Out of the hundred of fantastic tools available in Adobe Photoshop, there are a handful that are purely artistic; and while these may not make the cut for a professional’s gallery, they can be an exciting addition to your photo editing repertoire. Using certain filters and actions can make your photos look interestingly vintage in just one sweep of the brush. Whether you want to mimic the gorgeous characteristic blues of a cyanotype, or harness the faded yellows of an antique print, the Smart Brush tool can help you out.

You can find your Smart Brush tool in the side toolbar, along with the other photographic tools like the spot healing brush, clone stamp, and red eye removal. Then you’ll notice on your bottom bar, a menu of presets will become available (including all purpose, artistic, portrait, and nature, to name a few) from a selection bar. For today, we’ll be working from the “photographic” preset menu, and we’ll be exploring a few different photo processing techniques that have remained popular through the decades.


First, I’ll open a sample photo that has already received the basic editing adjustments for color, lighting, contrast, and tone. From there, I’ll make sure the Smart Brush is selected in my side toolbar, and my preset menu is set on “photographic”. I’d like to then start with my personal favorite, the tin type process!


The tin type was first made popular in the late 1800’s, and it used a direct transfer of the image onto a thin piece of metal coated with a colloidal silver or gelatin emulsion. It produced soft, warm tones of browns and grays, and is still a beautiful look for modern photos. But nowadays, no toxic chemicals are needed- just the tin type preset for the smart brush!


Because this is a brush and not a full layer, you’ll need to “brush on” your tin type. Granted, this is kind of cheating, but is a very easy and fast way to get the look without piling on layer upon complicated layer! So make sure your mouse icon is large, and sweep over your entire image until it is all covered. From there, if you wish, you may adjust the opacity settings if the filter is too strong for your tastes (for the purpose of this tutorial, all filters are at 100% opacity). Here is my before and after with the tin type:



As you can see, the lovely brownish tones create both a timeless and romantic look, great for things like portraits, landscapes, or even architecture!


Next up, one of the most iconic alternative processing styles: the cyanotype. This is where the original “blueprint” came from back in the mid 1800’s; the chemical reactions of ammonium citrate, potassium ferricyanide and UV light create the rich color called Prussian blue. You may remember creating something similar as a child, using pre-coated paper and laying plants or other objects on it, and placing it out in the sun! This process is incredibly simple, but can be replicated in Photoshop even more quickly, like so:



The unique shades and tones of this type of process pair especially well with architecture, botany, and other scientifically-leaning pursuits.


Lastly, for anyone who has enjoyed sifting through a box of old photographs in their parent’s attic, the “yellowed” process is a fun and nostalgic twist on a modern digital image. Most prints made these days do not yellow over time, as they are typically made from cotton fiber papers: the cellulose-based paper of decades ago contained a compound that would react with the air and light, creating an acidic substance as it degraded. This would yellow the image over time, which some people still find desirable and charming.


But without tracking down cellulose paper, you can create this grungy vintage look with your Photoshop Smart Brush. And because of the strength, this may be a great filter to adjust the opacity on- depending on the “age” of the photo you’re trying to mimic. Here’s mine, at 100% opacity:



Just at a glance, it brings to mind the old yet timeless photos that you might stumble across in a long-forgotten basement box. The yellowed photo is always a nice and easy editing process to have on hand!


So, as you can see, the Smart Brush has much more fun in store than people ever imagine- far from simply whitening teeth or brightening eyes! Give these three filter types a try and see what you think, then play around with some of the other great preset options available to you. Until next time, when we delve even deeper into the Smart Brush, that is!


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