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Photo-Based Art Emulating natural-media painting techniques

PHOTO ART: Photoshop Trace Contour filter

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Old 07-20-2002, 03:30 PM
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DannyRaphael DannyRaphael is offline
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PHOTO ART: Photoshop Trace Contour filter

PHOTO ART: Photoshop Trace Contour filter

During previous tours of exploration through Photoshop Native Filterland I had always been intregued by, but could never find a practical use for the Trace Contour filter. It made some pretty cool sketchy-like outlines, but regardless of what settings I used there was “never enough” to be useful.

The other day I had a flash. (They don’t happen often.) What if I could run the Trace Contour filter multiple times at different settings and then (somehow) mix / match the resulting layers? Sounded good, but how?

A workable solution
Here’s a method that worked for me.

Above the Background layer create a new layer (name it “White Background”) and using the EDIT/FILL command, fill it with white.

Now duplicate the Background layer (name it “Desat Base”), drag it to the top of the layer stack and Desaturate it. Important: TURN OFF visiblity (click the eyeball) of Desat Base for the time being.

Duplicate “Desat Base” (name it “Trace Contour 1”) and run the Trace Contour filter using a Level value of your choice. Doesn’t seem to make much difference if Upper or Lower edge is specified. The result will be black lines on a white background. Repeat this step several (5-7) times, using different Level settings. Give each layer a unique name.

Finally, for each layer created by Trace Countour, set the layer blend mode to Multiply. This has the effect of neutralizing the white in the layer. Voila! Multi-layer line art.

The result will be similar to what one would get using the Smart Blur filter with the Edge Only option specified, except with multiple layers, the flexibility and creativity options are much more abundant.

To simplify the the process of creating multiple Trace Contour layers at different brightness levels, I wrote an action to make this real easy. More on that later.

Creativity Options
Line Density
Turn the various “Trace Contour x” layers on / off to see which ones you want to keep. You may need to eradicate random countour lines in some layers. You can either physically erase these using the Eraser tool or do what I did: create a Layer Mask. Painting black on the layer mask makes undesirable lines disappear from view without actually erasing them. Here’s a link to a tutorial on Layer Masks if you’re not familiar with them.

Want to add some “thickness” to lines in a given layer?
Try the Accented Edges filter. Start out by keeping the Smoothness value set to 1. Adjust the Edge Width and Edge Brightness values as desired.

Coloring Lines
If you want to apply color other than black to a given layer, one way to do it is to insert a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer above the target layer (specify “Group with previous layer”). Click the “colorize” box and then drag the sliders back and forth until you get the color you’re looking for.

Add Color to the Entire Image
Layer “Desat Base”: Make it visible again. Then duplicate the Background layer (name it “Add Color”) drag it to the top of the layer stack and change the blend mode to Screen and adjust the opacity. If the Screen blend mode doesn’t do much for you, try some of the others such as Color.

Optional: Duplicate the “Add Color” layer just created and cycle through the blend modes to see what comes up. In the attachment I used Color Dodge and lowered the Opacity to 50%.

Optional: Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer to the top of the layer stack and adjust the Saturation slider.

More Considerations
This technique seems to work fairly well on images that “aren’t too busy” like the attached example. If an image has too many edges, to me the effectiveness is lost.

It defintely doesn’t work well on images of people, unless you’re trying to achieve something really abstract.

The Attached File
Top: Original image.
2nd: All nine layers created by the action below.
3rd: Some of the layers turned off and ragged lines “erased” via Layer Masks.
4th: Final result.

Due to the 100kb space limitation, it’s difficult to fully appreciate the effect. It looks pretty good on a 21” monitor.

Need a little Action?
To automate the Trace Contour layer creation process, I wrote an action. It can be found here. It duplicates the active image, flattens the copy and starts cranking out Trace Countour layers in Level setting increments of 25 (25,50,75…through 225).

If you don’t like the settings I choose, you can choose Record Again from the Action Palette menu and replace them as desired.

Here’s a link where you’ll find the action.


If you experiment with this technique, do post your results in this thread for others to appreciate.

Good luck… and keep having FUN!

Attached Images
File Type: jpg trace-contours-demo.jpg (88.4 KB, 336 views)

Last edited by DannyRaphael; 07-20-2002 at 03:43 PM.
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