Photo Editing: The Posterization Effect

A posterization effect is an effect whereby an image is converted such that regions of the photograph with similar coloration are normalized, causing there to be fewer different colors in the resulting image, but the same general range of colors. The effect was named because it was used to simplify color information to make poster printing more efficient.

Though the effect can come as an undesirable consequence of over-compressing images, it can also be quite desirable when applied purposefully, giving pictures a retro-authentic or Warhol-esque feel.

A recommendation: use colorful images. The posterization effect is not a subtle effect. It will look the best on large, colorful, well-lit images of vibrant and charismatic subject matter. This is not an effect to use on photos of atmospheric formations or poorly-lit subjects. It is further advised that you not overuse the effect, and apply it only to a few photos per shoot or exhibition.

There are three ways to posterize a picture in modern photo editors:

Option One - A Posterize Tool

Many editors, including Photoshop, have built-in posterization. Fire up the posterize tool, and select the number of tonal levels you desire. If the effect fails to have the desired effect, hit "Undo" and try it at a different level. If you have no success with this or if your editor does not have a posterize feature, move on to the other options herein.

Option Two - Manual Posterization

Advanced photo editors have color levels menus. Find a menu in your editor that reads "Levels" or "Color Levels," often under a heading such as "Effects." In this menu, set both the input and output levels to a low number, such as 5. Experiment with this number to achieve an optimal effect.

Option Three - A Third-Party Plugin

Many editors support third party plugin software, and there are numerous plugins that can be found on the internet which allow for posterization. Many of these plugins are both intuitive and inexpensive.

If your editor supports plugins, use an internet search engine to find a good posterizer.

A Final Word

Though the levels menu and posterize tool options are quicker, the plugin option may be worth your while, as the posterization plugins usually offer more finely-tuned control over the posterization effect. Obviously, if you are dissatisfied with the result of a posterization, the undo effect is your friend. Happily, there are many options, editors, and tools available to the want-to-be posterizer, and no lack of artistic scenarios where the effect will yield pleasant and unique results. As has been mentioned, it is encouraged that you play around with the settings and technologies used to posterize and find an optimal look for every individual photo.

Beyond its use in canvas images, posterization has application in logo design and T-Shirt or printed material design. The effect has a memetic feel, and can produce wonderful logo and screen-print or stencil designs, especially when paired with blown-up balloon text.

Popular P&S Cameras for High Quality Photos: