Review: PaintMee and SketchMee for Mac

No, that's not a photo, it's an ultra high-res, detailed sketch of a photo (scroll down)

The Mac has long been thought of the “artists” computer, but what if you can’t paint or draw worth a lick? Well, odds are even if you can’t paint, you can probably take a blurry photo, right? Well, that might be all you need in order to create works of art, thanks to PaintMee (Mac App Store $7.99) and SketchMee (Mac App Store $7.99).

Zooming in, you can see the thousands of tiny strokes that make up this picture of my niece

Both apps work under the same principal. Basically you open up a photo from your hard drive and then adjust a series of parameters ranging from media types, color and stroke accuracy, canvas/paper textures, angles etc, and you keep playing around until you get a look you like. Each line of your drawing/painting is laid down as a vector line, meaning it can be scaled to any size (in the Pro version, at least – read on for that). To get you started there’s a set of 9 or so presets you can choose from, and once you get a look you like you can save your own presets. Helpful tooltips appear when you mouse over each option giving you an idea of how adjusting each parameter will affect your outcome.

SketchMee Mac

Here'sone of my favorite shotes of my daughter and I from my brother's wedding, turned into a sketch.

Still, in general you’ll need to play around quite a bit to get the look you’d like, however both apps work quite quickly, and the redraw speed is pretty fast, even on my 3 year old MacBook Pro. Oddly, there’s an option to slow down the redraw speed if you’d like, to as long as an hour. I must admit it’s kind of fun to watch, and it almost has the effect of a screensaver, as you can watch your drawing appear stroke by stroke. It would have been a nice bonus if the developer included a companion screensaver option that would perhaps scan your Photos folder and pic random images to apply different looks to. (This might be a good idea for a standalone screensaver app, if the developer happens to be reading this).

SketchMee's options left, PaintMee's options on the right

Of course, these apps can’t work magic. In general, you WILL still need a decent photo as a starting point, in terms of composition and such. Also, photos with better lit subjects, and decent contrast will work better than poorly lit ones. One interesting thing about the way the apps work is that in general you don’t need a super high res starting image in order to get a great looking painting or sketch. In fact, I found that more often than not, using a medium to low res shot produced a more “painterly” or “sketchy” look than using a 8 mega pixel or higher image. However, there are some times you might want the extra detail. For example, Notice the difference in detail between the the low-res image source on the left, and the high res source on the right.

Using a Low res source Left, or a high res source right reveal different painterly looks and levels of detail

Final output is a JPG up to 16 megapixels, but both PaintMee and SketchMee come in “Pro” versions for an additional $32 each. For that rather large increase, you gain the ability to: Export any sketch razor sharp in sizes up to 128 megapixels. (Compared to 16 megapixels in basic version.), as well as a slew of new export options, including PNG, layered PSD,and PDF export. While most people will not need these options, the ability to export your creations as high-res PDFS, scalable to ANY size, will certainly be worth it for a select few.

When your image is done, if you aren’t 100% happy or just want to experiment, you can tweak it in Photoshop or Pixelmator or your favorite image editor, to tweak colors, if need be. I had some fun taking a sketch of a photo and then overlaying it on top of a painting of the same photos, using Photoshop’s blending modes to achieve some fun looks.

Issues

My only real problem with both apps is a lack of options when it comes to media looks. And honestly, this is more a criticism of the the Pro versions of both apps than the $7.99 standard versions. For instance, the PaintMee app really seems to just have an “acrylic” type look, and while you can vary a lot of parameters, you aren’t going to be able to make a watercolor. It would be nice if you could choose between styles like Oil, watercolor, acrylic, etc, or even if they gave you famous artist looks to start as templates, like Van Gogh, Cézanne, etc. Similarly, with the SketchMee, there is a choice of Pencil, colored Pencil, and Chalk, (as well as a “combo” setting) but to me the colored pencil and chalk look more like paint than sketch lines. I would love to see options such as pen and ink, marker, crayon, charcoal etc, at least in the pro versions.


Conclusion

The basic version of both SketchMee and PaintMee ($7.99 each on the Mac App store) are both fun apps to play with, and you can achieve some really fun looks with them. As you might assume, better lit photos will yield better drawings and painting, but with some tweaking you can usually get something cool looking. For the $40 pro versions, I feel the cost of upgrade is too high for most users given the benefits, and a wider selection of painting and sketch styles would make the price more reasonable.

Comments
One Response to “Review: PaintMee and SketchMee for Mac”
  1. andrew says:

    It still looks too photorealistic to me, like an effect rather than artwork. It’s just a gimmick that one would embarrass oneself if one used this software to generate “art” for public display or use. I put this kind of software in the same category as “clipart”, OK to use for development & preliminary layout but totally useless for work product.

    Those that need artwork but can’t draw will do a lot better to get the services of an art student.

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