Topaz Software Review – How I use Topaz Plugins

If you follow my blog, you know that I am pretty open about my editing as I reveal the processing steps for almost every photo I publish. You also probably noticed that every photo posted on this blog was edited, at some point, with at least one or two Topaz Software Labs plugins.

Topaz Software Review - How I use Topaz Plugins

Not surprisingly, two of the most common questions my readers ask me about the Topaz products are: “What plugin should I incorporate in my editing workflow and when do I use it?”

Topaz Software Review or Cheat Sheet for Choosing the Right Topaz Plugin

I have to admit that Topaz Labs has one of the most confusing structures of its products. They have a total of 16 different plugins and, in most cases, their functions overlap with each other. Needless to say, it took me a long time to figure out what product to use and when.

Do not get me wrong; I love and value the Topaz Plugins, but I wish that instead of 16 products they had three or four, combining different plugins together.

In order to help photographers who are just starting to use Topaz software, I have listed the plugins I use in the order of importance for my photography.

Topaz DeNoise

If I had to choose only one Topaz plugin, it would definitely be Topaz DeNoise. This is the only plugin I use with every single image I post on my blog.

Any Photoshop or Lightroom plugin is a simple “shortcut” or time saver. Typically, it is possible to achieve the same effect of pretty much any plugin using Photoshop; however, DeNoise is one of those plugins whose effect I cannot completely replicate using either Photoshop or Lightroom. Even though both applications have noise reduction tools, nothing comes even close to mirroring the effect of DeNoise.

If you are interested in learning more about DeNoise, check out the dedicated review that I published previously TopazLabs DeNoise – My Favorite Digital Noise Fighting Superhero.

My favorite aspect of using DeNoise is that I do not have to use masking in Photoshop after I apply the noise reduction.

In a majority of my photos, I only need to reduce noise in the “flat” areas (sky, water, skin) because, at the same time, I also want to preserve as many details as possible in the “pattern” areas (architectural elements, grass, trees, mountains). Before I started using DeNoise, I had to apply noise reduction to the entire image and later use Photoshop to mask areas I wanted to keep sharp. Somehow, DeNoise detects those areas automatically and eliminates them from the application.

Below is the photo I took in Yosemite and I processed it for HDR it had excessive noise. It took me 15 sec to eliminate it in the area of the sky and to keep details of the mountains intact

This powerful and simple tool saves me an enormous amount of time.

Topaz Detail

The name of this plugin is self-explanatory. It enhances the details of the image and gives you absolute control over the entire process. It also allows you to sharpen the image.

There is no magic here compared to the power of DeNoise. Topaz Detail always requires masking after applying its effect to the image. This is especially true because it significantly increases the noise in the flat areas of the image (sky, water, skin).

I typically use Topaz Detail in tandem with Topaz DeNoise. First, I enhance the details in the “pattern” areas and, later, I reduce the noise in “flat” areas.

Topaz Clarity

Topaz Clarity gives you complete control over every aspect of the image contrast. Even after years of using this plugin, it surprises me again and again especially when I am trying to recover low contrast or foggy photographs.

The second module of the plugin is color enhancement. When you adjust the contrast, it always affects colors, mostly the saturation level and I really like to have control over the colors. Normally, I increase the contrast and boost the colors at the same time. But, if I see that one particular color is oversaturated, I always have the ability to adjust only one selective color.

Ideally, I would love to see Topaz Clarity and Topaz Detail as a single plugin. The functionalities of two plugins overlap by 60-70%.

The first three plugins I listed above do not create any specific looks in your photographs. Rather, they only help to enhance different aspects of the images.

The next three plugins are more on the creative side and help to creatively explore the art of photography by achieving a variety of effects ranging from very subtle to fully blown surrealistic.

Topaz Adjust

Topaz Adjust is probably the most popular plugin from Topaz Labs. At the same time, it is also the most complex and sophisticated.

With Topaz Adjust you can control the image exposure and colors, extend the dynamic range of the single image, recover the shadows and the highlights, as well as enhance the details. The possibilities here are endless.

Also, to add more confusion to its complexity, its functionality overlaps with the Topaz Clarity and Topaz ReStyle features.

After I found myself wasting far too much time with Topaz Adjust by playing with its endless sliders, I created a simplified workflow and am trying to stick to it.

My Topaz Adjust Workflow

  • I always start by applying one of the presets from the Classic Collections. The rest of the collections that comes with Topaz Adjust produce too surrealistic effects for my taste.
  • I switch to the right editing panel and work with Global Adjustments. I only use the Adaptive Exposure, Details and Color adjustments.
  • I never use Local Adjustments because I find it more effective to use Photoshop for dodging, burning and masking.
  • The last step is the Finishing Touches adjustments. I always use the Transparency adjustment where I can blend the Topaz Adjust effect with the original image. I also use the Warmth adjustment quite often, especially with sunset/sunrise photographs. I use Tone adjustments less frequently and only when I want to achieve a Cross Processed effect.

Topaz ReStyle

Topaz ReStyle is an unusual plugin. On the first view, it does not even make sense. Typically, I consider any plugin to be a timesaver as I generally expect them to streamline my editing process by reducing the time I spend in Photoshop.

When I opened ReStyle the first time, I saw that the plugin came with more than 1,000 presets. That’s right! I’m not joking! In addition, each preset can also be modified and tweaked with endless controls and sliders. Immediately, I thought to myself, ‘No way I am going to use this.’

But, over time, I developed a different workflow tailored specifically to Topaz ReStyle.

Initially, I invested a bit of time cutting a number of the presets to a more manageable level. I went through most of the presets, found the ones I liked, saw their potential, and tagged them as Favorites.

Now, I have a library of 128 favorite presets.

Every time I open Topaz ReStyle, I switch from Editing Mode to Grid View and visually go through big thumbnail previews of my 128 favorite presets to try and pinpoint the one I like.

Topaz Software Review - Topaz ReStyle

In most cases, the default effects of the presets are too strong for my taste. After I select the effect I like and switch back to editing mode, all I do is reduce the Opacity of the effect and blend it with the original image. No editing, adjusting or masking is required.

The whole process is fast and I can always find an interesting effect.

Topaz Star Effects

You probably know or heard about the shooting technique where you select the smallest possible aperture (f20-f22) and shoot directly into the sun or another light source to produce a starburst effect. The small aperture exaggerates the rays of light making them more visible and prominent.

The Topaz Star Effects allows you to create a starburst effect after shooting and in the editing phase.

I do not use this plugin on a daily basis but, sometimes it becomes an extremely valuable tool that helps me to achieve my creative vision without going back and re-shooting the scene.

The plugin has all of the possible adjustments and controls to make the starburst effect the way you want it.

Conclusion

I hope my short review of Topaz Labs plugins will serve as a roadmap for you. Over time you will find your own ways and establish your unique workflow based on your personal style and artistic vision. And when you do, I hope you take a minute and share with the rest of us your unique ways of using Topaz plugins.

Topaz Labs Coupon Code

Once again, if you know what TopazLab product you want and are looking for Topaz Labs discount code, use PHOTOTRACES at the checkout to get 15% off any Topaz plugin or complete Topaz Labs bundle pack at Topaz Website.

  • Thanks for the overview, Viktor. I am also intrigued by the Topaz plugins. I’ve only bought Adjust so far and am considering Lens Effects. I am now really intrigued by DeNoise, even though I already own the Noiseware plugin.
    When I read the title of your article, I was hoping you would go through *every* Topaz plugin (all 16 of them!). Do you plan to do a part 2 of this review?

    • Carl,

      I do not think I am qualified to review the rest of the products because I do not use them on a regular basis.

  • Prakash Wadhwani says:

    Lovely break-down Viktor !! Any pointers/links to some more/additional sites that can review/explain & lucidly walk us through the Topaz Plug-Ins ??

  • Jeff Johnson says:

    Hi Viktor. Thanks for the helpful article. I trialed the Topaz offerings and agree there is a lot of overlap. It really adds time to the workflow to go in and out of the plug-ins and trying to decipher the nuanced changes in some cases. I liked Clarity the best, but it had me thinking about it’s use with presets that also up the clarity. Topaz provides a sample workflow which assumes you are using most of their products. When you use Lightroom as the base application for developing and with your suggested workflow with presets, at what point do you incorporate the plugins? Specifically, let’s say I use Harsh Shadows preset which has a clarity of +69. I realize Topaz states their algorithm handles clarity different than Lightroom, but is it OK to use both in your opinion? If so, which one do you use first? I’d appreciate your suggestions.

    • Jeff,

      you do not have to worry about mixing Lightroom and Clarity plugin. In Lightroom, the Clarity is only one slider and Topaz Clarity it is a complete set of various tools. I can see that the identical name can cause the confusion, but those are 2 different tools. IF you feel the need to use Topaz Clarity, then use it. There are not strict rules in a photo processing, it is all about how your final image looks.

  • Brendan Reilly says:

    Hi Viktor thanks for sharing i have most off topaz filters after seeing this i will use them more thanks again

  • Patrick Montgomery says:

    Hi Viktor, Since you’re an expert, I thought I’d be cheeky and ask you a question. I have had TPZ Labs (Show Bundle 8 since 2011) but I recently upgraded from Win XP to Win 10 and now the plugins don’t work, nor are TPZ Labs giving me much in the way of support ie. stony silence). So, firstly, may I ask you, is there any intrinsic reason as to why the plugins won’t work under Win 10 (as plugins to PS CS6 which installed and runs normally as far as I can make out). Why the TPZ plugins doesn’t recognize/like the activation code that Support gave me a week ago.

    • Patrick,

      I do not think it is an issue of switching from XP to Win10. If I understand correctly, you can run plugins but can not activate them. If this is the case, I suspect the activation code is the problem. You should keep trying with the support at TopazLabs.

      • Patrick Montgomery says:

        Thank you so much Viktor – I wish Topz response timing was 0.1 as good as yours. You have understood exactly the issue; I was able to utilise the plugins but not save the resultant effect(s) without entering the license key which indicates it to be invalid. Support haven’t yet understood my issue – they merely email copious links to sales pages etc. I’m getting the distinct feeling that they are trying to persuade me to upgrade. Now my original DVD fails to read so I am getting more and more frustrated.

          • Patrick Montgomery says:

            Hi again Viktor, Thanks for getting back to me. I bought a “Show” bundle and stupidly, I assumed them calling it “Bundle 8” meant 8 selected plugins – apparently it means any random 8. The version included with my DVD is DeNoise V5.0 and is circa 2011. I have just received an email from Topaz Labs support saying that if I had followed their instructions everything would work. Unfortunately they don’t hold legacy version downloads (which is what I wanted) and with the new version downloads 4 out of the 8 “products” I purchased don’t work on 32-bit architecture! and therefore don’t install on my PC. Doh! I am awaiting with interest what Topaz Labs will say in response to this revelation. Thanks again for your empathy.

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