl
Preset: B&W Sketch

My only main working grouse on the software is the need to toggle the screen  in order to see a full view of the image with the applied effects. Each time you select a preset or change its parameters’ settings, Sketch gives a 1” square preview to show the result of the effect chosen. You can move the square to preview other parts of the image. In order to see the overall sketched image, you have to click on the “AFTER” tab.  And you have to click the ‘AFTER’ tab each time you want to see a full view, because any adjustment made will bring the view back to the 1” square preview. I wished it could stay in full view (or at least half  of the image view) while I am making the adjustment because I cant judge the effect of a change without looking at the overall image.

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A 1 inch square preview of the sketch result

In summary, I love to convert my photos to sketches and Akvis Sketch has made the journey beautiful and simple. I’ve tried built-in filters in Photoshop and external parties plugins to create B&W art before…but I have never been entirely satisfied. They either looked like a very washout desaturated image or a messy outline of a subject’s edges. Definitely not “arty” from my perspective. Some PS tutorials have such lengthy instructions that I get tired just reading it.

Having said that, Akvis Sketch is not a freeware. The price of the licenses are – Home license – US$72, Home Deluxe – US$89, and Business license – US$154. It can work as a plugin to image editors’ softwares (see list of compatible image editors for plugins http://akvis.com/en/compatibility-software.php ) or as a standalone. The software can be purchased & downloaded directly from their website.

I would like to use the sketches to make greeting cards, collages, banners on blogs, or simply, just as prints on the wall to enjoy.  I would get this software immediately if I am into the business of creating art and sketches for others, otherwise this would be a rather expensive toy for me to just ‘play play’.

Hope you enjoy reading my 10 days ‘artist’ journey here…..Do test out the trial software….you never know – maybe a record shot could turned up to be a real keeper as a pencil sketch!! :-).

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