It's available for iOS, with an Android version in the works
Ever wanted to turn a photo into a painting? There are plenty of apps and Photoshop filters that can do the job for you, but with most, the effect is pretty limited and the result can look rather feeble. There's an iOS app called Prisma (an Android version is in the works) that steps things up to the next level, in a super-easy to use interface that you really have to try out.
The Prisma app already has plenty of namesakes on the app store, so either follow our link, or be sure to download the app by Prisma Labs, inc. so as to avoid a clone. (Update: You can now download Prisma for Android in addition to Prisma for iOS)
The app itself is pretty straightforward, and reminded us a lot of Instagram, back when it first launched - it's very simple with a basic interface that puts the focus on taking pictures, applying the filters you want, and then sharing them to Twitter or Facebook, instead of cluttering things up with a dozen different options. This same enforced simplicity is one of the reasons why we were such big fans of Paper by FiftyThree as well - the constraints applied by these apps limit your options, but ensure that all of us can quickly and easily create something beautiful.
When you start the Prisma app, it asks for access to your camera and your photos. You don't have to grant access to your camera, as you can edit saved pictures from your gallery, but it's obviously a lot quicker and easier to snap a picture and edit it directly.
Once that's done, the interface is very simple - the top half is a viewfinder that shows you what you're photographing, with a single button to capture the frame. There's also a small thumbnail in the bottom right, which can take you to the saved photos, so you can pick an image to edit from there instead. Either way, once you snap an image or choose a file as your starting point, you're presented with the option of cropping the image, and then it's time to apply the filters - that's all there is to the app.
There are a variety of filters, all based on famous paintings - Edvard Munch's The Scream is a filter, and there's a filter called Mondrian, for Piet Mondrian. Other filters are based on Van Gogh, Picasso, and Levitan. Once you apply the filter, you can swipe across it - swipe to the left to reduce the intensity of the filter, and to the right to increase it to 100 percent - before you're given the option of saving the image, or sharing it to your social networks.
According to Prisma's website, the app uses a combination of neural networks and artificial intelligence to turn pictures into artworks. It's not really clear what this means exactly, or how it's different from the effects applied by similar looking Photoshop filters although the end results with Prisma do tend to look better for the most part.
The Mondrian filter for example, worked a lot better than we were expecting, and managed to impose order on the architecture really well. Some filters work better than others of course - you want to pick a filter where the lines in the sample artwork generally complement the image you're applying it to, and then you'll also want to consider the colours carefully. Applying the Mononoke filter (a reference to Miyazaki), for example, washed out the colours of most images, so it would likely work best with a bright, outdoorsy scene.
We also wanted to see what it would look like if we applied the filters to an actual artwork - so we took a half-finished image from a colouring book and applied different filters to it. Mondrian was an absolute disaster, as was The Scream and most of the others. Eventually, we settled for the Candy filter, which doesn't look too bad, but overall, the app does work better with actual photos.
Also, you're better off working with images that have a lot of detail in them - for example, a close up shot of a Labrador really only applied the effects well to the teeth; the rest of the picture was a lot of golden brown fur, and no filter really had much of an effect on that - the line art filter named Heisenberg actually rendered things into an unrecognisable mess.
On the other hand, a picture of the inside of Tipu Sultan's summer palace looked great, with various lines of geometry that the app could pick up on and apply the filters too.
The same was true for a picture of homemade waffles - lots of lines and bright colours with a fair amount of variation give the app something to work with and the results are pretty good then.
We tested the app using an iPad Pro - it requires iOS 8 or above to run which means it'll work on the iPhone 4S onwards, iPod Touch 5th generation onwards, and iPad 2 as well as original iPad Mini onwards. On our iPad Pro it ran perfectly smoothly, rendering the images in just a couple of seconds, and looking at reviews on the App Store, other people don't seem to have any performance issues either, so it should work well whichever device you're using. The developers say that an Android version is coming soon as well.
Overall, we liked the Prisma app a lot - it really reminds us of Instagram when it first launched. We're not sure how many people will want to use this regularly though, unlike Instagram. The results are pretty stark, and while it's a fun thing to play around with, it's not necessarily something you want to do to all the pictures that you shoot.
That being said, the app is free, and incredibly easy to use, so you should at least give it a shot to see how well it works.
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