Paint Job

Far from those blurry VGA days of early mobile photography, smartphone camera are getting better and better. These days, 8 to 16 megapixels of resolution are not uncommon on some models, as well as other features like selective focus, add-on lenses and HDR. It all adds up to the ability to produce amazing pictures on the same device you use to talk to your Mom and program the DVR over the Internet. Along with the built-in software that comes with your handset, plenty of third-party photo apps can make your pictures look even better — or more unique.

We’ve all seen filter apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic, which can be great if they produce the effects you’re trying to achieve with your pictures. If you really want that hand-made touch, consider apps that turn your pictures into digital paintings. Through filters and algorithms, these apps cam make your photo of the Empire State Building look like a painting of the Empire State Building. 

If you’ve got an Android phone, check out apps like the Photo Painter, which sells for a whopping $1.49. There’s also the free Oil Painting (shown above), Photo Oil Painter and Camera Illusion, all for Android. Camera Zoom FX, which is $2.99 and considered by many to be one of the best camera apps around, also has some artistic filters you can use to give your photos a new look.

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If you’re rocking an iOS device, you have plenty of apps to choose from as well. Waterlogue is one app that transforms your photos into digital watercolor paintings. For a mere $3, it does incredibly nice work, as shown directly above. Other options for the iPhone and its ilk include Paint FX for $2.99, AutoPainter for about a buck. Although it’s $7.99, the SketchMee app for iOS does a lovely job transforming your photos, especially portraits, into pencil-sketch art; the same company also has apps that can give your photos the oil-painting treatment, too.

And don’t forget the filters and other features of Adobe Photoshop Touch for either iOS or Android. It’s $4.99 for the phone version and $9.99 for the tablet edition. And those with Windows Phone 8 handsets can tinker with images with Microsoft’s free Fresh Paint app. (These apps are just the tip of the iceberg, so spend some time in your local app store and see what suits you best from the dozens of options for every platform.)

And once you’ve made art out of your photos, wouldn’t it be cool to display them as art?  Many images make great desktop wallpaper, but some would look even better hanging on the wall.  If you want to go that route and print out your image, make sure your chosen app can output decent-size files — none of this 90 KB stuff.

Unless you’ve got a bunch of pro-quality printers around, you need to output the file to your computerand upload it to a digital-imaging service; you may also be able to upload it directly from your phone. Going for the art-museum approach? Use a service that outputs digital photos onto canvas or high-quality paper, suitable for framing.

If you’ve never heard of canvas printing, there are specialty services like CanvasPop and Canvas on Demand, for starters. Photo-printing companies you may already use, like Snapfish and Shutterfly, offer canvas-printing options alongside calendars, mugs, posters and everything else they can do with your uploaded images. Time-honored photo-finishers like Walgreens and Costco can also do canvas prints, too.

As you might expect from material costs, canvas prints are a bit more expensive than your glossy or matte 4 x 6 photos. Prices start around $30 for a smaller size in the 8 x 10 range, but it’s do-it-yourself art — no expensive supplies needed. Your kids won’t sit still for more than five seconds? Snap ’em and app ’em — and boom — you have an arty portrait of the brood, just in time to get it printed and framed for Grandma’s birthday.

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