cutout Filter in Photoshop tutorial

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By Andrew Buckle, Updated : 2021

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Cutout filter in Adobe Photoshop for abstract artworks as well as reducing color and much more. It is a simple filter to use but it is an effective tool that reduces the color or flattens or abstracts an image in many artistic ways. This is a run through of many of the features of the powerful cutout filter which can be used with other features such as brushes and shapes as well as other effects in Adobe Photoshop CC 2021 2020 etc. You can apply the effect multiple times, fade it, combine in actions and much more. The key thing, is that the effect can be found in the gallery plugin and can be used with images as well as layers etc



1. Where ?

It is a powerful filter 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 filters in the very early days.


2. 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

3. 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.


Number of levels : 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.


4. 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.


5. 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 usingh the file menu and automate and batch so all your images can be turned into weird and wondeful 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.


6. Combine with other tools

As with many filters in the filter gallery, it works best in combination with other filters such as the gaussian blur or spin blur filter or oil paint or twirl filter. 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.

7. 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 thise 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.

8. 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


9. 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 / ctrol 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


10. 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.

11. fills

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 (now that would be a very useful feature for the filter, the ability to place the solid colors on 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


12. colors

The effect 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 filter 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.


13. smart filters

You can also use the effect with the powerful smart filters. Convert the image into a smart object via the layer menu and smart objects and then apply the filter 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 disbale it any point.


14. layers

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