Creating Art with Topaz Labs Clean

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Topaz Labs Clean review

Topaz Labs Clean is a simple plug-in for removing texture or detail from photos. There’s some irony in this because in black and white photography I am looking for ways to enhance texture and detail. Indeed, it’s the ability of plug-ins like Silver Efex Pro 2 and Black & White Effects 2 to enhance texture in ways that you can’t in Lightroom or Photoshop that make them so appealing and useful. So it’s interesting to see that there is a plug-in that does the opposite. But why would you? There are three main applications:

1. Skin smoothing.
2. Making the metalwork on cars look super smooth.
3. Turning photos into works of art.

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

Skin smoothing

There’s not a lot to say here from the point of view of Lightroom users because there is no way to make local adjustments. The smoothing effect is applied to the entire image, and that is something we don’t want as the idea is to make the skin look nicer, without affecting the eyes, lips, hair and background.

You’ll get better results within Lightroom by using the Adjustment Brush with the Soften Skin preset, and outside of Lightroom by using OnOne Software’s Perfect Portrait (part of Perfect Photo Suite 8).

However, if you use Clean from Photoshop you can create a mask and apply Clean locally, so it only affects the skin.

Let’s look at how it works. The first thing you’ll notice is that the Clean layout is quite simple. There are presets on the left, adjustment panels on the right and the photo you are working on is displayed in the middle.

Topaz Labs Clean review

Clean has seven presets, and I started by selecting SkinEven. As you can see in the above screenshot, the effect is too strong.

That means we have have to go to the right-hand panels and see if there’s a way to get a better result. There are three:

Clean: This panel is for making your image smoother.

Edges: Cleans edges, making them smoother and more noticeable. Good for emphasising textures.

Texture: Recovers and enhances detail lost by using the other panels. This panel is key to creating a natural look.

By reducing the strength of the effect in the Clean panel and increasing the amount of Texture I was able to create a very subtle skin smoothing effect. Here’s the before and after comparison:

Topaz Labs Clean review

Making cars or metal look super shiny and smooth

There are some stunning images on the Topaz Clean webpage showing the results of this technique. Again, Clean is at its most flexible when you run it from Photoshop, but let’s take a look at how it performs from Lightroom.

I tried it with the following photo:

Topaz Labs Clean review

I used the CrispStyle preset without any further adjustments. The before and after versions are below. The differences are barely visible when you reduce the size of the photos for web viewing, so I zoomed in so you can see them clearly:

Topaz Labs Clean review

Creating art

The final use for Clean is to convert photos to art. Personally, I feel this has become a cliche and is something that is more likely to appeal to casual rather than serious photographers. However, there are some interesting examples on the Topaz Clean page and according to the website this is a popular feature with digital artists and graphic designers.

I tried it out for myself and I have to say I’m intrigued by the result (see below). I see this as something to try out for fun.

I used the Curly Smooth preset and reduced the Threshold setting in the Clean palette to achieve this result. Again, I zoomed in so you can see the difference. This is the original:

Topaz Labs Clean review

And this the result after the adjustment:

Topaz Labs Clean review

The opening image was created by sending the photo to Clean, then converting to black and white and increasing Contrast and Clarity within Lightroom. These are the close-ups, you can see how it created a kind of line drawing effect:

Topaz Labs Clean review


The usefulness of the Clean plug-in from Topaz Labs depends very much on how you intend to utilise it. The lack of local adjustments means its use as a Lightroom plug-in is limited. However, if you open it from Photoshop you can overcome that limitation by using layer masks.

While Clean seems to smooth skin quite well, it is not as straightforward to use nor as effective as Perfect Portrait 2, my favourite skin smoothing plug-in (available as part of OnOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite 8).

The strength of the plug-in comes from its ability to smooth metallic surfaces. If you photograph subjects like vintage cars a lot then you will find Clean very useful, and it is worth buying just for that. I’ve just touched on this function in this review, but you can see more examples on the Topaz Labs website.

Some photographers will also like to experiment with using Clean to convert photos to art.

To get the best from Clean you need to take the time to learn how to use the sliders effectively (there are some videos on the Topaz website to help). There is a lot of potential, and I’m sure there are photographers using it in interesting ways.

The price of Clean is very reasonable. It normally sells for $US30, and like all Topaz plug-ins you will get free updates for the life of the product. There is a free 30 day trial to enable you to test the software. Click the link to go to the Clean page on the Topaz Labs website, where you will be able to see sample photos created with the plug-in as well as buy the software or download the trial.

If you’re quick you can buy Clean for $14.99 by entering the coupon code mayclean at checkout. The discount is valid until the end of May.

Clean works with Photoshop CS versions 3-6, Photoshop CC, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, iPhoto and Aperture.

Further reading

Learn more about Lightroom plug-ins with these articles:

An Introduction to Alien Skin’s Exposure 5: Part One – Black & White

An Introduction to Alien Skin’s Exposure 6: Part Two – Colour

DxO FilmPack 4

An Introduction to Silver Efex Pro 2

Mastering Lightroom ebook

Alien Skin Exposure 5 reviewMastering Lightroom: Book Three – Black & White introduces you to the wonderful world of black and white photography in Lightroom. It’s a complete guide to working in monochrome that teaches you to see in black and white then convert your Raw files using Lightroom to create stunning monochrome images. Everything you need to know is covered, including the most popular black and white plug-ins and walkthroughs showing you step-by-step how I processed three of my favourite monochrome images.


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