This is just a new trick I picked up while browsing several tutorial videos on the web. It seems that one of the newest trends these days in graphics is the HDR (high dynamic range) look and the cartoon effect look. I see this look a lot in the mixtape design genre. There are a ton of ways that you can manipulate a photo to achieve these HDR and Cartoon Effect looks. There are even special plugins out there that will help you easily achieve them. However, here, I’m going to focus on a technique that I refer to as smudge painting. With this technique, there’s no need to install any special plugins that aren’t already including in photoshop.
You can start off with an image of your choosing. I started off with an image I found on the internet. It doesn’t even have to be high-res. I actually don’t recommend using a high-res photo. I recommend just finding a portrait online or an interesting image of a face, mainly because I’ll focus on the details in the face with this particular technique. I found this photo of hip hop artist, Game. As you can see, it’s not a huge photo nor is it high-res, but that’s okay since we’re just practicing with a new technique.
So, assuming that you have some basic knowledge with photoshop already, the first thing I would do to this photo is or whatever photo you use is adjust the contrast and brighten it up a little. I would do this by using an adjustment such as the curves (CMD/CTRL + M) and/or playing around with the levels (CMD/CTRL + L). Adjust these to your liking.
From there I would make a copy of the layer, so in case anything goes wrong, you always have your original to go back to. On the copied layer, we’re going to apply a filter. It will be the Paint Daubs filter, which can be found under Filter> Artistic > Paint Daubs. The exact numbers for the adjustment are up to you. I suggest staying in the lower end on each one, but just use your discretion. My example is below. You should be able to see the slight texture that is added to your image.
Next, select the smudge tool (It looks like a downward pointing finger, in the same tool set as the blur tool). Set its strength to about 50% and grab a brush. It can be a round or spatter brush, hardness set to 0. Decrease the size to very small size, and start smudging the face in your image. Make sure to always go in the direction of the shape of the face or object. I found it more comfortable to use my Wacom tablet on this portion of the project, but it can be done with a mouse. Using a trackpad may make this a little more tedious. Compare my before and after images.
You should do this on the entire subject. Using this technique on the background of your image is optional.
Next, apply another filter. This time it will be the Smart Sharpen Filter under Filter>Sharpen>Smart Sharpen. Set the amount to about 100 and the radius at about 4.0. Apply the filter. This will help to bring out some detail in your image. Afterwards, we’re going to do some more smudging. You can decrease the strength of the smudge tool to a lower percentage than what you previously had it set to. Somewhere between 30 and 45% will do. This time just briefly smudge over some of added detail resulting from applying the sharpen filter. By now you should see a drastic improvement in the quality of your image. Now you should see why using a low-res image should not be a big deal, since we smoothed the image out with the smudge tool. At this point, you can play with adjustment layers and other filters to achieve the look that you want. So this is a technique you can use on your creative work to achieve a unique look. Try it out! See my original and finished products below.