I bought Topaz Adjust 4 quite a while ago for a bit of extra punch to my images. After going through the bow-wave of mad editing, I have started to use this plug-in with a little more restraint and this post is about techniques and ideas to use some of the tools within the plugin for less “dramatic” effects. This post also really relates to version 4. I’ve not really looked at Topaz Adjust 5, but if you’re thinking of buying it, it’s likely to be better than 4 and these ideas and techniques can be used no matter what the version. One thing that’s common to both this and BW Effects, is that when you apply the filter effect in Photoshop, it doesn’t add it as a new layer. I find it to be good practise to duplicate your existing layers (CTRL+ALT+SHIFT+E) or if you’re just working on one layer, duplicate that with CTRL+J. This allows you to non-destructively work with just the Topaz Adjust layer on its own.

The Topaz Adjust (4) workspace

The Topaz Adjust (4) workspace

Anyway, lets take a look at the UI in a bit more detail. If you’re used to the Topaz interface, then this will seem quite straightforward. Detailed controls over to the right, presets to the left. In the middle is your edited image, and left clicking on it will bring up your original image overlaid. As with BW Effects, the presets you choose on the left really just modify all the sliders to the right, so there is no “trick” to this. As you can see, I have added a few presets of my own as well as downloaded some, and these just appear at the bottom of the preset list. Also, it’s always worth doing an internet search for more presets!

Topaz Adjust Presets

The gallery below shows before and after comparisons with a handful of presets. I’m not sure if this has changed in version 5, but these presets are quite severe. When viewing the gallery, if it’s not obvious, the “original” file is the one with the red highlights in it. Mobile phone viewers may struggle with the gallery as it’s forced set to 1,000px wide to allow the detail to show through. I think it does a good job though of illustrating how some of these effects are quite strong. As an example though, they serve their purpose.

 

 

Each of the Presets can be adjusted with the sliders on the right, and there are no real “right” ways of doing anything. Version 5 allows one to layer adjustments on top of one another which is a really great feature. Prior to that, I would generally make duplicate layers in Photoshop and just apply a new preset to each one. Don’t be frightened about over-cooking your image with this plug-in. If you apply it as a filter to its own layer in Photoshop, you can control the opacity of it later on. Lastly, the plug-in can add a significant amount of noise to an image. As you can see from this example, it’s well worth using the de-noise function within the plug-in as a “last step” before you confirm any changes back to PS.


Keeping Things Real

Once you have your image back in Photoshop, you can really begin to manipulate the effects. If you have made sure that your Topaz Adjusted image is a layer in its own right, you can alter the opacity of it to lessen the effect. You can also mask off certain areas. This is where a deft touch, and an eye for “not overdoing it” can really help. As you can see in the example below, I have added quite a heavily processed Topaz layer on top of my original image, but by reducing the opacity and masking out certain areas, the effect has been dramatically lessened.



All in all, the Topaz Adjust plug-in is a great tool for adding a little punch to your images with a little finesse. You can find out more, and see other tutorials on the Topaz site here.

As always – thanks for reading! And if you’re interested in the slider I used to show the before and after images, it was a paid-for version from CodeCanyon here. There are free versions of this, but the support is not great and I struggled to get it working in Chrome despite various suggestions for a fix. Just search “BeforeAfter plugin” for more information.

Ian.

(2013 Updated review for BWEffects 2 here)

So it’s been a long while since an update to this site, mainly because of work commitments, and the summer holidays.

With the kids heading off back to school next week though, I thought it time to actually sit down and absorb my emails.

And one email in particular caught my eye. Topaz Labs produce plug-ins for Photoshop (amongst others) and I recently purchased their Topaz Adjust plugin for general tweaking of my images. However to hear that they had a Black & White plugin coming up certainly caught my attention.

Now, I understand that some people feel that Photoshop’s Black & White conversion tools are more than capable, but as I used to do a good deal of black & white work, I spent a good bit of time hunting down plug-ins to do the job. Also, I spent a lot of time reading other people’s reviews of these plug-ins.

To most, Silver Efex Pro is the king of B&W plug-ins – however it has a rather prohibitive price tag for the enthusiastic amateur. Currently, it’s showing as about £140 which is a lot of cash for something that could be argued is do-able in Photoshop (or even Lightroom). At the other end of the scale is BW Styler for $50 (about £30) which is pretty good, but lacks the finesse of the Nik version UI (User Interface). There really isn’t much in-between, and for most, it’s a case of messing about with the various options Lightroom and Photoshop have to offer.

BW Effects is an excellent mid priced tool, and may even have the edge over Nik’s offering. Let’s take a look at what it has to offer…

Overview of the Topaz interface.

A view of the main plug-in window

When launching this from Photoshop, it is best to duplicate your image (CTRL+J) into a new layer first. Then click on “Filter”, “Topaz Labs”, “Topaz BW Effects”. This launches the above window. Creating a duplicate layer allows you to make changes without altering your source image, and is always good practice before making any changes.

This interface window maintains continuity with other Topaz products (in particular Topaz adjust) which makes everything a little easier to understand. 1, 2 & 3 are all areas dealing with presets. 2 being a “top level” menu with 3 showing the expanded versions underneath. If you hover over a preset, you can see the effect in the preview window (1). And there are a LOT of presets! What I tend to find though, is that presets are great to give you a launching point, and by selecting a preset, you will change all the sliders buried in the menus (6).

4 is the main window where you get to see your edits and changes as you make them. Left clicking on this image (with no tools selected) will reveal the original image underneath, but if you prefer a split screen view you can click the option in the top right corner of the window. 5 will show you your original image.

6 is where all the business happens. Clicking on a menu header will open up a series of sub menus underneath. Each of these “options” can be toggled on or off with the check box –  a handy feature for turning off an effect quickly.

An expanded view of the main menu windows

So here you can see the screen with the menus exploded. And there are a lot of controls!

Every time you click on a preset, these controls will change, allowing you to “fine tune” the preset to your own preference. You can then go on to save your tweaked settings as your own preset. No doubt over time, the Topaz community will create new ones…

I’m not going to go through each tool here, as it’s probably best to play around with them as you go.

BW Effects – The Verdict?

It’s $60. However until September 18th, there is a significant reduction on this to $30 with the code “bwandbeyond” entered during the checkout stage. This is an awful lot cheaper than Silver Efex Pro – especially if you buy it before 18th September.

But even after that date, $60 for a plugin of this quality is really very good value for money. My pros and cons below all benchmark this plugin against Silver Efex Pro, which is over five times the discounted price!

The Cons…

I’ll do these first, as they are really nit-picky.

– My biggest bugbear with this program is that as you move the sliders, you have to “let go” of the left mouse button before you can see the effect on the screen. Silver Efex Pro makes the changes as you move the slider, so you can get realtime feedback with your mouse moves. BW Effects has to calculate the effect of the change before presenting it on screen, making it relatively slow in terms of seeing your effect.

– The “extras” aren’t brilliant. The borders are fairly plain (black or white, just a simple extended canvas, no fancy border effects), the “Creative Effects” are of limited use and can be easily replicated within Photoshop. Also,I have been really struggling to get the “Quad Tone” feature to work intuitively, although that could just be comprehension fail on my part.

The Pros…

– Controlled masking. The “Local Adjustments” allow you to really selectively edit/retouch areas of your image with Dodge, Burn, Detail and Smoothness sliders. Whilst this is all available in Photoshop, it’s very handy to have in the plug-in itself. Even Silver Efex Pro doesn’t offer this level of control (although it does have selective retouching – it’s just a circle though).

– I love the duo tone functionality. It can be really really subtle and is one of the few B&W plug-ins that makes subtle duo-toning easy.

In closing, I only really asked myself one question. Is Silver Efex Pro five times better than BW Effects? No. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s right up there with it in terms of functionality and useability. The slider issue (which is really just me being grumpy) is the only thing that lets it down.

So. Head off over to Topaz Labs and download the trial. Don’t forget though – if you decide to purchase, and it’s before September 18th, use the code “bwandbeyond” for a $30 discount.

Thanks for reading! Here are a couple of finished images…

Example image for Topaz B&W Plugin

Example image for Topaz B&W Plugin