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Channel your inner Bob Ross

Alien Skin's Snap Art, a Photoshop plug-in

A winter landscape featuring happy little trees.

I'll be the first to admit I'm no Photoshop power user. As an avid photographer, I've managed to perfect a few simple edits to treat my photos. I use a small fraction of Photoshop Elements, itself a small fraction of Photoshop. I've found only a few filters useful for my purposes, which is why I was excited to try out Alien Skin's Snap Art. This Photoshop plug-in supplies 10 filters that mimic various fine art forms, including oil and watercolor paint, pen-and-ink drawing, comic book, and pointillism effects.

For treating my photos, I liked the pencil sketch and pointillism filters for treating portraits and--because of my reverence for the late, great Bob Ross--I found the oil paint filter of great use for landscapes. (It's been far too long since I've heard the words Van Dyke brown and happy little tree uttered on my television.) Those not trained in the ways of Photoshop will appreciate being able to simply select, say, "Landscape, long brush strokes" or "Abstract, pastel colors" from the roughly 30 preset oil-paint filter options to find the right effect, while more advanced users can make further adjustments by changing the brush size, paint thickness, saturation, contrast, and so on. The only drawback I found was that I couldn't view the effects of a given filter in real time; instead it took anywhere from a couple of beats to as long as 10 seconds for the preview screen to load--and I'm using a fairly powerful dual-core desktop.

Snap Art costs $149, which is a bit steep for amateur photographers looking to expand their Photoshop abilities. For graphic artists who have grown tired of Photoshop's stock filters, however, Snap Art could provide a welcome gadget to your tool kit. The plug-in works with Photoshop CS or later, Photoshop Elements 4 or later, and Corel Paint Shop Pro XI or later.