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Add character to your images with the Noise filters

Added on Monday 2nd of May 2011 04:14 am EST


Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5

Operating Systems:

Macintosh, Microsoft Windows


You probably put a lot of effort into eliminating noise from your images. But, noise isn’t always a bad thing, especially when you control where and how it appears. We’ll show you how to add a special look to your images with the Noise filters.


To give your images appeal with the Noise filters, we’ll:

•     Explain how to determine what images are best for added noise.

•     Show you how to add noise to a flat background color.

•     Create a watercolor look by adding noise to an image.


The noise filters are great for adding texture to flat areas as the springboard for many Photoshop artistic techniques. But don’t be afraid to add noise to enhance your digital images. The truth is, noise has a place in many images, especially those scanned from photographs. Not only that, but noise can add character and interest to a flat area of color, improving the overall quality of an image. So where’s the best place to use noise in an image? Let’s examine this question now.


Noise 101

Noise is a very useful tool when applied properly. The word properly is interchangeable with sparingly in the preceding sentence, since applying too much noise can detract from an image. It’s also important to decide how to apply the noise, whether you should use Uniform or Gaussian distribution, whether the noise should be applied in color or monochromatic, and of course where to apply the noise. Noise can be used in many different situations, such as enhancing a flat area of color that needs some character and depth, retouching scanned photographs, and exporting a gradient fill to the limited palette GIF format. In this article, we’ll walk you through making these choices with two examples: adding noise to a flat background and creating a watercolor effect.


Background noise

Let’s add some texture to a flat background to see how it improves an image. Open a file with a uniform background such as the eagle image shown in Figure A.



To add noise to a flat area of color:

1.       Select the Magic Wand tool.

2.      Set the Tolerance setting to around 16. Also, make sure that the Anti-aliased check box is selected.

3.      Click on the background area.

4.      Select the Edit In Quick Mask Mode button, and you’ll see your object masked in red, as shown in Figure B.



5.      Select Filter > Noise > Median from the menu bar. The Median filter is actually a noise reduction filter, and will help smooth the edges of our selection.

6.      Apply the Median filter with a Radius of 1 pixel and click OK. Leave Quick Mask mode and then select Filter > Noise > Add Noise, as shown in Figure C.



Experiment with the settings in the Add Noise dialog box. Switch between Uniform and Gaussian distribution, select and deselect the Monochromatic check box, and drag the Amount slider from left to right and back again. Gaussian Noise (named for German mathematician Karl Gauss), applies noise in random clumps. Uniform Noise, as you may have guessed, applies the noise in a uniform, though still random manner. Moving the Amount slider can change a noise effect from subtle to overwhelming, and often, amounts under 10% are most suitable. Selecting ...


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