What Is AI Style Transfer

What is style transfer?

Style transfer (known as neural style transfer) uses artificial intelligence to take the style from one image and apply it to another. It’s sort of saying ‘what would this cow image look like if it was painted in the style of Starry Night by Van Gogh’. 

A bit like this 🙂

But it’s not just limited to the style of famous painters, AI (artificial intelligence) takes the style of any image we select and try to apply it in a sensible way to the base image – with mixed levels of success (and this is what makes this such a fun thing to try – you never quite know what the finished result is going to look like!).

In the image below, the style from an image of sliced oranges was applied to the cow.

And the same style image was applied to a base image of succulents which gave this result:

How can I create my own images using Style Transfer?

There are a growing number of style transfer apps and platforms available which allow you to create amazing images at the click of a button without needing to install any software or invest in costly hardware. In fact, some are so simple to use you can do it on your phone or tablet! We have lots of tutorials coming.

To use style transfer programs and applications you need two images. One is your base image and the other your style image. Depending on the platform you use, some have images you can use in your artwork. Deep Dream Generator, for example, has some style images you can use, and also allows people to use styles from other people’s artwork (called dreams on Deep Dream Generator).

Fortunately, the supply of images to use is almost endless. Not only can you do amazing things with an otherwise unprepossessing photo, free image sites such as Pixabay and Unsplash offer an eye wateringly large range of images which are free to use for both base images and styles.

Can I Sell My Finished Images / Use The Images Commercially?

The best thing to do here is to check the terms and conditions of the platform you are using. However, one thing to be very aware of is whether you can use the base image and/or the style image commercially.

If you personally own the copyright of both images you can do as you wish (in accordance with the terms and conditions of the platform you are using). Likewise, if you are using images from a site like Pixabay or public domain images you are fine.

However, if you are using someone else’s image or if you don’t know on what terms an image is shared, you are unlikely to be able to sell your finished art.

But isn’t it just a filter?

Well, no! While there are some filters which use advanced techniques, for example to stick a unicorn on your head when you are talking on Snapchat or to help adjust a complexion in Photoshop, many filters are not that smart and will adjust the whole image, without taking into account things like texture and the direction of hair or fur.  Here’s a great example. To create this image, the AI optimized the style transfer so features such as the cat’s whiskers are highlighted – just as they would be in a real oil painting.

Oil painting style applied to a photo of a cat

The AI uses algorithms to best apply the style in way it feels is most appropriate for the base image. The same style which was applied to the cat image above, was applied to the rose image below and you can see how the AI has applied it differently in each taking into account the base image.

If you want a deeper dive into how style transfer works and the algorythms behind it, check out Wikipedia HERE).

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