How to apply artistic effects to your photos

Dec 04, 2017 at 10:32 am by -gToon

As a graphic artist, perhaps you're looking for something to change up a photo you want to use, to make it more interesting.

Today with help of image editing it is possible to apply different effects on almost every photo and to turn it into the digital art. The only thing you should keep in mind is that different effects work better on certain types of the photo - it all depends on what's captured on the photo, it's colours, subject, shapes, and also what you're aiming for.

The Cartoonizer

The cartoon filter does exactly what it says on the tin - it turns your image into a cartoon. You can try applying different cartoon style options, such as turning your photo into an Andy Warhol style masterpiece, or into graphic novel style. Cartoonizing works well with most images of people, animals and things, but if you have a beautiful countryside landscape it might not suit the style of the image.

Experiment with different kinds of photo: for example, cartoonizing fire image gives an interesting effect because of lots of light and color shades

Cartoon effect on still life picture

Painting effects

The painting filter can be used to mimic classic watercolour art, or oil painting - practically every kind of art effect could be found and used on your picture; just find the one that works best on your photo. For example, watercolor works well on landscapes and still life images, but as you can see, other art effects can work with more urban, architectural shots.

Watercolour effect applied to the photo of a courtyard. See how the white background and bright contrast details played well for this filter

Oil painting effect on mountain landscape image


A sketcher filter allows you to turn your image into a pencil sketch. Or pen sketch, or colour pencils sketch - there are different sketcher options to choose from. Moreover, you can adjust the settings so that you have more or less detail, different coloured backgrounds and pencils, and you can also adjust the opacity of the filter so that colours from the original photo show through. Those effects work great for architecture and landscape but, with the right options from the menu, it could be used for people too.

The view of London turned into the pencil sketch

Different sketching effects used for the Golden Bridge Photo

Pointillism Filter

If you want to give an image an old master painting effect, have a try of the pointillism filter. This turns your image into thousands of tiny dots, mimicking the paintings of Georges Seurat among others. You can adjust the detail and brush size to give different looks, and again, there is a choice of alternative pointillism filters for a selection of effects. It works well for most images with a lot of strong details.

Ink Wash Filter

The ink wash filter gives a great graphic art style look to an image. Ink washing is a type of traditional art that is similar to watercolour but using inks instead - also look great on landscapes and architecture.

The Filter Gallery in Photoshop

Compared to the modern types of digital art filters around now, Adobe's filter gallery in Photoshop looks woefully old-fashioned. Don't dismiss the filter gallery in Photoshop just because it's been around forever. It still has a few gems in there though, so it's worth a quick look.

You can combine different filters and the adjustment sliders meaning you can fine-tune your image. Converting your image to a smart object before you start experimenting means the settings are non-destructive and easily changed.

Film Grain

In Photoshop's grain filter, there are many choices of type of grain. You can choose speckled, contrasty, soft, vertical etc. Each selection gives a different type of grain, and some will turn your image black and white with a very stark, graphic novel type effect. One of the filters I used was the vertical grain one, which gives a very unusual striped look over the image, almost like it was printed on fabric.

Vertical grain filters

Graphic Pen

Photoshop's graphic pen filter changes your image to the foreground and background colors you have selected, and uses long and short strokes to make it look like it was sketched using a graphic pen on paper. This gives your image a very stark, graphic novel type of look. I chose to use black and white for this image, but you can choose different background and foreground colors with the color picker. You can play around with the adjustments until you find the settings that suit your image.

For this effect, try to pick images which have intense textures to get the most of this effect

There are certainly more filters than mentioned above - most of photo editing tools like Photoshop, Luminar or Nik Collection offer a lot of different free filters and presets. The new generation of digital art filters are really nailing it - it's worth having a look around to see what's out there, and how these filters can really take your art to the next level.

Where to get free filters:

List of online services for applying effects

Google Set of Creative Filters and Effects

Macphun Free Creative Filters

Free Retro Style Photo Effects Pack

Best Free Photoshop Filters

Max Therry is an architect student who would rather be a full-time photographer. "I don't really specialize in any single type of photography, but my training as an architect has taught me how one thing can be perceived in many ways. This is the idea that I try to base my work around."

You can read more of his musings at

For Photos That Matter