Cutout Filter In Photoshop

Where ?

Photoshop cutout filter is a powerful effect found in the filter gallery of the application. Unlike the other tools in the application, it is part of a group of other effects such as film grain, colored pencil, neon glow and many others. You can add the effect once as well as multiple times in the same gallery tool though there is no blending between the settings but each application of the effect can have different settings and the combination of those multiple effects can be used to create all kinds of unique flattened, broken, etc images. It has been around a long time, it was part of the Aldus tools in the very early days.

Basic use

Select an image, any image or perhaps just a layer and then go to the gallery and apply the effect. Set the number of levels and edge simplicity and edge fidelity and check the result in the preview. You will see the smooth image turn into a much sharper color limited image in seconds. Unfortunately, the settings cannot be extended, quite often I always feel the number of levels of 8 maximum is too low a limit. You can increase the edge fidelity but keeping it low can be used to create all kinds of lovely abstract designs

Setup / settings

The effect is for RGB 8bit images only so if you set the color mode to CMYK or 32bit etc then you will find the menu entry will be disabled, this should not be the case if you are using it only in 8bit mode. The panel has only a few settings but they are very effective.


the lower the setting, the more abstract the image with hardly any features appearing. Set the number of levels to 2 and hardly anything appears, the image is reduced to very few visible highlights

Edge simplicity

The higher the setting, the more the image will be lost and replaced with solid colors.

Edge fidelity

Probably the least effective of the settings with very subtle changes with either maximum or minimum but it does come in useful if the image is noisy. If you want more of your image then the best settings for the effect are levels 8 and edge simplicity 0. If you want a more cubist like image then set the number of levels to 8 and edge simplicity 10. If you want a fairly flat scene then set the levels to 2 and edge simplicity to 10.

Realistic images but limited colors

Set the edge fidelity high and the result can be a more realistic image but with a limited range of colors. I always find the end result a little dull which needs a little more work with adjustments such as using auto tone or vibrance or the levels adjustment.

Presets / actions

Sadly, there are no presets features available with the set, none of the gallery effects have any presets. A workaround for this is to use the actions panel and you can set up an action or a number of actions for the effect and then you can simply click those and run that action and the action can be made up of one or more of the same effect. Use the recording feature on the panel to record the steps and then playback via the same panel. It does mean you can also use the effect on a whole selection of files by using the file menu and automate and batch so all your images can be turned into weird and wonderful abstract color limited designs in seconds instead of going to each image in turn and applying the effect. The only issue is that the same settings will be applied each and every time.

Combine with other tools

As with many, it works best in combination with others such as the Gaussian blur or spin blur or oil paint or twirl The one below used the effect along with oil paint and that means the sharp edges of the effect can be smeared and as with any tool, it can be applied multiple times. You can also combine the effect with the end result of any oil effect. I really don't like to see effects described as one click tricks or one trick ponies etc, they can be used in countless ways to create many unique artworks.

Sketch effect

You can create an amazing sketch effect by combining the Gaussian blur along with CF as well as combining that with find edges. Go to the Gaussian blur and set a radius of 10 and CF effect with levels 3 and edge simplicity 3 and then go to the CF again and run it with levels 8 and edge simplicity 7 and then use the find edges effect to create the scratchy and sketchy lines. All of this can be saved to an action and can be re-applied at any time. Actually, the edge fidelity really kicks in on the second pass. With the first application of the effect, the edge fidelity had hardly any effect but with two passes you can see the change with the edge fidelity. Repeat the effect to create a still recognizable design (in most cases) but still now very flattened.

Noise effect

It should be noted that the results will vary depending on the source image. I am using a 1000 x 1000 image but the effect may vary with a noisy image and 4000 x 4000. Combine it with a noise effect such as add grain and then apply the CF and you end up with a more fractal design

Reapply / Repeat the effect

You can use the effect and if you wish, re-apply it either by going to the gallery as before or you can also use the repeat option at the top of the menu (shift command / control and F if you are using the standard shortcuts). It does mean that you can rapidly re-apply the same settings instead of having to re-enter them etc. The result depends on the settings but you can reduce the color as well as the structure of the image in countless ways just by a few re-applies of the effect

Fade the effect

As with all the effects, you can use the gallery effect and then go to the edit menu and fade the result. You can also use the fade to change the opacity and the blending mode of the effect and that can be used to create interesting visual effects such as a blocky effect (set the levels to a low value and edge simplicity to a high value) and then using the edit menu and fade with the divide blending mode for a very surreal looking artwork. You can also use other blending modes as well. You can also then combine the result with adjustments to re-color the end result as I often find the colors from the CF are always a little too dull.


The great thing about the effect is that the result is often large expanse of a single color and that is great for a selection using the magic wand tool. You can either select the areas of the result and then copy and paste them onto different layers as well as just using the selection of the solid color areas and filling them with different colors such as gradients or perhaps random fill patterns using a selection

colors / Black and White

It is great for creating abstract art but sometimes the result of averaging out an image can be a fairly unsaturated and dull design without a little tweaking and I always find the camera raw or some of the adjustments super useful to finish on. I would suggest going to the image menu and using the adjustments and vibrance and boosting the colors. You can also do the same with the powerful layer menu and new adjustment layer and vibrance. Or turn the image into a black and white artwork via the black and white adjustment or perhaps use on of the color LUT adjustments found in the same adjustments menu.

smart Objects - super container

You can also use the effect with the powerful smart effects. Convert the image into a smart object via the layer menu and smart objects and then apply it to that and the great thing about the smart objects is that they can be edited at any time in the future and the effect settings can be changed. It does also mean you can move the effect around or disable it any point.


You can duplicate the image and then with the new layer selected, the effect can be applied to that and then the two layers can be combined in many different ways and you can always five or six effects and combine them all into one via the layers panel and flatten the image later via the layer menu

Vector art / Cartoon

This is a wonderful tool for creating vector art. Before I start, I like to apply a quick oil paint to the image with the settings to the max but that depends on the size of the image, not so effective with smaller images. For the best results with the main tool in the gallery, set number of levels to 5, simplicity to 5 and edge fidelity to 2 (basically all in the middle). You can even use the repeat feature. Go to the image menu and adjustments and levels and change the input levels to the left for the highlight level and press OK. Go to the image menu and adjustments and vibrance and set to 46 / 84 etc to brighten up the image and make it a whole more cartoon and vibrant. You may or many not like to add an edge (I have never been a fan of this effect). Go to the find edges command and apply (there are no options, even in 20 or 30 years after its introduction) and then go to the edit menu and fade and set blending mode to multiply. Repeat find edges and fade command.