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People are using DALL-E 2's latest AI art tool to 'uncrop' masterpieces

The Girl with the Pearl Earring extended using DALL-E 2 outpainting
(Image credit: OpenAI / public domain)

Ever wondered what was just off to the left while da Vinci was painting the Mona Lisa? Or what hung on the wall behind Van Gogh's Sunflowers? Well, AI's got you covered thanks to DALL-E 2's new outpainting feature. No, DALL-E 2 can't show you what the scene really looked like – that would be truly frightening, but it can now extend an image beyond the edges of its original canvas. 

And, as DALL-E 2 uses have discovered, that quickly opens up some pretty mindblowing possibilities since it can not only save you time when you're creating original work but it can also allow you to, say add in a SuperBowl crowd behind the Mona Lisa, because, well why not? If you prefer to do things the traditional way, see our pick of the best graphic design software, but read on for more about DALL-E 2 outpainting – and some examples.

What is DALL-E 2 outpainting?

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The text-to-image AI art generator DALL-E 2's latest trick allows you to expand a painting beyond its original edges. DALL-E 2 already had 'inpainting', which lets users make changes to either uploaded images or images generated by the platform itself. Now, DALL-E 2 outpainting lets users extend an image to create larger-scale scenes in any aspect ratio based on the image’s original visual elements, such as shadows, reflections and textures.

It's a stunningly powerful feature, as DALL-E 2's maker OpenAI (opens in new tab) and the artist August Kamp (opens in new tab) spectacularly demonstrate above using Vermeer's 17th century masterpiece the Girl with Pearl Earring. Kamp uses DALL-E 2 outpainting to imagine the scene around Vermeer's muse, putting her in a cluttered kitchen.

Anyone working in image editing or retouching has probably used AI-powered tools in programs like Photoshop to expand the background in an image, but this is a lot more powerful, allowing the creation of seamless extensions of paintings and photographs alike. You can even add to the story and take an image in wild new directions by using new text prompts to generate new parts of the image.

What can DALL-E 2's outpainting feature do? Well, it could save artists a huge amount of time when it comes to expanding backgrounds for the worlds they create, allowing you to start with a small area and expand the scene. But of course, you can also use it to have fun with famous images, and users have already been sharing some of their results on Twitter and other platforms.

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How does DALL-E 2 outpainting work?

DALL-E 2 outpainting works by extending an image bit by bit. After uploading an image, or generating an image in DALL-E 2, users can pick a 1,024-pixel by 1,024-pixel square area in which to extend the image. You can let AI do its things or you can add new text prompts to try to guide it if you want to include specific elements, for example "a countryside background in the syle of a Renaissance master.

Outpainting takes into account the existing visual elements in order to maintain the context of the image and produce a coherent whole. For each square selected, DALL-E 2 generates four options to choose from. If none of them work, you can have another shot. 

And the cost? DALL-E 2 has adopted a credit system, giving users an initial 50 credits and then 15 per month. More credit can be bought at $15 for a block of 115. Adding one outpainting box costs 1 DALL-E 2 credit, so the cost of outpainting an image will depending on how big you want to make it and how many 1,024-pixel by 1,024-pixel squares you need to add.

The artist and YouTuber Addie "EposVox" / analog_dreams (opens in new tab) has shared a video on YouTube showing himself using DALL-E 2 outpainting to expand Van Gogh's Starry Night.

To learn more about how to generate AI art, see our piece on how to use DALL-E 2. And tmost recent news is that OpenAI has begun to allow the use of DALL-E 2 to edit human faces

You might also want to see how DALL-E 2 compares to other AI art generators. And if you're looking for inspiration, make sure you see our pick of the weirdest AI art yet.

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Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.