Alien Skin Snap Art 3: Instant Art, With Options

Alien Skin’s Snap Art 3 ($199, or $99 for an upgrade from previous versions) is the latest manifestation of image-altering software that works atop the architecture of Photoshop and Lightroom, that is, a plug-in accessible through the Filters menu in Photoshop and for Lightroom as an external editor.


Courtesy of Alien Skin Software

To launch Snap Art from an image in Lightroom you first select the image (or multiple images for batch processing), and select Photo>Edit In>Snap Art 3. You can also right click on the image and select Edit In>Snap Art 3. When Lightroom asks you how to edit the photo, the company recommends you choose “Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments.” This will tell Lightroom to make a copy of the image for Snap Art. You can also check and uncheck the Stack command, depending on how you want to see the image in the Library—choose Stack and you can easily unstack the image later, or just have it sit side by side in the normal Library (unstacked) view.

Photoshop CS4 and CS5 and Lightroom 3 all open the same Snap Art 3 workspace. While getting quick effects through the numerous presets, including oil, pastel, cartoon, line drawing (pencil), impasto, watercolor, and more is fun and easy, the options available are what allow you to personalize each image. There are numerous sliders and tabs for color controls, detail masking effects, brush stroke and width, and more. Add to this the fact that the final image is created as a Layer that you can later modify through opacity and all the other controls available in the host programs and there’s a good bet that the same image worked on by different photographers would not look alike. And Alien Skin assures us that this is a nondestructive editing workflow, so you can experiment to your heart’s content.

Rather than talk my way through the many features and options in the software I thought it best to simply show you some sample images and discuss the workflow on each.


Once you choose the Alien Skin Snap Art 3 Filter (Photoshop) or Photo>Edit In (Lightroom) option this workspace immediately launches with the chosen image. The workspace is divided into left and right panels. The left-side panel shows what the company dubs “Factory” settings. Choose one here, such as Oil Paint, and the right side is immediately populated with the variations for that setting, sliders that let you modify the image to taste. Note that there are also User Settings where you can save your personal combinations for possible use on other images. Or, you can just go to the right side and use a drop-down menu to select the effect, which then also shows the options. The upper right also has tabs that when clicked allow you to change color, background, and something called canvas, all of which have options that allow you to make even more variations. Canvas, by the way, salutes the fact that the surface on which you place the image, the textural undercoat, if you will, also has an effect. This is an important control for those who print on unique stock, and should be especially important for those who print on canvas, watercolor, or other specialty media.
All Photos © George Schaub

Lightroom Access

To get an image from Lightroom use Photo>Edit In and choose Snap Art 3, which evokes this dialog box. See text on options and best practices.

Factory Settings

Click on a Factory Setting such as Oil Paint and you get the start of an image that you can build using the slider options evoked. This selective focus shot was a prime candidate for Snap Art 3 treatment and some of the changes made included brush stroke and size. Once completed, I opened Levels in Photoshop and opened up the shadow areas even more. The program creates a Layer with the effect atop the original file, which can then be subjected to all the other controls the host program affords.

Image & Opacity

Because the image is placed in a Layer you can work it further using all the Photoshop or Lightroom controls at your disposal. This cityscape (far left) was opened from Photoshop and I chose the Pencil Sketch>Landscape - Charcoal effect. I played with some width sliders and then chose Canvas to play with background brightness. The finished image is a result of reducing the opacity of the Snap Art 3 effect in the Layers palette to about 50 percent. I then worked in Levels to balance out the tonal values to my liking.

Pastel & Layers






One of my favorite effects for landscape images turned out to be the Pastel effect. This vivid photo of aspen trees (A) was opened from Lightroom and I chose the Pastel>Long Strokes option (B). Look at the detail to see how the image has been affected (C). Once done the Snap Art 3 change was placed in a Layer, where I modified the values with a Levels correction and then finalized it (D) with a composite sharpening Layer (Command/Option/Shift>E).



Converting photo images for use as drawing and illustration purposes is easy. Here this colorful clown statue (left) found in an amusement park was converted with one step, the Oil Paint/Abstract/Impressionist preset (right). I also played with saturation in an Adjustment Layer after it was loaded back to Photoshop.

Canvas Setup

Those who print on canvas and other specialty media will appreciate the ability to add texture via a sort of textural undercoating available in the program. This portrait was treated with the Pastel>Portrait>Oil Pastel effect.

Alien Skin’s Snap Art 3 is compatible with current Mac and Windows systems for Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS4 and CS5. See Alien Skin’s website,, for more details and to download a limited time free trial.