Having Fun With Filters: A Photoshop Tutorial


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Having Fun With Filters: A Photoshop Tutorial

One of the many things that I love about Photoshop..whether the full blown version or the Elements version, is the ability to not only scrap our  beautiful layouts, but to improve the photos that we are scrapping! Last week I showed you how to convert your photos to black and white which is one way to drastically change your photo, but using the Filters in your program are another way! Filters are really one of the most misunderstood and highly mistreated features to Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.    They are most often used to clean up or retouch photos.  However, you can also use filters to apply special art effects to your photo.  They enable you to add emphasis, drama, or even whimsy to your photos. They can even create some very unique transformations using the distortion effects!  Photoshop comes with a  number of built in Filters that we will look at today, but there are also many free filters that you can find that can be added as Plug Ins to Photoshop that will help you to enhance your photo!  For the most part, I am a firm believer in letting your photo speak for itself, but sometimes, SOMETIMES, your photo needs a little something more to help it SHINE!!

Filters have been around since the inception of Photoshop and are often referred to as Plug-Ins because they can be installed or removed independently. They can help you do almost anything from correcting the sharpness, to covering up those boo boos! Filters can also make your photo appear as if it has been painted, sketched, copied or tiled! By applying more than one filter, you can create any number of looks! BUT, Tim Collier, a photographer and blogger writes ” Be careful! There’s far too much use of filters within images at the moment. Just because they exist in Photoshop doesn’t mean you have to use them. Every image should be about communicating something. If you cant answer the question “What does the filter add to the image? How does it help communicate my ideas?’ then steer clear.”

One of the things that I always share with my students or well, anyone that will listen really, is that you need to ALWAYS remember to work on a duplicate image! This is especially important when you are working with Filters because they change the actual pixels of your image. Once you apply a filter..it is stuck. There is no going back (except through your history) but even then, if you only keep a very short history, then you could  lose your original image if you make changes to it and accidentally save over it! So the moral of the story here is duplicate, duplicate, DUPLICATE…AND save it using another name..THEN play around with your Filters!

There are two categories of Filters in Photoshop. There is the Corrective Filters which are the ones that will adjust the color of your photos, improve the focus of your photos, and remove things like dust or lint from your photos. Sharpen and Blur are just two of theses types of filters.

Destructive Filters are the second of the two categories. These are the filters that are used to create the special effect on your photo. These filters include textures, brush strokes, mosaics, and lights. You can also distort your image by using the waves, spheres and ripples effects.

There are actually three different ways to get to your Filter menu.

The first way is to Go to Filter> and then choose the filter you want to work with:

The second way is to go to Windows>Effects. This will open the panel on the right hand side of your screen. Click on the Filters button at the top of the panel and the select your filter category from the drop down menu. Double Click on the thumbnail of the filter you want to use. Click Apply.

Finally, the last choice is the one I recommend most often. It gives you the most flexibility and will allow you to apply multiple filters as well as edit them!

Choose Filter>Filter Gallery.

Once you select Filter Gallery, an editing window will appear. This “window” is  what is known as the “Filter Gallery”  The gallery can actually be quite intimidating if you are looking at it for the first time!  There are so many choices and so many variables when it comes to applying a filter, that you could go into the Filter Gallery to add a “little something” and end up being there all day!!

Filter Gallery

Once your editing window appears, select your desired filter category from the folders that are listed. These folders include Artistic, Brush Strokes, Distort, Sketch, Stylize and Texture. We will only be looking at the Artistic Folder today! I will save the others for another lesson!

The Artistic  Folder

This group of filters  includes not just the “Artistic” filters, but also filters that will leave you with artistic effects.  There are 15..yes 15..different artistic filters. Your photos can be made to look from anything  from oil paintings all the way to watercolors, charcoals, pastels, line drawings… neon… and more! Let’s begin!

Colored Pencil

The colored pencil filter makes an image look as if it were drawn with colored pencils. Image edges are given a crosshatch appearance and the background color shows through the individual pencil strokes. Through a series of steps and working with several different filters, I created a colored pencil effect on my photo.

  • Pencil Width: Changes the thickness of the pencil strokes.
  • Stroke Pressure: Changes the intensity of the pencil strokes.
  • Paper Brightness: Modifies the brightness of the paper underneath.


The Cutout filter makes an image look as if it were made from cut-out pieces of paper. It is a fun way to make those Andy Warhol type of pictures.




  • Number of Levels : Determines the number of layers of colored paper. The smaller the numbers the simpler the final image.
  • Edge Simplicity : Simplifies image edges. The larger the values the simpler the images.
  • Edge Fidelity : Sets the image edge precision. The larger the values the more detailed the edges.

Dry Brush

I personally LOVE the dry brush effect.  It  paints the edges with a dry brush. By adding two layers and changing their blending modes, you can create a beautiful, dramatic look for your dry brushed photo.  Add some texture to recreate a canvas, and you can have a beautifully enhanced photo!



  • Brush Size : The smaller the brush size, the more detailed the final image.
  • Brush Detail : The higher the Brush Detail value, the more detailed the final image.
  • Texture: The higher the value, the rougher the texture of the final image.

Film Grain

The Film Grain filter adds noise or small dots to an image. This works best on Black and White photos with  a strong contrast and gives it a very dramatic feel!




  • Grain: Sets the size of the noise. Larger values display more dots.
  • Highlight Area : The higher the value, the more highlights there will be in the image.
  • Intensity: A smaller number adds dots to the entire image. Larger values add dots only to darker parts of the image.


The Fresco filter is very closely related to the Dry Brush filter and  imitates the fresco painting style from the Renaissance period. It does this by painting an image with short dabs, creating a darker image than the original.




  • Brush Size: Sets the size of the brush. The smaller the size, the more detailed the image.
  • Brush Detail: Higher Brush Detail values create images that are more detailed.
  • Texture: Higher texture values create rougher textures in the image.

Neon Glow

The Neon Glow filter adds various types of glows to the objects in an image. This filter is useful for colorizing an image while softening its look. Make sure you duplicate the image before you begin. Select a glow color by clicking on the glow box, and select a color from the color picker. Once you are done, change the layer mode to Soft Light. Then new color will blend and make it gorgeous!





By adjusting the glow size and changing my color to a deep orange, I have now deepened the color of the sunset and softened my photo giving it an ethereal look.

  • Glow Size : A large Glow Size value colors the highlights with the glow color and the shadows with the foreground color. Small values work in the opposite way.
  • Glow Brightness : When this is set to 0, the image is filled with the foreground color. Larger values create highlights using the glow color.
  • Glow Color : Sets the highlight color for the image.

Paint Daubs

The Paint Daubs filter creates an oil painting effect and is a really great tool in “saving” those pictures you loved…yet they were slightly out of focus..and probably unusable! By applying an artistic filter, you can turn that unusable photo into an artistic gold mine!



  • Brush Size: Smaller brushes create more detail in the image.
  • Sharpness: Increasing the Sharpness creates more defined edges.
  • Brush Type: Choose from Simple, Light, Rough, Dark Rough, Wide Sharpm Wide Blurry and Sparkle brushes.

Palette Knife

The Palette Knife filter creates the effect of a palette knife being used on the image. It  reduces detail in an image to give the effect of a thinly painted canvas that reveals the texture underneath. You can set the stroke size, stroke detail, and softness.



By using the palette knife filter and adding a texturized filter, I have given my photo the appearance of a painting on canvas.

  • Stroke Size: The higher the value, the more colors bunch together in the image.
  • Stroke Detail: The higher the value, the more detailed the resulting image.
  • Softness: Alters the degree of smearing in the image.

Plastic Wrap

The Plastic Wrap filter creates the appearance that the image has been wrapped in transparent plastic. It works by introducing monochrome highlight and shadows in darker image areas.  Plastic Wrap is one of those filters that should probably only be used in conjunction with other filters and Layer blends.  It works best on non-humans…that is inanimate objects. After all, there is probably NO chance you would ever see a human shrink wrapped!



Here, I added the plastic wrap to my waterfall to give it more of a feeling of movement.

  • Highlight Strength: Determines the shine of the plastic.
  • Detail: Changes the detail of the texture created by plastic.
  • Smoothness: Sets the smoothness of the plastic wrap.

Poster Edges

The Poster Edges filter reduces the colors in the image and creates dark images. This is one of those fun filters you will probably never use, but if you are creating a fun comic type of layout..then this is a GREAT way to add some fun to your layout!




This one makes me giggle!

  • Edge Thickness : Determines thickness of the dark edges.
  • Edge Intensity: Changes the number of dark edges.
  • Posterization: A low value creates a high contrast image, while a high value creates an image with more tones.

Rough Pastels

The Rough Pastels filter makes an image appear as if it were made with rough strokes of pastel chalk on a textured background. In areas of bright color, the chalk appears thick with little texture; in darker areas, the chalk appears scraped off to reveal the texture. You can set the stroke length, stroke detail, and texture. By adding texture options you make your images appear as if they were painted onto textures, such as canvas, brick, burlap, or sandstone.




I LOVE this very dramatic effect! By adding two runs of the filter, and changing the Light settings just slightly, I was able to change this beautiful photo into a work of art!

  • Stroke Length: Higher values create more obvious chalk strokes.
  • Stroke Detail: Higher values increase the contrast and color in an image.
  • Texture: Choose from Brick, Burlap, Canvas, and Sandstone Textures. You can also upload your own textures and add them as well!
  • Scaling: Changes the size of the texture.
  • Relief: Larger values create more depth in the texture, making it seem more embossed.
  • Light: Set the direction of the light.
  • Invert: Inverts the texture.

Smudge Stick

The Smudge Stick filter creates the appearance that the image was smeared before the paint dried.  Use the Smudge Stick for smearing pixels in darker areas while brightening and losing detail in lighter areas. This one actually comes in quite handy at times, and can be combined with any of the filters to create a softer. more dramatic look.




I masked out the effect on the dock and just kept the trees at top and the leaves at the bottom smudged.  You can see it gives it a soft, dreamy look.

  • Stroke Length: Higher values increase the amount of smudging in the image.
  • Highlight Area: Changes the amount of highlights in the image.
  • Intensity: Higher values brighten the image and remove details from the highlights.


The Sponge filter makes the image look as if it was sponged.   Use this filter in  moderation to add emphasis to an existing texture, or use it in combination with other filters.




The Key to the sponge filter is to use an appropriate smoothness setting.  Try keeping it low for a more realistic effect.  Here I added a text to it  to make it look as if it was sponged onto a canvas!

  • Brush Size: Sets the size of the sponge.
  • Definition: Sets the contrast.
  • Smoothness: Larger values increase the sponging effect.


The Underpainting filter makes the image appear to have been painted on a textured background, giving it a softer focus. It works differently than many of the other artistic filters in that it used not to make the image look drawn or painted but to make it look as though it is on a canvas or other surface. This means that this filter works best when used in conjunction with other filters.



The effect is very subtle, but, used in conjunction with the dry brush Filter, it added a canvas texture to the photo!

  • Brush Size: The smaller the brush size, the more detailed the image.
  • Texture Coverage: Smaller values apply the texture to darker parts of the image. Larger valyes apply the texture to the whole image.
  • Texture: Choose from Brick, Burlap, Canvas and Sandstone. You can also load your own favorite textures and apply them here.


The Watercolor filter is the last artistic filter in our arsenal. It creates a watercolor painting effect on your photo. This photo effect works best on images where maintaining rich colors and strong contrast is more important than keeping any fine details, since you’ll be losing a lot of detail with this effect.  Most the time when I use this filter, I end up lowering the opacity to around 50-60% so that is gives the photo a soft subtle effect!





  • Brush Detail: Higher values create a more detailed and smoother image.
  • Show Intensity: Darkens the image.
  • Texture: Higher values create less smooth images.
That is IT!!! All of your artistic filters right here! The thing to remember the most about your filters is that less is more! ALWAYS add your filter on a duplicate image and play, play, play!! I will make two background copies and run the same filter making slight adjustments to them, but change the layer mode to Overlay or Soft Light! Change the opacity and try all the modes…you NEVER now what you will come up with! Artistic filters can be a fun way to create some gorgeous artwork for your home or create some interest on those layouts you make! Whatever you do, remember to have fun!!
Here are a few examples of using different modes to create a new look:
Watercolor Effect:
Using the Cutout Filter, the Dry Brush Filter and the Noise>Median Filter
And here is another watercolor Effect using
Filter>Sketch>Photocopy and two separate layers of  the Watercolor filter mode using different settings.
and here is a close up of the effects:
Isn’t that fantastic?? It’s my favorite one!!
Thank you for taking a closer look at the Artistic Filter Modes with me today. We will be looking at the rest of the  filters in weeks to come!! Have a fantastic day and Happy Scrapping!


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