Let’s face it, there’s not often news of free products from Adobe, so as soon as we heard about the new Pixel Bender plug-in, which you can download and install for nothing, we just had to have a play with it! In truth, although this new plug-in offers a number of preset filters within it, in terms of Photoshop there’s just one that’s truly useful, namely the Oil Paint filter, and that’s what we’re going to look at here.
First, you’ll need to download Pixel Bender for CS5 from: http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/pixelbenderplugin. This plug-in is actually an Extension, so you’ll need to install it, and then restart Photoshop to be able to use it. Once installed, you’ll find Pixel Bender within the Filter drop-down menu.
The Pixel Bender plug-in features its own full-screen window, which is a kind of gallery where you can examine each of the different filters available in more depth.
The key to using the Oil Paint filter is carefully controlling each of the numerous sliders, which work together to vary the end results that can be dramatically different depending on the settings you use. This filter has the ability to create painterly effects from the convincingly subtle to the almost psychedelically surreal!
It’s a good idea to use Pixel Bender as a Smart Filter, so you can re-edit the original image or the filter settings at any time, so double-click the Background layer and choose Convert To Smart Object. Now go to Filter>Pixel Bender>Pixel Bender Gallery.
Via the drop-down on the right you can preview all of the filters at their default values, but for this exercise choose Oil Paint. It’s best to first adjust the Brush Scale slider. The greater the value here, the bigger the individual brush strokes will be within the final image. Use a lower value to retain more original detail.
Next, the Cleanliness slider determines how ‘clean’ the brush strokes appear. A high value produces clean, smooth strokes, while lower values introduce much more noise and grittiness. A very high value here works well for the kind of effect shown in the finished image of this tutorial.
Dragging the Colorization slider to the right will introduce surreal colours, and a very bright glow around the brush strokes. Drag the slider to the left, and beyond a value of around 0.98, you’ll start to introduce a somewhat greyscale stroke overlay, which can be great for more muted, natural painterly effects.
In practice, the Brush Contrast slider controls how ‘crisp’ each brush stroke appears. Using a high value here creates very intense, sharp brush strokes and, by reducing the value, you can very much reduce the actual visibility of the strokes. Positioning the slider in the lower half will produce more subtle effects.
Finally, the Stylization slider at the top, determines the actual shape of the paint strokes. At high values the strokes are very fluid and a little surreal, while at low values they appear more as short dabs and impressionistic. Using this filter successfully depends on a careful balance between each slider, so see the examples to help with this.
The Smart Object has its own layer mask attached. This is useful as, by painting with black at low opacity on to this mask, you can partially hide the effect of the Pixel Bender filter here and there throughout the painting. Limiting the influence of the Pixel Bender around focal points can be particularly effective to make sure they are defined and stand out.