Plugins we install to our favorite photo editor application are not solely expected to make our work faster or easier. Indeed, the extension of existing features is at least as desirable. Sketch plugins that emulate the looks of paintings and drawings belong to the latter category. Although similar features can be found in Photoshop, they’re separate filters that, when applied in themselves, rarely produce even mildly realistic results. A sketch plugin’s main advantage is the wide range of options, complexity and therefore, a more realistic effect. Our favorite, Redfield Plugins’ Sketch Master, recently got updated to v3.11, which can be the fine reason to try it.
Perhaps, for the first time, complexity appears excessive as the plugin’s dialog contains more than a dozen of controls on the right. The left side is dominated by the preview image area, and this is where Sketch Master’s only great imperfection we know is revealed—the preview cannot be zoomed. The picture is always shown fit to the dialog, or in original size, whichever is smaller. This is not very fortunate with all those controls, as with larger photos you’ll find it difficult to track the effects of settings. It looks like the developers thought we might only use their plugin for making web galleries, working with images of about 600 pixels wide at most.
Putting this deficiency aside, you really have anything you need to create decent-looking sketches. The controls can be divided into five groups to make the tour more convenient.
The first group contains options for the fictitious pencil and brush strokes. On the left, a smaller square shows the current stroke style. You can click it to select a style from pencils to oil paint brushes. Scaling sets the size of this brush pattern. Lower values produce finer, more structured, but more fragmented strokes. A higher setting leads to a blot-like effect with well-defined edges. Stroke Direction can be specified with the next two sliders, so it is possible to use multiple directions. This increases the natural feeling of the drawing effect, as professional pencil images also feature cross-strokes. The small icons to the right specify which way the strokes narrow. You have three choices: Constant width, narrow to the left and narrow to the right. The fourth slider controls Stroke Length. All control regions have an 'X' and a die button in the upper right corner. The former resets all sliders to the default values while the latter sets them all to random settings, in case you’re out of ideas or patience.
The next group specifies lightness and colors. All sliders contain 4 handles. The first one refers to lightness levels, the second to color channels. The handles on the first slider correspond to blacks (the darkest areas), darker and lighter midtones, and whites, respectively. The various lightness intervals will be included in the drawing-like effect according to the settings. This is a very important control as it specifies which areas of the picture will feature the strokes. Dragging the last handle (white point) to the far right results in even the lightest areas sporting strokes. The second slider can be used to shift the blue, red, yellow, and green colors of the original image. It is only accessible if Palette, above, is selected.
The next sliders are Stroke Opacity and Softness, specifying the softness or hardness of strokes. Just like the upper region, this one also contain a reset and a random button.
Lines Solo eliminates most strokes and leaves only the main contours, like in typical comics.
Dark Lines, Bright Lines, and Line Width affect these main contours. They emphasize the more important edges, e.g. the contours of a head. You can use black (Dark Lines) or white (Bright Lines) contours. They strengthen each other. The first handle on the Dark Lines slider sets the clarity of dark strokes, while the second specifies their darkness. Likewise, the two handles on the Bright Lines slider set clarity and intensity. The first handle on Line Width softens both types of contour lines, and the second makes them broader or narrower.
Diffusion and Distortion on the right also deserve mentioning. The former adds graininess to the picture, while the latter lends an uncertain, shaky character to the contour lines. We don’t expect that Saturation would present an issue to anyone. It is obviously used to increase or decrease saturation of the picture. Drag it to the left to make a completely black-and-white painting or drawing. Of course, in such a case, the above discussed color channel settings or the Palette check box don’t have any effect at all.
Possibilities for the settings are close to infinite, so when short of time, feel free to use the random button.
The last region modifies the picture’s background. You can see a small preview image similar to that of stroke style, which enables you to select background structure and style.
Among others, you can choose from stone, linen, deckled paper, wallpaper, marble, mortar, or even squared paper. Click the eye above the preview to toggle the background on or off. When switched off, you can select foreground or background color (or any color you like), or even a transparent background. If you choose a typical structure (e.g. Stucco), use Scaling for resizing and Rotate for rotating it. The 1:1 check box resets the background pattern to its original size. The lowermost sliders specify the colors and lightness of the background pattern. From the top downwards, they are hue (h), saturation (s), and lightness (v). The two arrows undo or redo the last change in the settings. To the right, once again you’ll find the random button, which, in turn, affects all the settings. The 'R' button also affects all controls: Resets them to their default values.
The dropdown at the bottom contains a handful of presets including 12 portrait styles, pastel crayon, aquarel and other effects. You can also save your own settings by clicking the last item, Save User Preset.
But enough of idle talk for now, let the sample images speak instead. We can apply innumerable different drawing effects to the photo in the upper left corner. As an appetizer, you can find three of them here.
The demo version of Redfield Plugins Sketch Master v3.11 can be downloaded from the developer’s website. All the features can be used in the demo without limits but the result cannot be loaded into Photoshop, and you also cannot save your own settings. The full version costs $39.90.