Topaz Studio Review – What is it and is it Good?

In this article, I want to review Topaz Studio 2 and answer the question is it good for photo editing. I’ll be doing my review from the perspective of a photographer who wants to enhance their photography. This is important as you can also use Topaz Studio for other editing activities like digital art, but there is a blurred line because some of these can be useful to the Photographer.

Something else that I want to do in this article is to answer the question “what is Topaz Studio” because it can be confusing. This is especially true if you’ve been a long-term Topaz Labs customer (as I have). If understanding Topaz Studio also has you confused, it’s worth reading my next section, otherwise, feel free to skip it.

Some Topaz Labs Product History

Topaz labs started by developing plug-ins for the likes of Lightroom and Photoshop. These tended to be products like Topaz Adjust and Topaz Black and White. Over time the range of products grew as they introduced special effects filters like Topaz Star Effects and niche “utility” tools like Topaz DeNoise. They even developed their own alternative editing environment which is probably where Topaz Studio has grown from.

Rather than explain the evolution further, it’s more helpful to look at where we have ended up. The evolution is confusing, but Topaz Labs probably had a long-term strategy because the product range is now much easier to understand.

Topaz has replaced most of their old products or Legacy products as they call them. Some have been reborn into new AI (artificial intelligence enhanced) versions such as Topaz Adjust and Topaz DeNoise. Others have taken a different journey (like Topaz Detail) and are now part of Topaz Studio. This has rationalised the range of tools and probably made them easier to maintain.

What we now have is Topaz Studio for general photo editing and special effects. We then also have individual AI-based “utility” tools like Gigapixel and JPEG to RAW and DeNoise. There are some anomalies, but this broad classification seems to apply.

What is Topaz Studio 2

Topaz Studio is a photo editor which includes a range of enhancement filters. These cover a wide range of activities such as correcting and enhancing photos as well as creating more stylised digital art. It works with common image formats like TIFF and JPEG, but it also works with the likes of Photoshop PSD files and even RAW files.

You can use Topaz Studio as a stand-alone editor. This means that you don’t need another photo editor to use the software. But if you want to use it with another editing package like Lightroom or Photoshop, you can launch Topaz Studio 2 as a Plug-in.

Topaz Studio open as a plug-in from Photoshop

Being able to use Topaz Studio as a plugin is a great feature and one that will probably appeal many historic users of Topaz (myself included). This means you can access Topaz Studio 2 with all its filter and features as easily as the legacy Topaz products.

It’s also easy to use Topaz Studio stand-alone. When you launch the software, you will see a simple interface where the first thing you need to do is open an image.

Topaz Studio 2 opened stand alone

To open an image, click the Open button to open a file dialog where you can select the image to edit. Alternatively, you can drag and drop your image onto the central area of the interface.

Do keep in mind that you can only edit one image at a time. If you want to edit another image you must close your current image first. If you don’t remember to do this and you’ve made changes, the software will prompt you, asking if you want to save your changes.

When you have your image open you can start the editing process.

Topaz Studio 2 Editing

Topaz Studio 2 has two broad approaches you can use to edit an image. You see these as two buttons in the top right of the interface titled “Add Filter” and “Add Look”.

Buttons in the Topaz Studio interface

When you use the Add Filters button you can apply individual adjustment filters to the image. We will look at some examples of this shortly. If you select the “Add Look” option, you can apply a look. A Look is a Filter or group of Filters with settings already adjusted. This is the same as a Preset in many other editing packages.

Applying a Look in Topaz Studio

After clicking the “Add Look” button you will see the side panel change to display different thumbnails. You can see these indicated as box 1 in the screenshot below.

Applying a look to an image in Studio

The thumbnails show how the image will appear when you apply that Look.

Above this are a couple of dropdown lists where you can filter the presets displayed. This is extremely useful because there are so many Looks supplied with the software as well as being able to create and save your own. Looks are also a useful way to learn because you can see how they combine individual Filters.

When you find a Look that you want to apply, click the thumbnail to select it. You then have the option to change the “Amount” (or strength) before clicking the “Apply” button. Once you click Apply, the Look browser will close, and you will see the individual filters in the Look.

Adjusting the Look applied to the image

In this screenshot you can see the Look “Dream Cloud” selected at the top. Because I’ve selected the Look, it displays the Opacity slider further down the interface. You can use this to adjust the strength of the Look ranging from 0 (can’t see it) to 1.00 which is the maximum.

Below the “Dream Cloud” Look, you can see the two filters (Dehaze and Radiance) used to create it. If you click on one of these filters you will see its settings displayed, which you can also adjust.

Filters in Topaz Studio

The alternative to applying a Look (or multiple Looks) to an image is to apply individual filters. You can do this by clicking the “Add Filter” button which displays a list of available filters you can choose.

Applying individual filters to an image in Topaz Studio

There are a lot of filters in Topaz Studio 2 arranged into three categories. At the time of my writing this review there are 11 filters in the “Essentials” group, 13 filters in “Creative” and 10 in “Stylistic”. There are a lot of options here so the categories and other organising features like “Favourites” are helpful.

If you have been a Topaz Labs customer for a long time and own some of their legacy plug-ins, you will probably find the equivalent filter in this list. For example, the “Precision Detail” filter has many of the controls found in the Legacy Topaz Detail plug-in. I also recognise the controls in “Textures” from the old “Texture Effects” plugin. Whilst you can still download legacy Topaz plugins, they are only available if you purchased them at the time. It’s therefore nice to see them live on in Topaz Studio.

There is also a fourth category in the Filter list which is “Plugin”. Here you will find any of the other Topaz Plugins that you have installed.

plugins section showing any topaz plugins you have installed

Notice that you don’t see Gigapixel (read my Gigapixel review) or JPEG to RAW in this list even though I have them installed. I’m guessing that’s because it doesn’t make sense to use them within Topaz Studio.

Adding a Filter to an Image

To add an adjustment filter to your image, click the filter you want to use from the list. You will then see it appear at the top of the interface with the controls displayed further down.

Adding an essential adjustment filter to an image

Here you can see an example of the “HSL Colour Tuning” filter added above the “Dream Cloud” Look. With the filter selected, you can see the controls displayed in the lower half of the interface. It’s also possible to reorder the filters in the list by clicking and dragging with your mouse.

Whilst working with some of the filters, I found I could often move the sliders quite a way before the effect became noticeable. At the same time, the increase in the strength of the effect seemed to multiple the stronger I made the adjustment. It could be me imagining this, but the effect didn’t feel linear which made the controls easy to use.

Topaz Studio Editing Approach

As you’ve probably realised by now, it’s possible to layer up multiple filters to create a new effect. You can do this using individual filters or by using Looks. It possible to combine Looks with individual filters as I have in the above example, but it’s also possible to layer up multiple Looks. This, together with the ability to then save your adjustments as a new Look creates an extremely flexible system. It’s also extremely fast to work with once you understand what the individual filters do.

Saving the Finished Image

After adding your filters in Topaz Studio, you can save the finished image using the Accept icon to the top left of the interface which is available when using Studio as a plug-in.

Using the Accept icon to save your changes

After clicking Accept, Topaz applies your adjustments to the active Photoshop layer. If you are using Studio from Lightroom, Studio applies the adjustments to the file you’re editing (not the RAW file).

When using Topaz Studio stand-alone, you will see the Accept icon replaced by an Export icon. Click this and you can select to export the image as either a JPEG, TIFF or PNG format as well change the settings for each. For example, you may want the TIFF file to be 16-bit and have the Adobe RGB colour space.

When you export or save an image from Studio, the new image name is the same as the edited image but with the suffix “-studio”. If you don’t like this suffix you can change it in the preferences.

One “limitation” to be aware of is that Studio applies that the looks and filters you use directly to the image. This is a destructive workflow so if you reopen an image after editing, you are effectively starting the editing process again with that image. You won’t see any of the filters you previously applied.

When using Photoshop, Studio applies the effects directly to the layer so it’s best to create a new layer to work with. It’s tempting to think you can work around this using a Smart Object, but you can’t. Topaz Studio won’t complain if you apply it to a Smart Object, but it doesn’t retain the filters and adjustments.

Advanced Features in Topaz Studio

Now that we have reviewed the basic method of working with Topaz Studio, I want to share a few of the more advanced features. These are available with each of the filters. When you add and select a filter to apply adjustments, you will see these above the filter controls.

Advanced filter features in Topaz Studio

Referring to the numbered items in the screenshot:

  1. There are two icons here. The left one looks like a curved arrow and resets the filter and its mask (more on masks shortly) to the default. The icon on the right lets you save the adjustments as a preset for use in the future. These presets are then available (together with default presets) in a section below each filter when you select the controls.
  2. When you add a filter to an image you can think of it as being an adjustment layer. You can then adjust the strength of the overall effect using the Opacity slider.
  3. The small dropdown is another “layer style” effect. This controls the blending mode for the effect which together with the Opacity slider can be immensely powerful. The default setting is Normal but if you click the dropdown you will see lots of alternative blending modes like those in Photoshop.

Masks in Topaz Studio

Each filter you add to an image in Topaz Studio has its own mask. This allows you to control where on the image you can see the filter’s effect. You will find the mask attached to each filter which you can activate by clicking the mask icon. This looks like a white square with a circle in the middle.

Mask icon on the Filter

Clicking the mask icon opens the filter’s mask for editing as shown below.

Masking Tools

As well as displaying a mask thumbnail, there are several tools to help you create complex masks with ease. These include a brush tool, gradient and radial gradient but there are also options to make colour and luminance selections.

In short, this is a very well thought out set of controls for masking and probably deserves a dedicated article.

Finished images in the Topaz Studio review

Topaz Studio Review Summary

Overall, I’m pleased with the results when editing with Topaz Studio. Some of the Looks are too strong for my taste but then it’s easy to adjust and save them. The whole editing system feels well designed and everything appears to work together.

The quality of the adjusts are also good but I sometimes applied too strong an effect. I’m also a little out of practice with some of the filters and some were completely new to me.

Overall image quality is good, and I haven’t (yet) noticed problems with artefacts or exaggerated noise. I suspect in time I will notice these problems; there must be some because some of the filters have suppression sliders for just that purpose.

Would I recommend Topaz Studio? Well, that depends on what you want from a photo editing solution and your current level of sophistication. This is a tool primarily to help make applying attractive effects to your images, as well as make correction, easy. It’s quick to use but may lack the level of sophistication some users would like to see. Personally, I can see some great tools and features, but I will probably use it as a Photoshop plugin rather than stand alone.

If you are considering making a purchase, I would give my usual advice. Download the free trial and use it for at least a week or two. That will help you make an informed decision based on your own needs and expectations.

Overall, I really like Topaz Studio.

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