If you’re new to digital image editing, it can be easy to think that whatever editing program you’re using can only do a limited number of things. However, most image editing programs can actually do a lot more than you might initially think.
Since there are many different image editing programs out there, I’ll try to write the “advice” parts of this article in a fairly non-specific way that will apply to most programs.
However, I’ll be using examples from the 2-3 image editing programs that I actually use on a regular or semi-regular basis (eg: MS Paint 5.1, Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 [it’s old, but still very functional!] and, very occasionally, a free open-source program called “GIMP“).
1) Combine several effects and/or tools: Although the menus of your image editing program may only contain, say, fifty different effects and/or tools – there’s no rule against using many of these tools/ effects in combination with each other in order to create a huge number of effects that you can’t create with just a single option. In fact, you can use different tools/effects from multiple programs in conjunction with each other if you really want to.
The trick, of course, is working out which effects, tools etc… go well together. But, with a bit of thought and/or random experimentation (be sure to either keep unaltered backups of your images if you’re experimenting), you should be able to create quite a few effects that you wouldn’t be able to do with any one option available to you in your editing program.
For example, by combining the “noise” and “colourise”/”RGB” options that can be found in many image editing programs – you can create a corkboard-like texture fairly easily.
Likewise, you can also use several basic features found in many programs to convert photos into something that resembles videogame-style pixel art (although the tutorial is MS Paint 5.1 -specific, most editing programs allow you to do things like altering the colour depth of an image).
Or, to use a recent example, I’d just finished my usual MS Paint 5.1/ Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 editing on a scanned painting that I plan to post here in July. However, it still didn’t quite look right.
Suddenly, I thought “What if I use the ‘dilate’ effect in Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 and then lower the highlight/midtone/shadow levels“. Although the picture also required some extra adjustments to the hue/saturation/lightness levels after I’d done this, I ended up creating a really distinctive effect:
Here’s a close-up detail from the painting to show you what the effect looks like. It made the painting look like a combination between an impressionist painting and a pixel art picture.
2) Look online for undocumented features: Whilst this isn’t true for all image editing programs, some image editing programs contain extra features that aren’t listed in the program’s documentation. The easiest way to find out about these is, obviously, to do an online search for “hidden features in [Your editing program]“. You might be surprised by what you find.
For example, a couple of weeks before I originally wrote this article, I ended up looking up something to do with MS Paint. To my surprise, I also found several articles that list undocumented features in many versions of MS Paint.
To give you one example, you can freely alter the brush/pencil/airbrush size to literally any size by just holding down the left “ctrl” key and pressing the “+” or ” -” keys.
Likewise, if you select an area and then hold down left “crtl” – you can drag the mouse away from that area to create a quick copy of the selected area. If you hold down “shift” instead after selecting an area, then it will leave a trail when you move it. This can be used for creating bizarre abstract art, like this:
This was an abstract picture that I mostly created using the undocumented “trail” feature in MS Paint 5.1
Of course, MS Paint is just one program. But, it might be worth looking online to see if there are any hidden undocumented features in the program that you use.
3) Shortcuts are your friend: Many image editing programs will contain keyboard shortcuts for their most essential features.
Although this may just seem like a boring, and easily ignored, feature – learning the keyboard shortcuts for features that you use often can save you a lot of time. Likewise, you can also use them in all sorts of clever ways too.
For example, in Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6, I leave the “RGB” settings at + 11% red, -4% green and -18% blue. This means that if I want to add a light skin tone to a selected area of a drawing/painting that I’m editing, I can just quickly hit the “Ctrl + U” shortcut for this feature and then hit “Enter”. If I want to add a slightly darker skin tone to a selected area, I can just repeat the process 1-2 times.
Or, to give you another example, I keep the “highlight/ midtone/shadow” levels at -31% highlight, -31% midtone and -36% shadow. By using the “Ctrl + M” shortcut, I can quickly make an image (or part of an image) look slightly more shadowy.
If you learn the keyboard shortcuts for the more well-used parts of your editing program, then you’ll be able to do things like this and much more.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂