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Using the pointillism filter in Photoshop

If you simply slap Photoshop filters onto an image, you usually don't get a very good result.  Photoshop filters are a lot of fun, and they're somewhat addictive to use, but they really shouldn't be viewed as magic "Make Art" buttons.

I want to show you what happens when you tweak the filter process a bit, and how much better the results will be.  Here's a picture of our friend Amy at her wedding:


Here's what happens when you apply Filter > Pixellate > Pointillize:


Notice how it's rough and grainy, and we've completely lost Amy's face.  The contrast is way too high.  It's basically a mess.

Here's what I think we should do instead, but it takes lots more steps:

1. Duplicate your image.  Make sure the color selector has white set for the background.

2. Apply Filter > Pixellate > Pointillize with a very small cell size. 

3. Use Edit > Fade.  I've found that somewhere between 70 to 90% works well for most images. 

4. Change the blending mode to screen for the pointillized layer.  Adjust the opacity until you like the look.  I lowered it to about 90%. 

5. Add an adjustment layer and select curves.  Lighten the deepest black to gray.  Lighten the overall image if needed.

6. Bring some detail back where it's needed by using the History Brush tool.  Select the unpointillized image as the source, and experiment with the percent of opacity to restore detail.  I used about 20% opacity to restore Amy's facial features.  I still wanted there to be some pixellation, but I wanted her features to be readable. 

Copyright 2010 Cyndi Lavin. Not to be reprinted, resold, or redistributed for profit. May be printed out for personal use or distributed electronically provided that entire file, including this notice, remains intact.

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I've never used the History Brush because I don't understand what it is for.

Maybe you could cover a little bit about it in a future post.

In the meantime, I'll try this technique and see if that clarifies it for me.

Thanks for the tips, Cyndi!
Cyndi L said…
It's a bit of a confusing little tool. What you do is select it from the tool palette on the left side of the program. Then you go to the History window on the right side (I keep it open right above my layers window). Check the box next to the step just before you added the pointillism filter. That will cause your brush to replace the pixels on the image with the pixels from that prior step. Cool, huh?
Limarea said…
I work in PSE8 and there is no History Brush, but it seems to be a useful little tool. I love these digital tuts that you give us, there's sooo much to learn! Thank you :)
Cyndi L said…
Is there a way to selectively fade a portion of an effect that you've applied to a piece? Another way maybe would be to work in two layers and partially erase the upper layer with the pointillism so that the lower layer shows through more.
Very cool! Thank you, Cyndi!!
L00ty said…
I had to do a pointillism effect on a background for a comic-book style piece. After trying a few different ways, including this one, I eventually hit on just the right thing:

Open up a new file 4 pixels by 4 pixels, with a white background. Save this as a pattern. then go back to the image you want to pointillise and colour a layer in with the main colour (in my case light blue). then open blending options on that layer and select pattern overlay. Choose your point pattern and voila!

You can experiment with the scale for different size dots but I found the default one just perfect :)
Cyndi L said…
Thank you for this suggestion! I'm going to play around with it a bit.