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XnSketch for Windows and Mac

Free Photo to Drawing App for Windows and Mac

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


XnSketch for Windows and Mac

XnSketch for Windows and Mac

© XnView
XnSketch is a free software app designed to convert your photos into fake drawings or paintings. It is available for Windows and OS X computers, as well as Android mobile devices. This review will concentrate upon looking at the Windows computer version, but if you're after a similar app for a tablet or phone, check out our review of the Android version of the XnSketch app.

There are quite a few apps available that apply hand drawn effects to photos, and most image editors include some filters that produce similar effects, so is XnSketch worth the download to your PC? Hopefully by the end of this review you'll have a good idea as to whether this is an app for you.

User Interface

XnSketch benefits from a very clear and easy to navigate user interface which makes it very straight forward to work with your images. The majority of the interface is taken up by the image window where your photo is displayed and you can use the zoom buttons at the top of the window to adjust your view.

Below the image window is a carousel that holds all of the different drawing effects that you can apply. While the carousel doesn't include a thumbnail of your working image with the effect applied, the icons do a good job of representing the specific effects.

To the right of the screen are the image adjustment tools that allow you to tweak the appearance of your photos after applying an effect.


XnSketch Screen Shot

XnSketch Screen Shot

© Ian Pullen
There's a reasonable range of effects on offer to cover most requirements and while their effectiveness does vary to some extent depending on the base photo, by and large they produce good results. While it is difficult to produce completely naturalistic looking images that do appear truly to have been hand drawn, some of the filters do get quite close. This is helped by being able to fine tune the results using the image adjustment sliders to the right of the screen. Those who are prepared to spend time experimenting with the various tools and testing different combinations of setting will reap the benefits and get the most impressive results from XnSketch.

On the Android version of this app, I was very disappointed by the quality of the Hope effect, but it does produce much better results in this desktop version. Just how good the result that you get will depend on the base image that you're working with. The self-portrait I was using with my hand over my face worked reasonably well, though it did lack some definition around the hand which meant that it was a little indistinct. However, after quite a bit of experimentation and tweaking the different settings, I arrived at a result that I was quite happy with, as shown in the second screen shot.

The Stamp effect suffers from similar issues, but it only takes a few moments to open a photo and see how well an effect works on it and you'll soon be able to tell which types of photos are going to be most suitable for the different effects.

One aspect of using the carousel that I didn't like was the way that when you click an effect to apply it, the carousel is scrolled so that the active effect's icon is in the middle of the screen or as near to it as possible. I found this extremely counter intuitive and often resulted in me clicking effects that I hadn't intended to.

Image Adjustments

By default, there are slider controls to adjust the Brightness, Contrast, Gamma, Exposure and Saturation, but some of the effects offer additional controls.

These supplemental controls offer greater control over the strength of edges, the number of colors and opacity of the effects layer, allowing more or less of the original photo to show through. There are also a few effects that allow you to select a color to tint your image with.

As pointed out earlier, experimentation will yield the best results, but unfortunately when you find a combination of settings that work particularly well, there is no option to save the settings so that you can apply the same effect to other photos.


When you've finished producing your work of art, no doubt you'll want to share your priceless masterpiece with the world and XnSketch has tools that will allow you to do so without opening another app. There are options for sending images to Flickr, Picasa and Facebook, as well as several well known image sharing sites. You can also choose to send your pictures to friends via email.


XnSketch Screen Shot

XnSketch Screen Shot

© Ian Pullen
Overall, XnSketch does a pretty good job and should be suited for a wide range of users. If you just want the ease and simplicity of one click effects, then this is available for you. However, if you're happy to spend some time experimenting with the different tools, then you will find that you can produce some very impressive results. With the right base image, you should be able to produce images that viewers will have difficulty discerning from true hand drawn pictures.

On the downside, if you do spend the time finessing your settings, there's no option to save your settings so that you can reuse them on other images. I do think that does rather undermine the ultimate usefulness of the app, but I still think this is deserving of four stars out of five.

You can download your own free copy of XnSketch from the XnView forum.

XnRetro Desktop App for Windows and Mac
XnView Free Image Viewer

XnSketch Android App
XnRetro Android App

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