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After tweaking your settings, you can save them as a custom preset.

Presets created by users are available in the Topaz Community and can be used within Impression in Studio.

This program is especially useful for charcoal drawings, colored pencil drawings, da Vinci drawings, oil paintings (try the Cèzanne, Monet, Rembrandt, and van Gogh presets), and pastel drawings. The program’s rendition of artistic effects are typically very convincing.

Overall, Impression is a powerful, full-featured digital art program at a very reasonable price.

Here's an example of an oil painting drawing that was created using Topaz Impression and other programs:

Digital Oil Painting of Queens' College Cloister, University of Cambridge by Charles W. Bailey, Jr.

Snap Art by Alien Skin Software

is a full-featured Windows/Mac plug-in/standalone program that allows you to easily create charcoal drawings, color pencil drawings, comics, crayon drawings. impasto paintings, oil paintings, pastel drawings (including hard, oil, and soft pastel), pen and ink drawings, pencil sketches, Pointillism paintings, stylized illustrations, and watercolor paintings.

There are a variety of presets for each effect, and slider controls for background (i.e., brush size, photo realism, coverage, stroke length, and color variation), detail masking (similar controls as background), colors (e.g., brightness, contrast, and saturation), lighting (e.g., angle, direction, and highlight characteristics as well as vignette effect), and canvas effects (e.g, pastel paper). You can create your own presets. The ability to close side-panel controls permits a large preview space.

This program is especially useful for oil paintings (try the detailed, dry brush, and thick paint settings). It has good canvas and paper texture effects.

Here's an example of a oil pastel drawing that was created using Snap Art and other programs:

Digital Oil Pastel Drawing of Docked Gondolas Near the Piazza San Marco in Venice by Charles W. Bailey, Jr.

FotoSketcher

is a versatile standalone Windows program that allows you to create drawings, paintings, and a few other effects. It can transform photos into cartoons, oil pastel drawings, pen and ink drawings, oil paintings, pencil drawings, watercolor paintings. and other types of artworks. It is freeware.

Sliders and other controls for each effect allow you modify image rendition. For example, for the oil pastel sketch effect you can control minimum stroke size, maximum stroke size, number of iterations, edge intensity, and filter precision. You can also soften edges, add a frame, add texture, add text, and use a retouch brush. There is a small preview window in the floating control panel.

This program is especially useful for oil pastel drawings.

Here's an example of an oil painting that was created using FotoSketcher:

Digital Oil Painting of the Piazzetta San Marco)

AKVIS Sketch

is a Windows/Mac plug-in/standalone program that allows you to create drawings and watercolors. It offers a very wide variety of effects, such as black pen, charcoal, color pencil, lead pencil, pastel, and watercolor. The effects are organized into two groups: classic and artistic.

Sliders allow you to fine-tune these effects. For example, using the detailed sketch effect and the strokes panel, you can adjust pencil color (original, pencil, and background); alter stroke lightness, angle, dispersion, thickness, length, thickness, uniformity, curvature, hatching density and intensity, and cross hatching. Using the edges panel, you can alter sensitivity, details, and intensity. With the effects panel, you can adjust panel, shadows, noise, and contrast.

This program is especially useful for pen, and pencil drawings. If desired, it can produce detailed drawings using the fine lines, meticulous, and soft stumping presets in the artistic preset group.

Here's an example of a black pen drawing that was created using AKVIS Sketch and other programs:

Amsterdam Centraal Railway Station (Digital Ink Drawing)

AKVIS OilPaint

is a Windows/Mac plug-in/standalone program that allows you to create oil paintings and oil pastel drawings You can alter simplicity, saturation, maximum stroke length, stroke thickness, stroke intensity, stroke curvature, wide background strokes, and random strokes. It offers a number of presets, including some unique ones (e.g., palette knife), and a number of different stroke types (e.g., flat, rounded, and square). Additional controls allow you to control canvas, frame, and text effects

If you like a fairly realistic painting style, try the high details or fine lines presets.

Here's an example of a oil painting that was created using AKVIS OilPaint:

Digital Oil Painting of a Flower

Dynamic Auto-Painter by MediaChance

, a Windows stand-alone program, allows you to paint in the style of famous painters, such as Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, and Vincent van Gogh. It allows you to create a wide variety of types of artworks.

There are a variety of controls for each preset, such as brush strokes, canvas, detail brushes, faithfulness, realism, palette, and quality. It supports advanced (e.g, color shift), retouch, outline, canvas, material, color, and layer adjustments. Artwork rendering occurs in stages, with further user fine-tuning possible during some stages. It is possible to change the color palate of the original image by having the program use a second image as a color source.

While the presets can be used to easily create artworks, the real power of this program is not revealed until you start using the advanced controls and directing brush strokes during the creation process,

This program is especially useful for Aquarelle paintings and oil paintings (try the Benson, Camille, Cèzanne, Golden Age, Joaquín, Pino, and Sargent presets).

Here's an example of a oil painting that was created using Dynamic Auto-Painter and other programs:

Digital Oil Painting of the Ronde Lutherse Kerk by Charles W. Bailey, Jr.

JixiPix Programs

offers a wide variety of low-cost Windows/Mac plug-in/standalone programs. They are categorized as professional software or hobbyists and enthusiasts apps. The professional software programs provide greater control over effects and can be used as Photoshop plug-ins. They can be purchased individually or as part of a bundle.

Notable JixiPix programs include:

  • (watercolor paintings)
  • (cartoon drawings)

Here's an example of a watercolor painting that was created using Aquarella:

Digital Watercolor Painting of a Flower Stall on the Right Bank of the Seine in Paris, France

Digital Watercolor Painting of a Flower Stall on the Right Bank of the Seine in Paris, France

AutoMagic Ultimate Bundle Gen2

Auto FX Software offers a variety of Windows/Mac plug-in/standalone programs, all of which can also be purchased as the .

Here are example programs that can be bought individually:

  • Cartoons FX (cartoon, comic, illustration, and other drawing effects)
  • Photo Paint FX (acrylic, Impressionist, oil, watercolor, and other painting effects)
  • Photo Pen & Marker FX (pen and ink, quill, felt tip pen, magic marker, and other drawing effects)

The AutoMagic Ultimate Bundle Gen2 is especially useful for cartoons, pen and ink drawings, and watercolor paintings.

Here's an example of a color pen and ink drawing that was created using Cartoons FX and other programs:

Digital Oil Painting of a Flower

First-Line Recommendations by Type of Artwork

  • Cartoon: Arttoon and
  • Charcoal Drawing: Impression in Studio
  • Colored Pencil Drawing: Impression in Studio and Snap Art
  • Gouache:
  • Ink Drawing: AKVIS Sketch and Photo Pen
  • Oil Painting: AKVIS OilPaint, Dynamic Auto-Painter, Impression in Studio, and Snap Art
  • Pastel Drawing: FotoSketcher and Impression in Studio
  • Pencil Drawing/Sketch: AKVIS Sketch and Impression in Studio
  • Watercolor: Aquarella, Dynamic Auto-Painter, Photo Paint FX, and Snap Art

Useful Photo Editing Software

The following software is recommended for editing artistic works:

Other Digital Art Software to Consider

Depending on your artistic requirements and style, the following software may also be of interest.

Purchase Advice

It is highly recommended that you download and test digital art software demos prior to purchase. Try all the presets. A software company's idea of what a good art effect is may not match your own, so experiment with changing the settings of unsatisfactory effects before concluding that the program cannot do what you want.

It is especially important to test the limits of a program and to determine what features can be disabled. For example, see how much detail you can get in a painting and check whether it is possible to turn off the texture effect (i.e, canvas).

In some cases, it is worth buying a program for one or two unique effects even though the rest may not be satisfactory or may duplicate effects you already have in other programs.

A detailed user manual—ideally in the PDF format—can be of great help in using advanced program features. Check to see if a manual is available. Looking at a product's video tutorials is also helpful in making a purchasing decision.

Software Licensing and Sales Policies

Topaz Labs plug-in upgrades are currently free for life. Other software companies may charge you for upgrades, usually major version changes.

AKVIS has separate home, home deluxe, and business licenses. Only business licenses allow commercial use.

JixiPix licenses have this clause: "You are allowed to use the output of any JixiPix Software product for any purpose as long as the bulk of the output is images or data created by you (70% or above). Any output that falls below the threshold will be considered created by JixiPix Software and cannot be sold or transferred."

Companies typically offer one or more software bundles, which reduce the prices of included products.

Some companies, such as Alien Skin and Topaz Labs, offer their products at substantial discounts during sales, which typically occur during major US holidays. These are especially good times to buy software bundles.

About the Author

Digital artist transforms photographs into noncommercial digital artworks using specialized Photoshop plug-ins and art programs, such as and . He primarily creates digital oil and impasto paintings and charcoal, oil pastel, and pastel drawings. He has made over freely available on , , and other social media sites, providing detailed information about how each artwork was created. Bailey makes his artistic works available under .

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