Simulate Oil Painting with Adobe Photoshop CS5

By Dr. Robert Berdan
November 18, 2011



Caribou on the tundra near Peterson's Point Lake Lodge in the Northwest territories - Photoshop simulated painting

Some painters use photographs as memory aids to help them paint. It is also possible for photographers to simulate an oil painting using Photoshops' new mixer brush. The results can look strikingly realistic except that your prints won't have the texture associated with a real painting and will never match their sales value - nor should they. It's simply a technique whereby you can convert you photographs into something that is more simplified and sometimes this can make for a great graphic for a book or illustration. There are Photoshop filters that can simulate various types of artistic effects that are faster, but the fun is in making your own unique photo-painting - here is how I do it.


1. First you will need Photoshop CS5 or greater. A tablet is helpful but not necessary you can paint with your mouse.

2. Stat Photoshop and open up one of your favorite images - I recommend starting with an image that is not too complex.

3. I like to work with images between 9" x 6" x 300 dpi and 10" x 15"x 300 dpi if I plan to make a print. You can always reduce the size of you photo-painting later.

4. Open the layers palette and right click on the bottom layer and select duplicate image - you are going to work on the top layer and then blend the top layer with the bottom layer later.

Select the Mixer Brush in the Tools palette

If you are using a tablet you can press the tablet button at the top right

5. Select the mixer brush in Photoshop's Tool bar and the press F5 to open the brush palette parameters box (below) and to start I used the settings below.


6. Once you selected the Mixer Brush from the tools palette and set the brush settings select the paint properties - I recommend starting with a Web brush (see below)


7. Using your mouse or a pen tool and graphic tablet - start painting over the image. You will have to vary your brush size depending on the detail you want to include. You might start with a circular brush movement or short straight brush movements depending on what you are painting over. Take your time - if you don't like certain strokes just backup with history palette and try again. Keep in mind you are not trying to duplicate the detail in a photograph but rather you are trying to simplify it.

8. Once your done painting, select the top layer in the layers palette and change the blending mode to Luminosity (Alternatively you can experiment with altering the Opacity). Then flatten the layers into one.

9. You may wish to sharpen the image to enhance the brush strokes. I usually select Filter>Unsharp Mask settings Threshold 0, Radius 1.0 and Amount can vary between 100-300%.

10. Finally I add my signature - I add a new layer and use the basic paint brush tool. To write smoothly I use a pen with my graphics table. It is possible to write your name with the mouse, but definitely more difficult. Save your image and\or make a print.

It takes a little bit of practice and the amount of time you spend depends on how much detail is in the original image and how much detail you want in your final painting. I typically spend 30-60 minutes per image. If anything isn't clear look at the tutorials in the links at the bottom of the page. With a little bit of perseverance in no time you will be creating simulate paintings that may fool your friends. Who said you couldn't paint with your camera and a little help from Photoshop. RB

KIllarney shoreline at sunrise - original photograph

Killarney Shoreline - simulated painting.


Bow River from Stony Plain Park - original photograph

Bow River from Stony Plain Park - Simulated Painting

Quick simulated Painting of Brebeuf Lighthouse on Georgian Bay.

Original photograph of the Oxtongue River near Algonquin Park, Ontario.

Simulated Painting of the Oxtongue River

Zoomify Movie - zoom in and use your mouse to move around and explore the image at high magnification.


Links to additional Painting tutorials


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