I’m a big fan of using textures in my images. Not only do they bring life and interest to an image, they are also very effective in binding together the separate elements of a composite piece. One of my favourite texturing apps is Distressed FX (iOS – iPhone/iPad), created by accomplished artist and texture designer, Cheryl Tarrant.
Learn with the sample image
One of the features that stands out most when you first open the app, is being greeted with a sample image to practise on (shown above). It has been specially chosen to show off the effects and it’s a great way of learning how to use the various tools before moving on to editing your own images. I’m using the example image for the review.
Gels and textures
Below our image, on the main screen, are two rows of swatches, these are the Gels and Textures and are the basis of working with the app. To begin with, we have the choice of 20 gels, these are for adding colour gradients, vignettes and other effects such as clouds and patterns. Beneath the gels are 18 textures including papers, scratched and worn effects and more. Tapping one of the swatches on either row applies the effect to the image; we can combine one gel and one texture. In many cases, this is all that’s needed as the presets have been carefully crafted to work straight off the bat. If we want to remove a gel or texture, just swipe to the beginning of each row and tap the None tile.
Fine-tuning and effects
The preset gels and textures have been designed to give great results without any adjustment. However, we also have the option of editing the image further by adjusting the tone and adding other effects and design elements. This is done using the tools provided along the bottom of the image section.
1. The Blur Tool (droplet icon)
This tool lets us soften the image around a circular radius; everything outside the circle is affected. Dragging the guide circle with one finger moves the centre of effect around the image, pinching the guide increases and decreases the area of effect. The density of the effect is controlled with the slider at the bottom. Tapping the tick accepts the edit, the cross cancels it.
2. The Silhouettes (bird icon)
These are overlays that add objects to our image. The app comes with the Original Birds pack preinstalled. Tapping the bird icon brings up the silhouette library. Choose the desired overlay by tapping it. Once added, we can pinch to increase and decrease the size of the birds or use two fingers to rotate them. The slider at the bottom controls the opacity of the overlay. As with the blur, the tick accepts the edit and the cross cancels.
Both the Blur and Silhouette effects can be edited and undone by going back into the respective tool; the blur is cancelled using the cross, as we would when first using the effect. The birds can be replaced by tapping another preset, or removed by tapping the the circle with a line through it at the top of the screen.
3. Image adjustments (sliders icon)
Here we can adjust the image tone, colour and the strength of the gel and texture. The three sliders on the image control the overall brightness, contrast and colour saturation. It’s worth noting that these adjustments affect the base image, not the overlays and effects. The two sliders at the bottom control the density of the gel and texture respectively. Curiously, there is only a cross on this screen, which applies the changes when tapped. To undo the adjustments we need either go back into the adjustment and reset the sliders manually or tap the chosen gel or texture again. I find this a little counter-intuitive but you do get used to it.
Compounding overlays and effects
Unlike some other editing apps, layering our effects is fairly limited in DistressedFX. At any one time, we can overlay one gel and one texture, along with one instance of blur and a silhouette preset. If we want to be more creative and add additional effects, we first need to merge (flatten) the image. To do this press and hold one finger on the image. We see a message warning us this cannot be undone. This is final and we will not be able to revert to the image before it was merged, other than reloading your base image and starting again.
Flattening the image is not a huge problem, as long as we’re happy with our work up to that point. It’s a small compromise for the results that we can achieve with multiple effects and, in future versions, the developers may add a more versatile layering system. Once flattened, using the image adjustment tools will also affect the original textures of the flattened image, as it is now treated as a base image.
The remaining tools
At the top of the main screen there are five icons. The Camera icon on the far left is the image importer. Tapping this gives us the option of taking a photo or importing one from the camera roll (after initially granting permissions). Both options allow us to crop the image before opening it in the editing screen.
The next icon is the Reset button. This will take us back to the last point before flattening the image, or to the initial image if we haven’t applied and flattened any effects up to this point. As with flattening the image, this cannot be undone, so use with caution! It’s a good idea to save our work at key stages, just in case.
Next is the Magnifier. It’s not always easy to see the detail of a texture or effect on the image in the main edit screen, particularly on the iPhone version. Selecting the Magnifier tool opens the image enlarged in full screen, where we can pan around the image with a single finger, or pinch to zoom in and out to examine it up close. Tapping the cross takes us back to the main edit screen.
The next icon takes us to the app creator’s biography, where we can read about the drive behind DistressedFX and also see the app credits and visit the website, where work created in the app by other artists is showcased.
Finally, there is the Sharing icon. From here we can choose to save the image to the camera roll, send it to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter or send as an email attachment. Clicking the three dots at the bottom gives us the sharing options provided by iOS and other installed apps.
The default gels and textures are easily enough to produce some great artwork from our photos and composites but if we want to get more creative still, we can purchase additional packs of gels and textures. Each pack costs £0.99 (at time of writing) and contains between 8 and 12 additional overlays – they are occasionally given away as part of an app update, too.
To access the additional packs, both before and after purchase, swipe to the very end of each row to reveal the Pack Switcher (suitcase icon). Tapping this takes us to the catalogue where we can preview the effects, displayed on an example image, by clicking the eye icon, buy new packs and switch between the packs we already own. Switching packs replaces the swatches on the main screen with content of the selected pack(s). We can purchase additional silhouette packs, containing more birds and also trees, by tapping the suitcase icon at the top-right of the Silhouettes library screen. We can switch between the pack libraries using the icons at the bottom of the gel and texture library but for some reason, not from the bird/tree library.
Next to the pack browser button on the Textures row is the Custom button. This allows us to import our own images from the camera roll to use as a texture overlay. The chosen image must be equal to or larger than the dimensions of the image you’re editing, it won’t be stretched to fit.
Distressed FX is a fabulous app for quickly and easily creating painterly and distressed artwork with your photos and composite images. There are a few limitations but nothing that spoils the experience. I highly recommend it.