Shapes 5: Converting a Photograph into Shapes in Corel Painter

Painter's Shapes feature is typically used for creating hard-edged vector art. However, it is possible to utilize a photographic source as the starting point for creating Shapes art, as well. The result can be some uniquely graphic results.

Initial Photograph

The photographic subject of this exercise is an old manual typewriter. Photographs are sometimes referred to as continuous tone graphics—they are made up of a tonal scale of many levels. Prior to the ubiquity of full-color printing, photographs were often reduced to line art—they were black and white only. This enabled printing of photographic sources with a single ink—usually black— on white paper stock. Today, this effect is often employed to produce a retro graphic effect. This exercise details the process of converting a continuous tone image to line art.

Outline with the Pen Tool

In order to accentuate the typewriter, it is necessary to remove the dark background surrounding it in the photo. The Shapes Pen tool (Tool palette) is used to outline the typewriter.

Convert to a Selection

After outlining with the Pen tool, the resulting Shape is converted into a selection via the Convert to Selection command (Shapes menu).

Knock Out the Background

To remove the background, the selection is first inverted (Select menu). This selects everything but the typewriter. Pressing the Delete key eliminates the selected background.

Convert to Line Art

With the typewriter isolated from its background, it is time to convert the photograph to line art. In this instance, it is accomplished via the Distress effect (Effects > Surface Control). Distress reduces continuous tone information to line art by interposing the current Paper Grain with an image and either emphasizing or de-emphasizing the Paper Grain in relation to the luminance values present in the photograph.

The result produces illusion of continuous tonality by the varying Paper Grain elements' size. The eye interprets the varying spot sizes as gray levels. Even though the photograph has been reduced to a single color—black on a white background—it is still readable as an image of a typewriter. In this example, the Small Dots Paper Grain was used, but different Paper Grains can be used to produce a wide variety of interesting results.

Conversion to Shapes

Conversion to Shapes is a two step process. First, the pixel-based line art is converted to a selection via the Auto Select command (Select menu) using Image Luminance. This creates a selection based on the luminance values of the pixels that comprise the line art typewriter image.

The resulting selection is then converted to Shapes via the Convert to Shape command (Select menu). It is important to note here that highly complex selections comprised of thousands—or even hundreds—of selection elements can be cause for Painter to get unstable, resulting in a crash. The primary limiting factor is the amount of available memory Painter has available. For the best results, reduce the complexity continuous tone art as much as possible when converting to line art.

Resolution Independent Scaling

To manipulate the resulting set of Shapes as a single entity, use the Shape Selection tool to drag a rectangle around the image, then Group them (Layer menu). With the Layer Adjuster (Tool menu) active, a set of adjustment handles appear at the corners and sides of the Shapes group. To re-size proportionally, hold down the Shift key and drag a corner handle.

Because this is not in the domain of Shapes, this line art object can be scaled without any loss of quality. It is resolution independent.

That's All There Is!

Shapes provides a variety of tools and techniques for elegantly handling situations in which pixel-based tools won't do the job. Shapes is a handy tool in Painter's arsenal. It pays to get familiar with them for those unique situations that just can't be done any other way.

Viva la Painter!

Shapes 5: Converting a Photo into Shapes in Corel Painter