Oil painting

How to make a photo look like an oil painting in photoshop

Oil painting in Adobe Photoshop, is it possible to get that oil brush work in a flat image? I was messing with Photoshop yesterday trying to make a photo look like a Rembrandt painting. A Rembrandt, yeah right, shut up, that’s, never going to happen. Okay aim lower, how about a hand painted art effect? inspired by the colour palette of Rembrandt. He used a technique called chiaroscuro. Its an Italian word that basically means that you use dark shadows with bright light. The theory is the contrast gives a painting an intense depth that draws the eye into the painting.

I don’t use many adobe ps filters, turns out most are total crap. Try the art effects, they are shockingly bad, nothing like what I would expect anyway. Rant over, I’m using ps cs5 to get this oil painting effect, but its so simple you could do it with any version.

You don’t need any fancy filters (apart from sharpen), no graphics tablet, and to be honest very little skill to achieve nice results from your photo. I’m sure there are third party filters that would get you close to this oil painting effect but I’m not using them here.

My oil painting effect

First off you need a good photo, the higher the resolution the better. This won’t work so well with a tiny 72dpi image, so get a good hires photo to start with. It’s also best, if you have your subject in the middle of the frame, looking at the camera. You could do this oil painting with any subject matter, but for this tutorial we’ll keep it simple.

Sit and watch the time lapse video of me working, the oil painting technique is very easy. The basic premise is that we are brushing over the top of the original image with the smudge tool. Its all in the brush work or in this case the mouse work – and goes something like this.

Lets break it down

  1. Pick a big art brush (fan brush is good)
  2. Select the smudge tool
  3. Duplicate your photo layer
  4. Follow the contour of the face and smudge very roughly at first
  5. Use long flowing brush marks (the aim is to smudge everything, eventually)
  6. After you have smudged each area, like the ear, flatten with the layer below
  7. Adjust the Strength of the smudge tool to get different effects.
  8. Duplicate the layer and smudge again

Oil painting in photoshop tips

Change your paint brush, and brush size often, so the brush marks are not all the same. The eye for instance will need a smaller brush, the forehead a bigger brush.

The fan brush is good for blending. I’ve used it to blend the edge of the person to the background, to give that blurry, misty painting technique.

Push the paint around from dark areas to lighter areas and vice versa. Use long and short brush strokes. Don’t worry if you make a mistake, just undo or smudge the paint over the mistake.

Change the strength of the smudge tool, 80% is good for strong bold brush marks, 40% is good to blend the paint rather than smudge it. Less than 40% produces very delicate results a bit like the blur tool.

You could use blur filter to blur the edge of the figure, so it looks a bit more dreamlike. Be careful not to over do it.

Sharpen the image to get realistic brush strokes

Once you have finished your smudge painting, you need to sharpen your image to reveal the brush marks. This really brings the painting to life, it makes it pop, and looks like real brush strokes – it goes something like this.

Oil Painting in photoshop

A close up of the brush work, as you can see the sharpen effect really brings out the brush work. It gives it depth so it looks a bit like thick strokes of paint.

  1. Duplicate your paint layer
  2. Use filter/smart sharpen
  3. Set Amount to 500% and radius of 1.8 (depending on your photo resolution, adjust)
  4. Look good? now knock back the opacity a bit.

Optionally add a texture layer

Finally I’ve added a kind of paint overlay to my whole image and knocked it back. I just wanted some extra texture in the background to give it a kind of aged look. You don’t need this, but I liked it.

This oil painting technique might sound complicated but trust me its really, really easy to do.

Thanks for popping by.

Before photoshop

Oil painting effect in photoshop

After the oil painting effect

Oil painting

That is all.

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Simon Stratford


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  1. This is sick!!! and the fact that it’s done with zero “actions” (which are horrible by the way) just makes it awesome!

  2. Nice tutorial.

    You talk about a “big art brush (fan brush is good)”
    I see several brushes in Photoshop, but no art brush collection. Could you be more specific?



    • Jeroen – at the time of creating this I was using cs5, I’m using photoshop cs6 now – if you select the brush tool then click the brushes drop down (top left) the fan brush is about the 14-16 brush. I think its always been there even in older versions of photoshop.

      Its not part of any art brush collection, its a basic brush, I call it an art brush because it has a brush icon rather than a round icon, and its a fan brush that traditional artists use (I think to blend colours)

      Hope that helps you.

  3. ARGH! I’ve been looking for how to do this for ages! Everyone is so taken with actions, but it just looks like a garbage filter. THIS makes sense to me! And I don’t have a tablet, so ‘mouse painting’ is the best I can do! Thanks x100000

  4. Thank you so much! I paint as well as being a graphic designer and i think this is so much fun and useful , very nice of you to share :)

  5. I personally Think article, “How to make a photo
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  6. How did you get the brush to also smudge the image as well? and which brush did you use? Did I need to smudge the whole image or just the outline of his head (including ears)? Do I only need the brush for the rest of the picture?

  7. This was great. Good job! Thank you for sharing!

    I also agree with one of the other comments …. “Just what I like: no fancy effects, layer styles, etc. Just an artist and a his tool.”

  8. That’s a great tutorial! Thank you for showing us your method. Overpainting really lifts a portrait, and a painted photo makes a great gift too – how often do people get their portraits painted nowadays? Plus you can use it to get all sorts of cool effects that can’t be done in real life, or special lighting, props or environments. A NZ-based artist that I know used a photo of his son to create this illustration of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for a recent exhibition, he made a process video and the results are just gorgeous: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQpqKlkGyD4

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