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How to use DALL-E 2 to turn your ideas into AI-generated art

DALL-E 2 is an AI-powered image generator created by OpenAI, the developer behind ChatGPT. We'll walk you through how to create custom art with DALL-E 2.
Written by Christina Darby, Associate Editor and  Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
a painting of a unicorn typing on a laptop

Image created with the prompt, "a painting of a unicorn typing on a laptop".

Maria Diaz/ZDNET via DALL-E 2

Update: OpenAI shut down DALL-E 2 to switch to the newer DALL-E 3, available only in ChatGPT Plus, Team, Enterprise, and the OpenAI API. To use DALL-E 3 for free, you can try Microsoft Copilot or Image Creator by Designer. For more AI image generators, check out ZDNET's list of the best image generators

Life imitates art, or does art imitate life? With OpenAI's DALL-E 2, art can imitate just about anything. The text-to-art platform allows users to generate images with their words instead of art supplies. It sounds almost too simple to be true -- type your idea into a text bar, and voila! But you should follow these tips and tricks to get the most realistic and accurate representations of your desired images.

How to use: Midjourney | Bing Image Creator | Craiyon | Stable Diffusion

OpenAI recently launched DALL-E 3, the latest version of its AI image generator, for ChatGPT Plus and Enterprise subscribers, and in the Bing Image Creator. DALL-E 3 hasn't become widely available yet in OpenAI Labs, but the company had announced it would be in Labs this fall, so it's likely coming soon. 

How to use DALL-E 2 to generate images

1. Create an account on OpenAI's Labs website

Before generating images, visit OpenAI Labs, and the site will prompt you either to create an account or to sign in. 

Also: The best AI art generators to try

You can access OpenAI Labs on either a mobile or web browser. 

Sign up for DALL-E 2
Screenshot by Maria Diaz/ZDNET

2. Start creating

Once you're logged in, you're ready to start creating. At the top of the webpage is the text bar. You will also find other images created by DALL-E 2 users underneath. If you need some inspiration, roll your mouse over each image to see what prompts other artists used to generate the picture. 

DALL•E 2 interface

Some DALL-E 2-generated art pieces for inspiration. 

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

3. Type a specific phrase into the text bar

Once you're ready to try your idea, type a phrase into the text input bar. 

For example, "a modern painting of a cowboy using spaghetti to lasso a cow in the middle of outer space." 

I'm using "a picture from the classic Cinderella fairy tale reimagined in a cyberpunk setting, with neon lights and futuristic technology."

You may be thinking that the wording is oddly specific, and it is. Since the AI relies on your description as a prompt to create an image, it's best to be as detailed as possible when writing your prompts.

Also: How to write better ChatGPT prompts for the best generative AI results

You can designate an art style for the image by mentioning it in the prompt. Also, be clear about the positions of your subject(s) if you want something in the foreground versus the background. Otherwise, DALL-E 2 will populate everything through its interpretation.

Type a prompt in the text bar
Screenshot by Maria Diaz/ZDNET

4. Generate and modify

Select "Generate" when you're satisfied with your prompt, and DALL-E 2 will produce four different images for you to preview. If you're not satisfied with the images, identify any common denominator between the four and tweak your search phrase accordingly.

Also: Six skills you need to become an AI prompt engineer

For example, you might want to move a subject to the foreground or background, or reorder the terms in the phrase so that one thing comes before the other. 

If you're satisfied with the output, select the image that you'd like to save. 

DALL-E 2 results

DALL-E 2 will generate four images that you can choose from, or you can download all four.

Screenshot by Maria Diaz/ZDNET

5. Save and share

Once you've selected an image, it will appear in full size. You can save the image to your DALL-E 2 gallery by selecting the save button in the top right corner. You can save to your "Favorites" collection, which will constantly appear in a window to the right of your DALL-E 2 workspace, or to a specific collection you've started, in a Pinterest-board style. 

There is also an option to download the artwork in the upper right corner of the image. Your creation will save to your device, and you can send it to friends and family. Or, you can print the photo to have on display.  

Save and share
Screenshot by Maria Diaz/ZDNET

Tips and tricks to get the best DALL-E 2 results

Using AI tools to generate art can be fairly intuitive, but having so many possibilities and needing to specifically communicate your abstract ideas with a robot takes some practice. Here are some tips that make creating funky art even easier.

1. Draw from others' inspiration

If inspiration hasn't struck you quite yet or you're feeling overwhelmed, hover your mouse over an image or concept you like from the main page gallery and select "Click to try". 

Also: 4 things Claude AI can do that ChatGPT can't

From there, DALL-E 2 will create similar variations, which you can customize with your own text description(s).

2. Don't be stuck, be surprised

If you lack inspiration, let the software be your muse. Above the input bar, select the "Surprise me" button. From there, a phrase will appear in the search bar. You can either hit the button again for a different result, modify the phrase with your personal touch, or keep the phrase as it is and generate an image.

DALL•E 2 surprise me feature

You can select the "Surprise me" button if you're stuck or just want some fun art. 

Screenshot by Christina Darby/ZDNET

3. Explain to DALL-E 2 like it's a five-year-old

The other day, my colleague Sabrina Ortiz was trying to create an image with a Corgi and a Yorkie. DALL-E 2 had no problem recognizing the word "Corgi" but struggled to process "Yorkie" or "Yorkshire Terrier". Instead, "Yorkie dog" did the trick. Essentially, the more specific, the better -- AI is smart, but you're smarter. 


What is DALL-E 2?

Originally launched in early 2021, DALL-E 2 is OpenAI's AI system that allows users to create art from textual input. 

Is DALL-E 2 free?

Users who signed up with their email and created an account before April 6, 2023, are granted 15 free credits that expire and renew after each month. For example, I signed up on September 25, 2022, so I get 15 free "credits" until the 25th of each month, when they automatically renew. Note, however, that free credits don't roll over from month to month. 

Unfortunately, new users creating an account don't get the same free credit benefit and have to buy a minimum of 115 credits for $15. For a single DALL-E credit request, users can visit labs.openai.com, which is billed separately from DALL-E API.

When do DALL-E credits expire? 

Free credits expire after every month until replenished on their renewal date. Paid credits expire 12 months after purchase. 

A credit is only cashed after a generation is inputted and completed, so searches that violate the content policy and are not generated won't be deducted from the free credits. You can check how many credits you have remaining each month by clicking on your profile icon in the upper right-hand corner of the search interface, and there's also an option to buy more, starting at $15 for 115 credits

Can I use my DALL-E 2 creation for merchandise?

Yes. Arguably the best thing about DALL-E 2 is that users have full rights to commercially use, print, and merchandise their own unique, AI creations. Craiyon, another AI art generator, offers users the ability to order shirts with their designs on them from within the platform. 

Since you technically create the idea for your artwork, you, by default, are the accredited artist for the AI-generated product. If you download the image, though, there will be a colorful DALL-E 2 watermark in the bottom right corner. 

Is making art on DALL-E 2 ethical?

It's definitely cool that your art is credited to you and DALL-E 2, but it's important to recognize that DALL-E 2, along with other AI art generators, are trained on billions of pieces of art culled from the internet. These images have, and belong to, an original artist. While that artist isn't directly creating your DALL-E piece, your art does have elements from the original art without being credited to the artist. Whether or not AI-generated art is ethical is currently a hot topic of debate.

Can I use DALL-E 2 to create any image I want?

There are limits to what you can create with the platform. For example, DALL-E 2's content policy prohibits harmful, deceitful, or political content. Search terms for many public figures -- Taylor Swift, for example -- are prohibited to discourage deep fakes. While not all celebrities violate the content policy, their faces are often distorted for safety. 

Is DALL-E 2 the same as Bing Image Creator? 

Interestingly, Bing Image Creator actually uses the more advanced version of Open AI's image generator, DALL-E 3. The rendered images differ in artistic subtleties and attention to detail, with Bing Image Creator producing a more vibrant, detailed image.

Disclaimer: You should consider the legal consequences (e.g. copyright) of using AI-generated images before implementing them into your work.   

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