By Steve Bain
Looking to add a little magic to your digital images? Corel PHOTO-PAINT® provides many different ways to apply weird and wonderful creative effects to ordinary digital photos. One bitmap filter stands out as an excellent creative tool. In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use it and reveal the tricks to navigating and selecting the numerous options.
The feature I’m talking about is called simply ‘Alchemy’. It’s a long-standing, built-in Corel PHOTO-PAINT filter that enables you to transform your images in uniquely organic ways. If you haven’t yet explored what this powerful pixel-altering laboratory can do, keep reading – you’re in for a treat.
By definition, alchemy is a ‘magical process that changes ordinary metal into gold’. In fact, the Alchemy filter (which uses more math than magic) enables you to convert ordinary photos into an artistic masterpieces worthy of the living room mantleby mimicing the characteristics achieved with traditional art tools and media. Shown below are a couple of classic-looking effects.
Step 1: Pick a Good Picture and Change Your Zoom View
The Alchemy filter uses the inherent color, contrast, resolution, and size properties of your image to create the brush effects. Therefore, your first step is to choose a suitable image and finalize any needed adjustments. As with any artistic endeavor, consider your image’s overall composition, balance, cropping, and so on, and pay close attention to the general level of sharpness and detail. Before starting, be sure to save any adjustments or changes you make. If you intend to preview your filter effects by using the full-screen preview rather than the dialog preview, increase your view magnification so that you can see the results of the effects you apply. More often than not, users abandon an effect because their current view magnification distorts the previewed results.
Step 2: Browse the Maze of Options
When you’re ready to enter the world of Alchemy, click Effects menu > Custom > Alchemy to open the Alchemy dialog (see below).
If you click on the tabs in the Alchemy dialog and look around each page, you’ll see a complex set of options that enable you to adjust and manipulate all kinds of bells and whistles. In fact, there are so many controls to choose from that just knowing where to start can be a challenge in itself. The quickest, easiest way to grasp what’s available is to make sure that the automatic preview is activated (click Preview to toggle it on, if necessary), and test-drive the presets in the Style list.
The Style list (see below) includes more than 70 saved preset styles. Presets are essentially saved collections of filter settings. The main advantage of selecting a preset to start your creative filter process is that many of the settings you need are set automatically, so that you can quickly preview potential effects.
The saved presets include settings that can mimic drawing and painting media – such as oil paint, charcoal, pencil, crayon, pastel, and markers – or imitate the markings of a spatula, sponge, or certain brush type, as shown in the examples below.
Presets can also simulate certain surface effects, such as water, woven paper, or canvas (see below). As you browse the list, note that not all of the abbreviated names precisely describe the effects applied, so it helps to do a little exploring.
Step 3: Adjust the Options
After you browse the presets, choose the one that most closely suits your needs. You’ll likely need to customize the options to create the exact effect you’re looking for. Although the options are organized into areas by property, choosing suitable settings can be a daunting task. Here’s a quick run-through of what you can control through each option area.
On the Brush page of the dialog, you’ll see options to control brush shape, layering, density, and other variables. You’ll find that changing the brush selection, changing Layering options, and moving the Density slider provide the most profound control. Use the brush selector to choose from more than 70 different brush varieties, a handful of which are shown below.
Use the Layering options to control how overlapping brush colors are mixed. Use the Density slider to control how closely the vertical and horizontal brush strokes are spaced (see below). The higher the density value, the closer the brush strokes appear. Click the Randomize button to preview random versions of the current settings. The Horizontal and Vertical sliders enable you to apply positional shifts to the center origins of the brush strokes – up, down, left, or right – using pixels as the unit measure.
The two most significant options on the Color page (see below) appear in the Brush Color and Background areas. These options enable you to use either the image colors or any colors you want for the brush and background. You can use the Hue, Saturation, and Brightness sliders to change the brush and background colors.
Size, Angle, and Transparency
Adjusting these next brush properties is where the filter chemistry gets a little stormy, so hang on to your hat. On the Size, Angle, and Transparency pages of the Alchemy dialog, you’ll see a set of sliders and menu options that have interconnected functions. The properties of the sliders in the Adjust area change according to the Variation setting in the Control area (see below).
When No Variation is selected on each page of the dialog, you can adjust the settings of the current property by using the single slider named for it. The adjustments you make to each property are applied uniformly across the brush strokes. Here is how each property controls the effect:
Size – The Size slider sets the physical size of your brush pattern based on a percentage of the size of the original brush pattern. The original brush strokes are 128, 64, or 32 pixels square. A Size setting of 100 renders the brush strokes at full size.
Angle – The Angle slider applies circular rotation of 180 degrees (clockwise) and -180 degrees (counterclockwise), with 0 applying no rotation.
Transparency – The Transparency slider sets transparency for your brush between 0 (fully opaque) and 99 (fully transparent), enabling you to control how the brush stroke colors mix and whether the image colors are visible.
Step 4: Apply Variations to the Brush Effect
The variations you can apply to the Size, Angle, and Transparency of your brush stroke give the Alchemy filter effects their organic appeal. Variations can be applied in different ways to the Size, Angle, and Transparency properties. The Variation slider on the Size, Angle, and Transparency pages of the Alchemy dialog applies random variation within a specified range that is higher or lower than the size, angle, or transparency value you’ve specified. The larger you make this value, the more variety you’ll see. The method you choose from the Vary Brush Size list in the Control area (see below) enables you to apply even more variation.
In each of the seven methods, described below, the Variation slider applies random variations to the values set. Below is a rough guide to how each of them works.
- Randomly – This control method applies the random variation based on values specified by the two sliders named This and That.
The next three methods use image positions to apply variation, which means you can apply property variations based on the relative position of brush strokes in relation to a specific point. These variations are useful for simulating sketch or stroke angle and direction in natural media.
- By Radial Distance – Variation is applied concentrically around a given point. To specify the point manually, click the button to the right of the Style list, and click any point on the image preview (see below). The Center and Edge sliders enable you to set the distance between the center and edge of your image. This control method is useful for creating vignette-shaped effects.
- By Vertical Position – Variations are applied according to values specified by the Top and Bottom sliders, which correspond to the top and bottom of your image.
- By Horizontal Position – Variations are applied according to values specified by the Left and Right sliders, which correspond to the left and right sides of your image.
The last three methods apply property variation based on the color properties of the image below the brush strokes. You can control variations in brush stroke properties based on the original color of your image. Incorporating color in your brush variation enables you to simulate the hardness and intensity of certain types of drawing tools.
- By Hue – Brush strokes are varied according to the hue values set with the Warm and Cool sliders, which correspond to the hue values of your image.
- By Saturation – The Saturated and Unsaturated sliders enable you to apply brush property variations based on the saturation properties of your image.
- By Brightness – Brush strokes are varied according to the values set with the Dark and Bright sliders, which correspond to the brightness values of your image.
You can easily fritter away hours evaluating the options and variations. The best advice is not to get bogged down if it all seems too complex. Instead, try experimenting until you’re familiar with how changes to the options influence the final effect.
Step 5: Save Your Settings as Presets
If you’ve made the effort to choose the perfect settings for an effect, you’ll appreciate that saving your settings is a wise habit to adopt. Using the tools offered by the preset feature, you can instantly name, save and reapply the settings to other images. To name and save your current settings for an effect, follow these steps:
- In the Alchemy dialog, click the plus (+) button to the right of the Style list. The Save Preset dialog opens (see below).
- Enter a descriptive name for your new preset. The name you choose can be up to 33 characters in length.
- Click OK to close the dialog. Your preset is added to the Style list, so that you can instantly apply the settings to other images.
To delete a preset from the Style list, click to select it, click the minus (–) button, and answer Yes to the prompt that appears.
Creating Your Own Brush Stroke Patterns
If none of the brush stroke patterns available in the brush selector quite fit an effect you’re creating, you can create your own. You can use nearly any image shape you wish, so long as it’s saved in the correct format. To be compatible, your brush must be saved as grayscale (8-bit), at 300 dpi, and as an uncompressed Windows Bitmap (BMP) image. If you’re creating a new brush image from scratch, choose File menu > New, and use the settings shown below.
Small and simple brush shapes work best. Feathered white images on a black background often yield the best results when applied with the Alchemy filter. Once your custom brush is finished, save and store it for easy access with the other Alchemy brushes in Corel PHOTO-PAINT. In version 12, the default folder path is Program FilesCorelCorel Graphics 12Custom DataBrushes.
To apply your new brush to an image, follow these steps:
- Open the Alchemy filter dialog to the Brush tab, and click the brush selector.
- Click the Other button at the bottom of the selector (see below) to open the Load Brush Files dialog, and browse to the folder in which you saved your new brush.
- Click to select the brush file, and click Open. Your new brush is now selected. Apply any other settings, and click OK to apply the effect.
Steve Bain is an award-winning illustrator and designer, and the author of nearly a dozen books, including CorelDRAW: The Official Guide.