Photoshop Tutorial: Realistic Paint Effect

Let’s face it – we all can’t be Van Gogh, Matisse or even a Picasso. People tend to like Photoshop because it enables you to fake your artistic skills. If you aren’t a painter or all that artistically inclined, it’s time you learn how to use Photoshop like a pro.

A favorite function of Photoshop tends to be making a photo look like a real painting. People often look for a quick fix that ends up making their photo look like a kindergarten craft project. Trust me – there’s no easy one click solution to creating a pain masterpiece in Photoshop. So many graphic designers tend to think there is but I’m about to show you how to wow and dazzle your friends, colleagues and audience by making any photo over into a piece of Smithsonian-worthy art.

What You’ll Need:
1. A Photo (the more colorful, the better the result)
2. Photoshop (I used CS2 for this – anything higher will do fine as well)

Lady GaGaFor this tutorial I’m going to take this photo of Lady GaGa and make it over to look as if we’ve hand painted it. You can use whatever photo you want – landscapes and nature scenes would look great with this tutorial. After you have your image, open it in Photoshop and duplicate the image/background layer 3 times. You’ll want 4 layers in all (including the original background layer) containing the same image.

Your layers panel in Photoshop will look a little like this. You’ll want to make the top two layers invisible (click off the ‘eye’ icon in the box). Click on the layer above the locked background layer. This is the first layer you’ll be working with.

Step 1: Make the Cutout
Many graphic designers go wrong with creating realistic paintings in Photoshop due to a lack of understanding of how real painting takes place. It’s in layers, it involves a couple different styles and affects. This tutorial, unlike many, mimics real painting. The first step in creating your Photoshop masterpiece is to create layer that has cutout, basic shapes. To do this, select the layer above the locked background layer and go to the menu bar. Choose Filter > Artistic > Cutout. When prompted, enter: Number of Levels -4; Edge Simplicity – 4; Edge of Fidelity – 2. You can, of course, play around with these settings to get different results. After inputting these numbers, click ‘ok’. Go back to the layers panel and change the blend mode to “luminosity”. Both of these steps/panels are shown in the above graphic.

Step 2: Add the Dry Brush
You’ve laid down the foundation, now it’s time to build up the rest of the painting. We’ll be adding a dry brush effect. Make the third layer from the bottom visible and select this layer. Go to the menu bar and choose Filter > Artistic > Dry Brush. When the Dry Brush panel comes up input: Brush Size – 10; Brush Detail – 10; Texture – 3. Again, you can play around with these settings to get different results or to personalize your digital painting style. After you’ve input these numbers, click okay. In the layers panel under blend mode choose “screen.” You’ll notice that your image suddenly gets a bit brighter.

Step 3: Median
Select the top layer and make it visible (click the box so that the eye appears). Go to the menu bar up top and choose Fliter > Noise > Median. When the median panel comes up you’ll see that it gives you the option of changing the radius. Set the radius to 12 pixels. This will make your image appear as if it’ll be really blurry – that’s ok. After changing the radius, click ok and go back to the layers panel. Yes, as with the other steps, you’re going to change the blend mode. Set the blend mode to “soft light”. Guess what, wah-lah, you’re done! This was my final result and GaGa-inspired masterpiece:

Notice how much detail you get by just taking the time to really create something rather than clicking one button? What I like about this three-step process is that it does a good job of mimicking brush strokes and other real painting effects. Here’s a before and after shot:

Use this tutorial to impress your clients and friends with graphic art that really does look like it was done by a true artist. Here are a few other examples of this paint effect:

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About Antoine

Antoine is a graphic designer and artist currently residing in North Carolina. He has a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a concentration in Visual Communication and specializes in graphic design and illustration. He has spent the past six years as a graphic artist for several publications based in North Carolina. He invites you to visit his design and social media blog at
This entry was posted in Handmade, Painting, Photography, Photoshop, Tutorial and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Photoshop Tutorial: Realistic Paint Effect

  1. This is great info thanks!!! I would love to have u host a workshop/group for me on my site…Please take a look at my “Creative Playground” tab on my blog and click on Social Muze! Its a new site I put together for artists, poets, photographers, just art in general… I hope you will participate 🙂 At least take a peak??? 🙂

  2. Pingback: 1er Taller de Arte Creativo. 1st Creative Art Workshop | Life Art Group

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