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Have you seen the cartoon app everyone’s using on Facebook lately

I’ve tried my fair share of cartoon avatars, from the very first Yahoo Messenger avatar I ever used, to Bitmoji stickers. There’s something I find deeply and irresistibly compelling about seeing myself represented in cartoon form, as if the cartoon has the power to capture my core essence while outstretching a more playful version of myself. When I first saw Voila AI Artist’s version pop up in my Facebook feed, suffusing friends of all ages with an inner glow and supersize eyes quivering with emotion, my eyes went as wide as the cherubic rendering before me. I had to try it out for myself.

Creations from Voila AI Artist – an app that seemingly popped up out of nowhere – have mushroomed across my Facebook feed and proliferate on Instagram and WhatsApp as well. (Both are owned by Facebook.) The app starts with a photo of your face and renders it into three different cartoon styles to choose from, complete with shading. “Disney” is the adjective that’s popped up most often when friends and coworkers see my avatar. In addition to the cartoon rendering, you’re also able to see yourself from the eyes of Renaissance painters and create a caricature of your mug (or someone else’s).

Voila AI Artist is free for iPhone and Android, with a premium ad-free option as well (more on that, and on the app’s privacy policy, below). At any rate, it took less than five minutes to download the app and make my first cartoon grid. I also learned a few things along the way. Here’s how to do it and what to know.

My cousin’s Voila AI Artist photos, which sparked it all. Shared with permission.

Screenshot by Jessica Dolcourt/CNET

How to make yourself a cartoon avatar with Voila AI Artist

Step 1: Download Voila AI Artist for iPhone or Android and launch the app. It will ask for permission to use your phone’s camera roll.

Step 2: Select from among the four styles: 3D Cartoon (what I used here), Renaissance, 2D Cartoon and Caricature. Tap the arrow to begin.

Step 3: Your camera roll is now open. Select the photo you want to use, or tap Camera or Celebrities at the bottom of the screen to take a new picture or to search for celebrities. This generates a grid of four options. On the free version, expect to see an ad or two interrupt your view. After a few beats, you can X out the ad and return to your images.

Step 4: You’ll see four options – the composite grid of your original photo plus your three cartoon renderings and all three renderings (Royalty 3D, Baby 3D and Cartoon 3D). You can either take a screenshot from here and crop it down, or select any of the four options and click the edit button – an up arrow on Android – to immediately share on Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp, or to email, save or share through other options (when you press More).

To remove the watermark, speed up the rendering process and remove the ads you see each time you render, you could update to the Voila Pro version for $2 per week, $4 per month or $21 a year – the price at the time of writing. There’s a free, three-day trial with that option.

What doesn’t work well with Voila AI Artist

  • Nonhumans, such as dogs or cats
  • Images where the app says faces can’t be detected
  • Images of cut-off heads often work, but with an odd halo the app fills in

Voila AI Artist security and privacy: Is the app safe?

From what we can tell, although the app’s parent company says it will delete your photos 24 to 48 hours after the photo was last used by the app, it does collect personally identifying information about you, your phone and your activity online.

It then shares that personal data with third-party partners and advertisers in countries outside your own, including advertisers that may track your activity across the web. The app also discloses your personal information to any of its sibling companies, affiliates or subcontractors.

According to the privacy policy from app owner WeImagine.AI:

“When you use the free version of the App, we work with advertising partners to display advertisements within the App. These advertisements are delivered by our advertising partners and may be targeted based on your use of the App or your activity elsewhere online.”

CNET has reached out to WeImagine.Ai for comment and clarification.

CNET’s Rae Hodge contributed to this story.

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