Saturday, October 22, 2011

Photoshop's Cutout Filter

Renate asked how I use Photoshop to help me define areas of color (which I mentioned when I described how I made my "Midsomer Tomato" quilt above, so I thought I'd demonstrate here. 

First, you start with a photo.  Here's one of some hydrangea florets that I took a few summers ago.

I open it in Photoshop, and go to the "filters" menu, then under the "Artistic" filter options, choose "cut out."  It selects color areas for you. One click, and voila:

When you choose the "cut out" filter,  a menu will pop up that will allow you to slide bars to select edge fidelity, color complexity, and the like.  You can slide them back and forth to see what they do, but they provide various ways of adding or subtracting detail.  If you bear in mind that you're going to try to use the color areas you see as pieces of fabric, you'll remember that keeping it simple while including just the detail you need is the goal.  Here's a simpler version of the same image:

Remember, you can add back detail with thread wok.  So maybe all you want is a fabric base on which to thread paint more color and detail?  Or maybe you want the fabric to do the work, so you'll want more detail?  It's up to you. 

Once I get to this point, I print out the image at what I want the finished size to be.  (I often have to do this by taping 8 x 11 sheets together because that's all my printer will do.)  Then, with a black relatively heavy-line black sharpy, I trace the color areas.

Here's a shot of the tomato one:

You can see that I take each color (in the tomato case, I had reds, blues, and greens) and I assign Dark, Light and Medium value labels. 

Then I trace the whole thing onto tracing paper, and then I trace pattern shapes and assemble from there using the marked image as my guide.  It's sort of tedious but it's really fun to see the picture taking shape.  I don't follow this slavishly -- it's meant to be a fabric painting, after all, not a paint-by-number project. So use your artistic judgment and have fun.

I should add that I never use Photoshop Elements so I don't know if Elements as a "cutout" filter.  Sometimes there is a filter called Posterize that can do similar things. 


  1. Diane, Thank you for the detailed explanation of how you do this. I don't have PShop, but I did find my iMac Pixelmater program has Posterize and I played around with a few pictures there---very keel!

  2. This is just the sort of thing I've been wishing for: easy step-by-step instructions for pattern making from photos. The only thing I'm lacking is Photoshop in any version, Illustrator, or like software. If I were to invest in one of these programs, or ask Santa for one, which would be best for this sort of thing? I do some photography, but can't see that I need a very sophisticated software product to accomplish what I want. Perhaps you, Diane, and your readers would like to offer suggestions and experience? I'm using a laptop PC. By the way, I admire almost all of your art, but your cherry tomato quilt is one of my favorites.

  3. Nancy, Photoshop Elements is a "lite" but still extremely powerful version of Photoshop and it is much less expensive than the full version. I use it daily in resizing images to use on the web; as a design tool; and preparing high resolution images for exhibition proposals and quilt show entries. I'd be lost without it!

    Free options include Picasa/Google (which I don't like because it doesn't offer resizing tools) and GIMP is also very powerful).

    Diane/Renate, Photoshop Elements has the same Artistic>Cut Out filter.

  4. Thank you so very much Diane for the detailed explanation of this technique. I have often wondered how this was accomplished. I will have to give this a try. Brenda, that's for the FYI on PShop Elements which is the software that I have. I have yet to use it, but now I will definitely play.

  5. Thank you for your step by step tutorial which I find so helpful.I want to try it on a portrait and do a pop art Andy Warhol project.

  6. Diane, I love the sparkle and shine of those tomatoes! Great fabric selection.

    For Nancy, Illustrator is a drawing program and cannot be used to do this kind of manipulation of photos. I use both Photoshop and Illustrator, but in very different ways. I wrote a couple blog posts about using Illustrator starting with this one:

    I think it explains some of the differences.

  7. Brenda, thanks for the info that Elements has the Cutout filter. I know a lot of people who use Elements and it is much more affordable.

  8. Great explanation of how you turn a photo into a quilt. And I love your tomato quilt - it's beautiful. I use photoshop elements myself, and before reading all the comments, I checked to see if it had the cutout filter, which it does.