• Price When Reviewed: 136

  • Pros: Excellent pencil drawing-style output.

  • Cons: Many bugs; odd, slow workflow.

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10We rate this 7 out of 10 We rate this 7 out of 10

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This review is taken from our group test of Photoshop CS4 plug-ins.

There are many plug-ins that claim to turn your photos into pencil art – and most do a worse job of it than a chimp with a blunt 2B. Akvis’ Sketch is the only plug-in we’ve seen that produces decent pencil drawing from images, though it’s let down by a wonky workflow and some bad bugs.

When you first apply the Sketch plug-in, your image appears with the standard layout of tools on the left, commands and before-and-after tabs above and settings on the right. On your image is a small dotted rectangle that shows a preview of the effects of your settings. You modify your settings, then press the Run button to see how your effect will look, which takes five to ten seconds. Then things get strange.

If you want to modify your sketch, you alter the parameters, and return to the ‘before’ tab so that the preview rectangle provides an instant preview of your settings. Except that the preview rectangle is often nowhere to be seen. Certain parameters will update in real-time. We can see why some changes are instant – such as the level of colour that bleeds through – and why some re-render the whole image, but Sketch doesn’t tell you which are which until you try them.

Another deeply annoying bug is that if you attempt to make Sketch’s dialog box too large, your image corrupts and stays that way, even if you quit out. CMYK images and Smart Objects aren’t supported, either.

What makes Sketch worthwhile is the effect’s quality. You can modify the angle, length limits and size of strokes; the intensity and hatching of midtones; and whether to apply watercolour, charcoal and colouration. You can also apply a canvas effect, and there are tools for applying effects to only part of an image.

Supported hosts: Photoshop 6/7/CS-CS4, standalone