How To Use Neural Filters In Photoshop (Step By Step)

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Neural Filters are one of the lesser-used features of Photoshop that can offer some mind-bending adjustments that save time and look great too. From enhancing colors, restoring old photos, adding background blurs, and more, neural filters offer a host of valuable adjustments that you’ll want to start taking advantage of. So let’s break down how to use these filters and the best ones for you to try.

How To Use Neural Filters In Photoshop

Neural filters are powerful resources. They alter images using Photoshop’s artificial intelligence called Adobe Sensei, generating new pixels to fill or fix areas in a photo. However, these pixels aren’t generated randomly. They are based on the photo’s context, so the changes make sense.

Neural filters are mainly used to make minor corrections in photos and add creative effects. The effects often look good immediately. However, you will sometimes need to touch them up using other Photoshop tools.

So let’s take a quick look at how to access neural filters and correctly apply them to your photos.

Step 1: Open The Neural Filter Workspace

To access the neural filters, first, ensure that your layer is unlocked by clicking on the lock icon next to the thumbnail.

There should be no lock icon on the layer before adding the filter.

 To access the filter options, go to  Filter > Neural Filters.

Once the Neural Filters workspace loads, several options will appear. I will guide you through them.

Neural filters are located in the middle of the workspace. They are sorted by categories such as Portrait, Creative, and Photography.

The Beta filters are still under development. Because of that, they tend to have more bugs than the other filters. However, they are worth trying because most work well, even in the Beta stage.

The Wait list has a preview of the neural filters to be released by Adobe. Here, you can check out the neural filters that will be available in the future.

Step 2: Download The Desired Filter

Click the cloud icon beside the chosen neural filter to download it. You only need to download a filter once, and then it is always available.

To download a filter, you need to be connected to the internet and logged in to your Adobe account. However, you don’t need to worry about data consumption since most of these filters are not heavy, ranging from 1 to 300 MB.

Most filters are locally stored on your computer, but a few use cloud storage.

Step 3: Enable The Desired Filter

After downloading the desired filter, the cloud icon becomes a slider. You can use it to turn filters on and off.

The neural filter options appear on the right side of the panel.

Another important option in the Neural Filters workspace is the Show Original button. You can click it to check your image before and after. This button can be found at the bottom of the workspace under the neural filters list.  

Step 4: Choose An Output Method

When using neural filters, it is essential to define the Output setting. It determines in which layer the changes caused by the neural filters will be stored.

  •  Current Layer:  Changes are stored in the photo layer itself. It’s a destructive method and doesn’t allow you to reverse the neural filter actions.
  • New layer: changes are placed above your image layer, and you can toggle this new layer on and off. You can also delete the layer if you regret applying the neural filter.
  • New Layer Masked: allows you to save the changes as a layer mask on a new layer. To learn how to use layer masks, click here.
  • Smart Filter: changes are stored in a smart filter. That way, you can go back to the neural filter workspace and edit the effect whenever you want. This is the most recommended output method.
  • New Document: changes are placed in a new document separated from the original document.

Step 5: Confirm the Actions

When you’re finished applying the desired neural filter, click OK at the bottom of the panel so that changes can be made.

5 Must-Try Neural Filters In Photoshop

Although all of the neural filters in Photoshop are worth trying, let’s take a closer look at the top 5 I believe everyone should be using right now.

1. Skin Smoothing

The Skin Smoothing filter removes and minimizes imperfections, such as blemishes and pimples. In addition, it softens skin to make it look flawless.

Another highlight of the filter is that it preserves skin texture while removing imperfections. As for wrinkles and fine lines, I didn’t notice significant improvements.

The filter only modifies skin. Therefore, you don’t need to worry about hair or eyes since it won’t affect them.

The Skin Smoothing filter has only two sliders, so changes can be easily done too, even if you’re a beginner.

The Blur slider removes imperfections. The amount of blur depends on the level of the skin issue. However, I advise you against setting it to maximum because it might remove too much of the skin’s texture.

In Smoothness, you can soften the blur applied.

Keep in mind that if there is too much acne and blemishes on the skin, the filter won’t be able to remove these issues altogether. On the bright side, it will make the skin look much better.

2. Colorize

The Colorize filter lets you apply colors to black-and-white photos. Photoshop artificial intelligence can do the process entirely, but you can interfere by applying colors to specific areas in an image.

The resulting images often look natural and convincing. In some cases, however, be ready to spend some time refining the colorization done by the AI.

The Colorize filter is the last option within the Color Filter group.

This filter has many adjustment options. I will guide you through the main ones.

After activating the Colorize filter, you must enable the Auto Color Image option.

Once you do this, your image will be instantly colorized. The AI will base the colorization on several similar images to yours. That’s why the colors are coherent with the corresponding objects.

However, outcomes will not always be perfect. Thus, flaws in certain areas may occur, such as in the example below, where green stains appear on the girl’s dress sleeve behind the fence.

There is a preview window above the colorize options. Click anywhere in it to add focal points, which are points that mark the area to be colorized.

You will need to look at two windows while using the colorize filter. In the main window, you can see the colorization changes. In the preview window, you can add the focal points.

To add focal points, hover over the desired area until your cursor turns into a target icon, as in the example below.

Once you click the target area, the color picker panel will appear. Pick any color you want.

After adding a focal point, it will appear in the preview window.

The target area will be colorized. In my case, the girl’s dress sleeve behind the fence turned beige, similar to the rest of her dress.

Under the preview window, you can adjust the color strength, making it look subtle or more intense, depending on your needs.

You can also delete a focal point by clicking the Remove button.

Keep adding focal points to your image until the colorization is complete. There is no limit to the number of focal points you can use. However, too many focal points can cause stains and undesired color blending.

Under the focal point options, you will find the Adjustments slider group.

Click the arrow to reveal the options.

Within the Profile drop-down menu, you can find themed filters to apply to your image.

Moving down the options, you will find sliders to change the overall tonal range of the image. Thus, you can turn the image bluer or more yellow, and so on. There is also a slider to adjust the image saturation.

Finally, at the bottom of the Colorize options, you will find sliders to reduce color artifacts and noise, which are common problems with old photos.

The last option available is Output as a new color layer. As the name implies, it creates a layer with the color changes.

3. Depth Blur

The Depth Blur filter creates depth of field quickly and easily. Depending on your taste and needs, you can customize the effect to make it more subtle or intense.  

The Depth Blur neural filter is one of the Photography neural filters.

Many settings are available to adjust the depth blur filter, most of which are interdependent. When you change a setting, others must also be adjusted.

You can add focal points in the preview window. The focal points are the areas that you want to be in focus.

To do this, click any part of your image. In my case, I added a focal point to my subject.

Click the Remove Focal Point button under the preview photo to remove a focal point.

You can also let Photoshop automatically add a focal point to your subject by selecting the Focus Subject option.

After adding a focal point, you must adjust the Focal Range. It determines the area of the image that will be blurred. The amount of blur is inversely proportional to the focal range. Thus, the less the focal range amount, the more blurred the area and vice versa.

Another important setting is Blur Strength. It controls how intense the blur effect will look.

Haze adds a cool fog effect to your image. You should be careful not to overdo it since it can make seeing details in the background difficult.

Scrolling down the Depth Blur options, you can find sliders to change your image tint and adjust temperature and saturation.

You can also adjust the overall Brightness of the image.

If you spot grains in your image, remove them using the Grain slider.

Lastly, you can select the Output Depth Map Only option. It can help you to check the level of depth blur throughout your image, among other things.

The darker areas in the map correspond to the regions in focus in the image, and the lighter areas correspond to those out of focus.

4. Photo Restoration

The Photo Restoration filter is the last filter of the neural filters list.

When you activate it, you will see three main sliders.

The Photo Enhancement setting makes your photo appear to have a higher quality. It improves the image’s tonal range and contrast while trying to preserve its details. It also removes some of the noise and grain in it. The changes are usually impressive.

Enhance Face detects faces and generates new pixels to create or boost details in the detected face. For example, if your portrait doesn’t show enough details, eyelashes and hair strands that weren’t initially there, will appear.

Scratch Reduction removes scratches and other similar imperfections. When increasing this slider too much, the filter sees details as scratches and removes them. Thus, a safe way to use this slider is to set it to zero and bring it up slowly until the scratches are gone.

The Adjustments option erases unwanted noise and artifacts from your image if the previous sliders didn’t remove them.

The Noise reduction is an excellent option for restoring old photos since noise is a common issue these images have.

The Color noise reduction slider also reduces noise, removing pigmented spots instead of black and white noise. In my case, I didn’t need to adjust this parameter because I was using a sepia photo.

The Halftone artifacts reduction option reduces artifacts caused by old photo printing.

You can use the JPEG artifacts reduction slider if your photo was compressed to JPEG or has signs of JPEG compression, like pixelation.

5. Smart Portrait

The Smart Portrait modifies the features of one or more people in a photo. You can use it to fix minor details, enhance features, and create caricatures.

Most of the Smart Portrait options work great. However, some have a few weird bugs, as you will see next.

An important thing to note before going forward is that the Smart Portrait filter is stored in the cloud, and to use it you need to be connected to the internet.

Once you turn the filter on, it will detect a face in your photo. The face thumbnail will appear above the adjustment sliders.

If your image contains multiple faces, click the photo thumbnail arrow and toggle between them.

The first filter group is the featured filter. This group lets you change some people’s features and emotions.

If you intend to make subtle changes, check off the Auto Balance Combinations checkbox. This makes the effects look more natural.

Move the Happiness slider to the right to make your subject look happy or to the left to make them look sad. An interesting fact about this filter is that Photoshop not only adds a smile to the subject but also alters the whole facial expression to convey the selected emotion.

Make a person look like a teenager or add gray hair to their head using the Facial Age slider.

Add more hair to a person’s head using the Hair Thickness slider.

Hair Thickness at + 30

The Eye direction slider can correct a person’s eyes, for example, when everyone in a photo is supposed to look in a particular direction and someone is looking in the wrong direction.

Within the Expression options, you can find sliders to make your object look surprised or angry. They didn’t work well with my image since the emotions generated didn’t come close to surprise or anger, but you can try using them in your photo to see if you have better luck.

In the Global group, you can find two more filters.

The Head direction changes the orientation of your subject face and neck. However, it causes severe distortions depending on the amount, as seen in my example below. I advise you to set this slider to a low value if you need to use it.

Head direction at + 27

The Fix Head alignment tries to fix the bugs the Head direction slider causes without much success.

The Light Direction slider controls how the light shines on your subject. Try to use low values for these sliders; otherwise, the effect will look harsh and unnatural.

Finally, you can find the Settings slider group.

Retain Unique Details preserves your subject features while using the Smart Portrait filter. When you lower this parameter or set it to zero, the Photoshop AI ignores your subject’s unique features, making your subject look nothing like himself or herself.

Mask Feathering creates a smooth transition between pixels generated by the neural filter and the original pixels in your image. In most cases, it is worth increasing this parameter.

Neural filters are excellent options for creating effects that would otherwise be hard to achieve. I use them to make small, subtle changes to images, which works wonders. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy these filters as well.

Photo of author
I'm a Canadian photographer and photo retoucher turned founder of bwillcreative.com. Around here I help you to decode the mystery of photo editing with no-fluff videos and written guides to help you achieve your creative goals. Outside of shooting photos and my passion for educating, you'll find me mountain biking or on the trails with my dog, Sunny!

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