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How to Use NVIDIA’s Canvas App to Turn Doodles Into Art

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Sometimes the hardest part of the creative process is simply getting your start. It can be quite daunting to stare at a completely blank canvas before you begin to bring your imagination to life.


Wouldn’t it be incredible if, in a few simple brushstrokes, you could leverage the power of AI tech to turn simple doodles into stunning life-like images in real-time? As it turns out, you can, with the NVIDIA Canvas app.


What Is NVIDIA Canvas?

NVIDIA Canvas, formerly known as NVIDIA GauGAN, is a free painting app that utilizes a sophisticated AI model to transform simplistic brushstrokes into realistic landscapes. The software is geared toward creatives and artists, but that shouldn’t discourage you from downloading and trying it, provided you have the requisite hardware.

NVIDIA Canvas is accelerated with tensor cores, found exclusively on NVIDIA RTX GPUs. This means that in order to run NVIDIA Canvas, you will need either a GeForce RTX, NVIDIA RTX, or TITAN RTX GPU.

To get started with NVIDIA Canvas, you can download and install the beta directly from NVIDIA.

NVIDIA Canvas User Interface

When you first launch NVIDIA Canvas, you should feel right at home with its interface if you’re familiar with any modern photo editing app like Photoshop or GIMP. If not, you can always check out free websites that will make you a Photoshop ninja.

Default Layout and Settings

Starting with the top menu, you will find:

  • Various file options like New file, Open file, and Save file.
  • A button to Export.
  • Undo and Redo navigation arrows.
  • Feedback and the Settings cog icon.

On the left panel is the toolbar, where you will find:

  • The Brush, Line, and Eraser tools.
  • The Fill, Material picker, and Pan tools.
  • The Brush size tool.

On the right panel you will find:

  • The Material palette.
  • The Styles section, with an option to import a New Style.
  • The Layers section, where you can add additional layers.

In the center workspace you will find:

  • The Segmentation Map. This is where you will be doing your drawing.
  • The Output Image. This is where the AI model outputs the resulting image after every brushstroke i.e. Auto-paint. Note that in Settings you can disable the Auto-paint feature, and instead opt to manually invoke the AI by pressing F5 on your keyboard.

Keyboard Shortcuts

In addition to the onscreen controls, you can also make use of the following keyboard shortcuts to save you time.

  • Panning: Hold down Spacebar and left-click drag.
  • Undo: Ctrl + Z
  • Redo: Ctrl + Y
  • Zoom In: Ctrl and + key
  • Zoom Out: Ctrl and key
  • Toggle Fullscreen: Shift + F or F11
  • Exit Fullscreen: Esc key
  • Save: Ctrl + S
  • Increase Brush Size: Ctrl and ] or ]
  • Decrease Brush Size: Ctrl and [ or [

How to Use NVIDIA Canvas

Now that you’re all set up and ready to go, let’s explore how to use the NVIDIA Canvas app to make some fantastic-looking art.

Working With Layers

While you could go about drawing everything on a single layer, which will work just fine, it makes sense to split up your foreground, mid-ground, and background elements into individual layers.

This way, you can isolate an individual layer and make adjustments without affecting the whole image. Also, because layers can overlap, having your image comprised of multiple layers helps to blend the transitions between elements. You can also easily blend images in Photoshop.

Let’s try and make a picturesque mountain scene. We’ll start by adding our foreground, mid-ground, and background layers for the lake, mountain, and sky.

Materials and Styles

This is the heart of NVIDIA Canvas. With Variations, you can quickly swap between presets to drastically adjust the look and feel of the image. The Material palette is what should be used to add elements like grass, rocks, trees, and so on.

With our foreground layer selected, we’ll select the snow variation from the list of defaults under Styles. Then from the list of Materials, let’s select water.

With the Brush tool selected, let’s draw a shoreline about midway across the layer, and fill it with the same material using the Fill tool. It should end up looking like the image below.

Next, we’ll switch to the mid-ground layer, and draw a rough silhouette of a mountain with the mountain material, again using the Brush tool. Just like above, let’s fill it in with the Fill tool, so it looks something like this:

With the foreground layer selected, let’s add some trailing clouds close to the summit of the mountain with the cloud material. For good measure, let’s also switch back to the mid-ground layer and add some trees on the mountain with the forrest material.

Finally, switching back to the foreground layer, we’ll add a pass of grass and snow to make it look as if the image was shot from the viewer’s perspective on the adjacent shoreline.

And that’s all there is to it; the results speak for themselves.

The image can now be exported as a PSD or PNG file where you can add finishing touches in an image editor of your choice.

Importing a New Style

The last NVIDIA Canvas feature we’ll look at is the New Style button, which allows you to import an image of your own. The AI model will then try its best to interpret the image, and anything you draw will now be in the style of that image.

To do this, simply click the New Style button under Styles, and Browse for an appropriate image.

To test this out, we grabbed a stock image set on a sandy beach and followed more or less the same process as above. Within a few simple clicks, the AI constructed a completely unique image using the same colors, tones, and overall features of the imported image.

AI Imitates Art

What you can achieve with the NVIDIA Canvas app in a short amount of time is truly remarkable. While some images it produces still tend to have an uncanny valley aesthetic, there is no denying just how close to life they are. It will surely cement itself as a potent tool for artists, especially those doing concept work who can use it to quickly bring ideas to life.

Now that we have covered some of the many possibilities with NVIDIA canvas, why not try it for yourself and create some stunning vistas of your own?



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