Topaz Software Review – How I use Topaz Plugins

If you are looking for a comprehensive Topaz Labs Software review, you’ve come to the right place.

Topaz Software Review – How I use Topaz Plugins

As a reader of 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.

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 Labs Software Review or Cheat Sheet for Choosing the Right Topaz Plugins

I have to admit that Topaz Labs had one of the most confusing structures of its products. At one point, they had 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.

But over the last few years, Topaz Labs completely restructured its products by depreciating many original plugins and introducing new ones. And of course, they slapped AI (Artificial Intelligence) suffix to all the products.

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 AI

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.

The significant addition to the AI version of the Topaz DeNoise plugin is the sharpening functionality. Now, you have the option not only to reduce noise but to apply sharpening as well.

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.

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

Topaz Sharpen AI

The Topaz Sharpen AI is a unique program. It manages to accomplish what was not possible before.

Let me explain.

I have a graphic design background, and one of the most used expressions among designers is “garbage in, garbage out.” It means that if you have bad quality pixels, no matter how you manipulate them, you will end up with bad pixels.

In photography, it means that if you have out of focus photo or blurry image caused by camera shake, you are out of luck.

The plugin has 3 sharpening modes: Sharpen, Stabilize, and Focus.

Topaz Sharpen AI

The Sharpen mode applies standard sharpening. The Stabilize mode attempts to address the motion blur caused by camera shake. And the Focus mode tries to deal with softness caused by poor focusing.

The Topaz Sharpen AI is a new plugin. It replaced for me original Topaz Clarity and Topaz Detail plugins.

Topaz Adjust AI

The Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI can be categorized as utility plugins because they do not create any specific looks in your photographs. Rather, they only help to enhance different aspects of the images.

With Topaz Adjust AI 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.

Topaz Adjust AI

 I use Topaz Adjust AI less often compared to the original version because the latest version has a significant overlap with Lightroom and Photoshop ACR. 

And when I have a choice to achieve a specific look in my photo using Lightroom or using Topaz Adjust AI, I always default to Lightroom. I prefer to stay in the non-destructive RAW environment of Lightroom.

But when I use the Topaz Adjust AI, I use the following workflow:

  • I always start by applying one of the presets included with the plugin.
  • I switch to the right editing panel and work with Global Adjustments. I only use Exposure, Details, and Color adjustments.
  • The last step is the Finishing Touches adjustments. I always use the Transparency adjustment where I can blend the Topaz Adjust AI effect with the original image. I also use the Temperature adjustment quite often to warm up the photo, especially with sunset/sunrise photographs. 

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

Topaz Star Effect is a legacy plugin, but it is still available on the Topaz website. I suspect they stopped developing it a long time ago. Nevertheless, It is always useful, and I use it quite often.

Below is the list of plugins I rarely use, but they can be very useful for specific workflows.

Topaz Labs Mask AI

Mask AI is a very useful plugin when you need to isolate a specific object in your images. The problem is Photoshop has very sophisticated and mature tools for advanced masking. And since I use Topaz programs exclusively as plugins in Photoshop, it is easier for me to do all the masking there.

But, I found one case when using Mask AI is much more effective than Photoshop.

When I take photos of my family members and can not use the right camera settings to render the background out of focus, I can blur the original background in Mask AI in a matter of seconds. It takes much longer to achieve the same effect in Photoshop.

Gigapixel AI

You probably noticed when you need to reduce the size of photos, you always get the final image with the same or even better quality than the original. 

But when you need to increase the image’s size, you always get soft, low detail often unusable results. The reason for that is when you upscale an image, the program has to produce new pixels (data) that do not exist in the original image. And producing something out of nothing never worked well.

But with the latest advancements in machine learning the enlarging or upscaling programs became much more effective.

And the Gigapixel AI is by far the most effective upscaling tool I’ve ever used. It is capable to enlarge your photos up to 500-600% while preserving details and mage quality.

JPEG to RAW AI

Topaz Labs claims that by converting JPEG to RAW it helps to recover data lost during the RAW to JPEG conversion and JPEG compression.

I have not tested it enough to assess its real effectiveness, but I have an idea of how it can be used.

Real-life Example of Upscaling Workflow

Let say you lost the original RAW photo you took 10 years ago. All you have is a low-resolution JPEG version (800 x 600pix) with noticeable JPEG artifacts. There is no way you can print it and hang on the wall.

But with the Topaz AI workflow, it becomes possible.

  1. Convert original image from JPEG to RAW using JPEG to RAW AI
  2. Upscale the photo to 4800 x 3600px with Gigapixel AI
  3. Remove noise and artifacts with DeNoise AI
  4. Boost details and sharpness with Sharpen AI

And now you have a usable image you can print.

Topaz Video Enhance AI

Since I am a still photographer I have the least experience with Topaz Video Enhance AI. But I can see that it uses the same technology as the Gigapixel AI and Sharpen AI plugins.

I can see 2 scenarios of how to use the program:

  1. You can enlarge video files with minimal loss in quality. For example, you can upscale HD video to 4K version
  2. You can grab still frames from video files, upscale, and sharpen them.
    For example, you can have a usable high-resolution image extracted from HD video.

Picking the Right Topaz Plugin

As a still photographer, if I had to choose only one Topaz plugin, without hesitation I would pick Topaz DeNoise AI

If I had to pick 2 plugins, it would be DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI.

And if I needed more than 2 plugins, I would go for the bundle.

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

Articles Related to “Topaz Software Review”

by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.

13 thoughts on “Topaz Software Review – How I use Topaz Plugins”

  1. 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?

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

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

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

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
    • 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.

      Reply
      • 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.

        Reply
          • 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.

Leave a Reply to Jeff Johnson Cancel reply