Turn your photos into digital paintings with Photoshop’s blender brush

Watch video: Turn photos into digital paintings with Photoshop CC

It’s a fun project to try on a photo from your picture library – you can choose an outdoor scene like ours, or why not try a different genre? Perhaps portrait, still life or abstract. We’ll use Photoshop CC’s Mixer Brush tool to give the photo the look of an impressionistic painting.

If you’ve ever browsed the Photoshop filter gallery, you’ll know that there are several filters that can be used to create a painterly look. But they are all blunt and universal. The advantage of using the Mixer Brush tool is that it creates painterly strokes based on the details and colors of the image. This allows you to customize the effect rather than applying a generic filter. However, it involves a bit more work.

We need to push and pull the colors with the brush to create our strokes, following the lines and shapes of the plane with short, sharp strokes. We can also enhance the effect with other brushes, including a free watercolor set from Adobe.

Using multiple layers allows us to gradually build up the effect. Just like a painter might, we can start by using broad strokes and then add finer details later. It might take a bit of time, but it’s a relaxing and rewarding task, and makes even the most clumsy doodler feel like they’re painting.

01 Mixer brush settings

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Open the Layers panel and click on the new layer icon, then get the Blender Brush tool from the toolbox. Check “Sample all layers” in the tool options. Click on the preset drop-down list and select “Very humid”. Activate the “Clean brush” icon and deactivate the “Load brush after each stroke” icon.

02 Start painting

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Select a rough edged or bristle brush tip from the brush selector drop down list and start painting on the empty layer to smudge the colors. Use short, sharp strokes to blend the colors, slowly building the effect and following the lines and shapes of the frame.

03 Add fine details

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Use a large brush tip to start and block colors with broad strokes. Play around with different types of brush tips to see which one works for you. Next, hide the layer, then create a new layer and use a smaller brush to add detail. Continue, like this, to build the effect.

04 Download Free Adobe Brushes

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Grab the normal brush tool and create a new layer. Open the brush picker, click the cog icon and choose “Get more brushes”. Download the Adobe Watercolor bundle. Alt-click to sample the colors of the image and paint some splatters around the edges.

05 Enhance the colors

(Image credit: James Paterson)

Highlight the top layer and merge a copy of all layers by pressing Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E, then go to Filter > Camera Raw Filter. Use the tonal controls in the Camera Raw Basic panel to increase contrast and saturation, then press OK. Then duplicate the layer with Cmd/Ctrl + J.

06 Emboss the paint

(Image credit: James Paterson)

We can use a filter to give our strokes some extra depth, as if the paint has been applied thickly in spots. Go to Filter > Stylize > Emboss. Adjust the settings to create ridges in the image as shown. Press OK, then go to the Layers panel and change the Blend Mode to Overlay.

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Marilyn M. Davis