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Review of Topaz Simplify 4

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Review of Topaz Simplify 4

Image editing plugin processes image detail


Keith Cooper has been looking at Simplify 4, from the Topaz range of image processing plugins. It works on image features, bringing out image structure and detail.

Whilst we use Photoshop for image editing at Northlight, the Topaz plugins work with a wide variety of image editing packages, including Paintshop pro and iPhoto.

We've reviews of all Topaz software. See the Topaz Category in the dropdown menu at the top of the right column.
Topaz Studio is free and Plugins/addons have a free 30 day trial

Interface update – Feb 2014

sketch plugin detail

What do you get with Topaz Simplify?

New: Topaz Studio - complete editing package (info)

Buying Topaz Labs plugins:  Direct from Topaz [check link for deals]

Individual plugins are downloadable (30 day free trial) - we have reviews of all of the Topaz plugins.

If you buy any software via this link (bundle or individual plugin), then we get a small fee (it costs you no more). Neither Keith Cooper nor Northlight Images has any other connection with Topaz labs whatsoever. We believe strongly in making any affiliate links like this clear. 
Use our 15% discount code 'Northlight' for an additional discount on some promotions.

Latest Topaz Texture Effects 2 [Texture Effects 2 review]
>> Plugins and Topaz Studio

I’m basically a photographer, so more extreme manipulation of my work is more usually carried out by others on behalf of our clients. That said I’m interested to see my images in very different guises…

The plugin effectively processes detail in images, at a variety of scales, with a combination of edge detection and tonal adjustments. This detail can be removed or simplified, giving effects like sketching, watercolours and many more.

It’s quite difficult to describe all you can do to images, so if some of the examples here pique your interest, do download the trial version and have a good play with it – that really is the best way to explore what it can do.

I’ll show some examples here, but always note that the effects you get are dependent on the content of your image and its size. So, results with a full resolution camera image at 5000 pixels wide, may be quite different to what you get if it was reduced to say 720 pixels wide (the size of many images in our reviews on this site).

The plugin opens from your normal plugin menu, after you’ve installed the software.

In this instance I’m in Photoshop CS5, but the interface is similar for other editing applications. The image is of part of the pier at Eastbourne, on the UK south coast.

plugin editing window

Adjustments are at the right, and various preset options to the left.

A quick way to explore, is with the many presets available.

preset effects options

Differences may not be immediately noticeable – but notice how the small detail in the photo below changes.

multiple preset options

There are options for very light detail enhancement – this is one area of interest for some of my architectural work – mouse over the image to see (100% view, unsharpened).

Original ImageHover Image

Adjustment options (there are a lot), live on the right, along with basic navigation controls (and histogram).

main adjustment and navigation options

Note the ‘I feel lucky’ button – good for exploring random settings, but don’t click away too fast, lest you lose something you like.

You might find just what you are looking for from one of the presets…

an example watercolour effect applied to a photograph

More likely you’ll want to fine tune settings

These are split into three groups.

Global adjustments affect the whole image

global adjustment options for image processing by the plugin

Detail adjustment is a global setting – mouse over the image to see

Original ImageHover Image

Edges can have their own adjustment settings (what counts as an ‘edge’ for example).

Before/after – mouse over image

Original ImageHover Image

Local adjustments allow you to paint in or mask out parts of the filter’s effects.

local adjustments allow for altering parts of the image by different amounts

Finishing adjustments, let you add some final adjustments, such as vignetting, to the image that is returned to your editing application.

If like me, you are used to editing in Photoshop with layers and masking, you might look at the local and finishing adjustments as better carried out there, but not all applications that the plugin supports have this functionality.

If you are using the plugin in Photoshop, I’d suggest creating a duplicate layer to apply it to, so that its results can be applied in a more flexible manner. This offers one way round a potential minor issue, that I’ll cover later.

Simplify finishing adjsutments

The presets, though really are the place to start (you can also create your own), so here are a few more examples showing what you can do.

Edges can have lines applied (black white or coloured)

enhancing edges with lines

Flattened details can give more of a cartoon look

cartoon style for image adjustment

or sketch

a sketch 'look' for images

Variations abound, with more or less subtle changes

variations of image editing parameters

Individual aspects of the processing can be applied on their own, such as edge detection.

details of edge extraction showing up as lines

If this is seeming a little overwhelming, then there are comprehensive tutorial and help facilities.

prefereces and options for the plugin software

St. Edmund’s church at Southwold

These two examples show two very different treatments of a photo of St. Edmunds church at Southwold, on the Suffolk coast

Original photo

St Edmund's, Southwold

A ‘Cartoon look’

Stylised view of St Edmund's, Southwold

A ‘pencil sketch’ style

Pencil sketch style image, St Edmund's, Southwold

These examples don’t really show the tremendous detail in the images, so always check at 100% magnification.

You should always look carefully at the results that the plugin returns. Several images showed unwanted halos in areas at full size – fixable, if like me they are not a feature you like.

magnified view at pencil sketch setting

I’ve saved the particular settings as a preset of my own.

The amount of fine detail is very dependent on the global settings.

detail adjustment via plugin settings

Remember though that there is no ‘understanding’ of structures in the image.

Details are selected by mechanistic processes, not an appreciation of their architectural significance.

detailed colour sketch image

The treatment of detail is easily seen in this example from the church – mouse over the image to see the difference that a small adjustment to one slider makes.

Original ImageHover Image

The lost detail problem

In the image above you can see where enclosed patches of detail are just wiped out because they fall below a particular threshold.

Whilst you can alter settings to bring this back, it may not give the overall look you are after.

Take this country scene for example.

Mouse over the image to see what I call the ‘spiders web’ problem in the branches

Original ImageHover Image

By applying Topaz Simplify to multiple layer copies, I can mask in parts of the ‘fine detail’ version to the coarser detail one that I like the overall look of.

Move your mouse over the image below, to see some of the finer detail version selectively added to the coarse image. This could have multiple layers, depending on how you want parts of the image to look.

Original ImageHover Image

Conclusions

New: Topaz Studio - complete editing package (info)

Buying Topaz Labs plugins:  Direct from Topaz [check link for deals]

Individual plugins are downloadable (30 day free trial) - we have reviews of all of the Topaz plugins.

If you buy any software via this link (bundle or individual plugin), then we get a small fee (it costs you no more). Neither Keith Cooper nor Northlight Images has any other connection with Topaz labs whatsoever. We believe strongly in making any affiliate links like this clear. 
Use our 15% discount code 'Northlight' for an additional discount on some promotions.

Latest Topaz Texture Effects 2 [Texture Effects 2 review]
>> Plugins and Topaz Studio

Getting the best from this plugin requires some effort to explore all the options. It’s well worth it though, as is exploring the various tutorials where it’s used.

Remember that clicking a few presets just gives you starting points, and that the real power of the software comes from using it to create images for some purpose. It’s been many years since I sat down to draw, in pencil, the complexity of a Suffolk medieval church, but I was pleasantly surprised by what ‘Simplify’ managed with some of my photos.

Use it well and your images can have an originality that belies their photographic origins – use it carelessly and it’s capable of emulating the dull banality of all too many Instagrammed phone pictures ;-)

There is a fully functional 30 day demo version of the software that is available.

Summary

Software plugin for a wide variety of image processing functions. Comprehensive examples, tutorials and support cover usage.

Can work with a wide range of ‘hosting’ software.

We've reviews of all Topaz software. See the Topaz Category in the dropdown menu at the top of the right column.
Topaz Studio is free and Plugins/addons have a free 30 day trial

System Requirements (from Topaz Labs)

Mac

  • Intel-based Macs with OS 10.6, 10.7 or 10.8 (Topaz is NOT compatible with PowerPC processors – like G4 or G5.)
  • 2 GB RAM minimum – preferably more
  • Adobe Photoshop CS4-CS6 (32-bit and 64-bit), Adobe Photoshop Elements 6-11***.
  • Apple Aperture 2 and 3, Lightroom 2-5, and iPhoto via Topaz Fusion Express
  • photoFXlab ONLY – Video Card should support OpenGL 2.1 technology and later (A better video card will increase performance even more so than a faster computer processor.)

***If Photoshop Elements was bought from the Mac app store, the plugin cannot be directly copied into the plugins folder or else you will receive this message: “Cannot proceed: IPC Memory in use or image is too big for the system”. At this moment our plugins are not compatible with the Mac store’s version of PSE due to a sandboxing issue, which we are currently investigating.

Windows

  • Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7 (32-bit and 64-bit), Windows 8
  • 2 GB RAM minimum – preferably more
  • Adobe Photoshop CS4-CS6 (32-bit and 64-bit), Adobe Photoshop Elements 6-11.
  • Lightroom 2-5 via Topaz Fusion Express
  • Irfanview
  • PaintShop Pro
  • Photo Impact
  • Serif Photo Plus
  • photoFXlab ONLY – Video Card should support OpenGL 2.1 technology and later (A better video card will increase performance even more so than a faster computer processor.)

*ReMask is ONLY compatible with photoFXlab, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements and Paint Shop Pro. ReMask is NOT compatible with iPhoto, Aperture, Lightroom, Photo Impact or Irfanview.

There is more information at Topaz Labs

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