View Full Version : Photoshop tips for "oil" painting?

05-04-2015, 12:54 PM
I've been painting in real oils my whole life. Recently I decided to try going digital for a number of reasons. I have Photoshop CS5 and have been playing around with the mixer brushes and bristle brushes, trying to achieve something resembling traditional oil painting but am not having much luck. Real oil paints, when dragged over a painting surface, leave little bits of rough edges and holes, even on a fairly smooth surface. Photoshop brushes seem to blend everything to be too smooth, or leave straight edges of the brush stroke that are obviously digital. I can't seem to find a way to get a little "roughness" or texture in the strokes. I'm relatively new to this so perhaps I'm not using the right brushes, or the right blending modes or something. Anyone have some tips for getting digital brush strokes to look more like real brush strokes?

05-04-2015, 04:18 PM
The best photoshop tip I could give for this is to get a different program. :lol:

I'm half kidding here, no matter what you do you will always find that Photoshop has a digital look. Even when you get close the texture still will have that digital look, I spent nearly 2 years trying to get what I wanted it to do. I strongly suggest saving yourself some time and getting Painter or the extremely inexpensive and in my opinion far better simulation software in ArtRage.

That said, if you are willing to settle for photoshop's digital looking limitations try a mix of adding texture to the stroke, using dual brush with a soft round brush as the second brush, turning on noise in the brush, and adjusting the opacity and flow settings to have some jitter in them. This coupled with pen pressure controls helped quite a bit, but still felt lacking and looking digital to me.

Good luck with your brushes.

05-04-2015, 05:08 PM
ArtRage or Corel Painter are definitely better alternatives. A free trial is available for ArtRage so you can try it and figure out if it will do what you want, it's not expensive to purchase either, just under $50. The key to getting the look you want in ArtRage is adjusting the settings for the oil brush tool, in particular the loading, pressure and amount of "thinner".

05-04-2015, 05:14 PM
Thanks! I will give ArtRage a test drive. I just took a quick peek at their site and it looks like it might be what I want. :)

05-09-2015, 08:34 AM
I triple that. While I've seen some wonderful pieces done in photoshop that emulate oils, if you want the paint to feel like oils as you are applying it, you want a different category of software, and Artrage is my first choice!
Good luck, and please post your work in the Digital Showcase. We'd love to hear about your journey into the digital realm and offer encouragement along the way.


05-18-2015, 02:13 PM
I work in Photoshop and I'm a perfectionist! Trying to get away from that and getting more into a traditional art look. People keep thinking I use the smudge or clone technique to do my work, but I paint in Photoshop as I would traditionally, and I'd like my work to reflect that.

Haven't been able to alter the PS brushes enough to create a decent natural media brush. Might give ArtRage a look.


05-21-2015, 01:20 PM
Photoshop doesn't have paper texture or very good blending support, so if you stick with Photoshop, you might be frustrated until you get used to the new workflow.

There's a thread at ConceptArt.org that covers one painting technique pretty well, and I think the results would be in line with what you're after. You don't need to register an account to read the thread.


Edit: I should mention, sticking with hard-edged brushes and playing around with the opacity and flow sliders should help avoid that "smudge brush" look.

05-21-2015, 03:25 PM
Yeah, right now I use on screen blending: no blender brushes. I have a few, but never liked the results and they are resource hogs.

I'll check out the link. Thanks.


05-31-2015, 07:32 AM
There is a great tutorial by Luke Hurwitz on this, it is really as close as it gets to real oils I assume. Plus it's only 6$, very affordable.


11-02-2016, 03:40 PM
Hi Crista,

I don't know if anyone is still following this thread, but I'll pitch in.

Most people I talk to who have tried digital painting are disappointed with their results. I think it's because they expect to be able to take their current skills and workflows and apply them directly to the digital world, and obtain the *same* results as they get in their current medium of choice.

Sadly, that's not quite true, regardless of the software program you use. For sure, the digital medium can "mimic" other natural mediums (oil/acrylic, watercolor, pastels), but it has its own workflow and skillset!

My first attempts at painting were done in the digital world, so I had no pre-conceived ideas on how I wanted my brushes or canvas to behave or look. What I did is study a lot of paintings from artists I admire, and then set off to obtain similar results in the digital world, because that's what I wanted to do. I studied their brushstrokes, the way the paint interacts on the canvas, how the canvas texture shows through in some areas but not others, etc.

My first attempts at digital painting were with ArtRage. I picked it because it requires very little setup, and you can start painting almost immediately, with pretty good results.

But, I'm a perfectionist, and after a while I found that my results always looked "digital" with ArtRage. I often ended up going into Photoshop to add my own textures and effects to get the more "natural media" feel. As I read through posts on various forums, I also see that many artists go back and forth between ArtRage and Photoshop for ultimate flexibility.

Photoshop is a daunting piece of software to learn, I admit it. I don't think anyone really knows everything about Photoshop, it's just to broad and vast, and typically there's more than one way to obtain a desired effect. The tipping point for me (what made me switch to the Photoshop brush engine) is a video workshop by Jack Davis (former Adobe employee), on how to paint digitally with Photoshop. I think the workshop is still available at CreativeLive (I'm not associated). I watched the workshop, started using the tools and techniques, and never looked back.

I also got John Derry's Artist Brushes for Photoshop, along with his tutorials, which are more "to the point". Jack Davis likes to hear himself talk sometimes... :-)

But the point is this: Today, I've accumulated over 3 years of experimenting and applying my skills at digital painting. I have built my own set of digital brushes, derived from the ones I purchased above. And I'm always learning! Just last night I finally figured out how to get a Sargent brush to also behave like one of Photoshop's mixer brushes.

Learning to paint digitally is like any other medium: You have to put in the time. And of course it has to be enjoyable to you, otherwise why do it?

Another thing is printing... Painting digitally is convenient (I've done it in an airport once), but how do you display your art? Or even sell it? I typically print my works on canvas. I've tried local professional printers (very expensive but very beautiful), then tried online print services (less expensive but sometimes with flaws in the prints, especially large ones), and now I'm connected with a friend of a friend who is printing my works on Neschen Pure White Monet Canvas for 1/2 the price of the online service. I stretch the canvas myself on stretcher bars from the local art supply store, and then hand-embellish them with acrylic gel and paint because printing never gives you that third dimension that paint has, and the printed colors aren't always as bold.

This has become a very long post, so here's a summary of the tools and resources I use:

Workshops and tutorials:
- Jack Davis on CreativeLive.
- John Derry on lynda.com

- Some by Jack Davis (I modified most of them for my own use).
- Some by John Derry (Also modified for my own use).
- Kyle brushes (Kylebrush.com). These are absolutely awesome, I got the full pack and even the watercolor and pastels.
- Some stuff from Alex Dukal (canvas patterns, cool brushes and Impasto stuff).

Finally, two big mistakes that people make when painting with Photoshop, that create "lag" in the brushes:
1) They leave the "Sample All Layers" feature checked when using mixer brushes, which is deadly when you've got several layers going. The video workshops above show you how to get around that.

2) They paint Impasto style with the layer effects turned on. While other software like ArtRage and Corel can show Impasto as you paint, Photoshop struggles with this because it is essentially a pixel based program, and has to render millions and millions of pixels with each brush stroke. I now typically add my Impasto effects once my painting is almost complete! People would say "but that's not how real impasto painting is done!!!" and they're right, but this is digital painting, and as I said before, you work out your own workflows and techniques to make things work, as you would in other mediums when you have a problem.

You can search for my posts and see some of the digital work I've done with the Photoshop brush engine. I recall that some of the comments said that it completely fooled them, they had no idea it was painted digitally. But then, I don't really care that much anyways what people say about my paintings, I just do it because I enjoy it... that's why we're all here, right?


11-08-2016, 10:09 PM
Thanks for pitching in on this post Marc!

You have given me some things to think about. I have been using ArtRage and am kind of stuck. It paints well, but it does not paint like real mediums do. Brushes in the real painting environment do things that digital just can't do. And fiddling around with the digital realm can get old really fast.

I have PS too but wanted to keep it simple by using AR. I may have to go back to doing my work in PS. The images I see painted in PS by professionals make AR look so-so.

Thanks for sharing the links to the tutorials and brushes that you have used and modified. Your landscapes look great! Keep up the great work and thanks again for your lengthy recap of digital painting!

11-12-2016, 01:07 AM
Hi Robert,

Yeah, as you said, brushes in the physical world do things that digital brushes don't do. But then you could also say that you can do things in watercolor that you can't do in oil or acrylic. And pastels are yet another beast to master. And in my opinion, so is the digital media. It's what you make of it, ultimately! The more you experiment with a medium, the better you get at it - but as long as you're enjoying the experiment! If not, then time to move to a different medium, or take some time off, I say.


11-12-2016, 03:53 PM
Hey Marc!

I gave a quick go at a painting in ArtRage using some resources that the AR forum lead me too. It turned out all right for a first digital pastel:


ArtRage is 1000% easier to use, but someday I would like to use PS too.

Thanks again for helping me to think about pastels and to give them a try digitally. I had been hitting a road block using oils and other tools and was just not getting anywhere.

I did have a look at your work: Outstanding!

11-15-2016, 01:03 PM
Robert, thanks for your feedback!

Yeah, keep experimenting, and if you like the digital media, it's like anything else, you'll keep getting better at it the more you paint with it.

I agree that ArtRage is easier to use, but PS is nice to get those extra texture details. Mind you, at that point it's not really painting anymore, more like image manipulation... Although I often add my Impasto texture by painting them on after my painting is almost complete - it's a completely different workflow than painting with natural media.


12-25-2016, 02:11 AM
FYI. The programmers of ArtRage were the designers of the original painting programs by MetaCreations called ArtDabbler, along with Painter and several other titles.
Corel has long since purchased and shelved ArtDabbler, but not Painter. Painter is not the easiest software to use.

Since you have Photoshop it also takes effort to design the brush strokes, so check this site:

01-09-2017, 12:21 AM
Other software programs you might consider are;
SketchBook Pro, a great sketching program
Krita, art and design
Affinity by Serif, art and design
Escape Motions Rebelle, new concept art
Painter Essentials 5
are just a few that have a Trial version.

Rod Turner
01-28-2017, 01:12 PM
This was done in Corel Painter, for my money the best of the natural media emulator programs.http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/28-Jan-2017/1995830-boat_study.jpg

02-12-2017, 01:17 AM
ArtRage 5 has just been released and with new features, a customizable UI, and in particular the brush designer, this version is a real winner.

02-19-2017, 05:02 PM
Hi everyone,

I just can recommend what I know based on my own experience. I have a traditional background and have been painting with oil on canvas and traditional drawing for around 15 years.

Recently due to my trips and difficulties to have a "stable" studio I have switched to digital. Brief, I am still in the learning phase, trying to adapt my traditional skills into the digital media.
I like this question because for some time I was lost trying too many things and wasting a lot of time. I hope I can help.

I have been struggling long time for a simple reason: the moment I stopped copying other's brushes and techniques was the moment when I really improved. Now I am approaching to my own language, same as I did with traditional media. It takes long time to get used to a software and really know it to your advantage. For this reason, try to avoid learning different software, stick with one or two options maximum.

With Photoshop it is possible to emulate real media, so much that it is impossible to notice the difference (if this is what you want). You do not need the "special fx" by Corel painter, you can develop your own brushes and techniques as much as you want, beyond any tutorial and technique that can be found in the web. Again, this takes time and effort. It took me more than one year to develop my brushes (for brush tool, eraser, smudge, and brush mixer), I could not find tutorials that fit what I was looking for.

Here I put some examples, for all of them I used Photoshop and a Wacom Intuos Pro:

this painting emulate oil, impasto and several techniques that I've used with oils.

Here I used a technique to work on the edges and create a natural feel. The control of edges is the #1 tool to avoid a "digital look".

Same goes for drawing, for example graphite sketches:


hope this helps

02-20-2017, 01:28 AM
Interesting! Thanks Pedro.

regards - Peter

02-27-2017, 05:45 PM
I have been teaching myself digital drawing and painting (in Photoshop) over the last couple months, using YouTube videos. I invested in a megapack of digital brushes by Kyle Webster ($15) - before that I couldn't figure out how to paint anything. I'm still learning, but I enjoy it because I have so much more control than I do in traditional wet media (with which I have a love/hate relationship).

Anyway, my advice is to buy (or make) artist brushes for your software. That made a huge difference to my experience.

02-27-2017, 05:47 PM
Oh - and Pedro - those paintings are gorgeous!

03-03-2017, 09:19 PM
A great resource for digital brushes- probably more PS than ArtRage I have seen, is www.deviantart.com. Many of them cost nothing, or donate, and you can easily download them. I love both PS and ArtRage, and use whichever one is going to achieve what I am looking for in the least amount of work, layers, and steps.

04-18-2017, 01:54 AM
Hi! Newbie here.
So, you've been using Photoshop no?

I have little experience with Painting Software, or at least, Software aimed to create digital pictures, because, if you think well about it, Photoshop was meant to edit pictures, and not to create them as if you were using a canvas and paints.

In my experience, I've been trying to reproduce "Real Brushstrokes" troo with a software called GIMP. I'm pretty sure you've heard about it.

What I've found with that software is that, no matter how hard I tried to reproduce the real feeling of paint, I couldn't until I found that I could create my own custom brushes.
I tried everything: Like, downloading a picture of an Oil painting with textures (a picture with enough resolution so you'd be able to see the texture that a brush leaves behind when painting) and I choosed a part of that texture, converted it into a brush... and it didn't worked.

Then I began to use my imagination, and to actually try to understan why a real brush leaves those amazing marks when painting... and then I was able to create a custom brush that could make those marks.

After that, I found that I could create textures in my pictures (still talking about GIMP) and I began to experiment with textures in white pictures, and other colors too, like gray pictures, brown ones, blue ones, and so on and so forth. But something was missing and I couldn't find what was that. That until a week ago or so.
What I was missing was the lighting, you know, the enviroment lighting.
Imagine that you have this white colored canvas right before your window, then you'll notice how the parts of the canvas near the window are brighter than those away from it. Then I created a gradient with white and gray to reproduce "lighting" in my pictures and that was it.

It may sound confusing, but long story short:

1.- Create a custom brush that resembles a real brush.
2.- Use textures on your canvas-es, so you can "reproduce" all types of materials. Like a smooth surface, or a rough one, perhaps a Canvas like texture or perhaps a texture that looks like Fabric.
3.- Try to reproduce real life environments with your presets.

I'll be glad to show you with pictures what I mean, but, I think I can't post pictures until my third post or something like that.

05-13-2017, 10:11 PM
Hi everyone,

I am trying to emulate real media with digital software, this is probably what I like since I learned to draw and paint with charcoal and oil.

It's been a while since I have been developing my own tools and ways to have a "real" painting feeling.

these are my last two drawings with a Wacom Intuos pro and Photoshop.


and this one below is charcoal (digital)


there is a lot of work and experimentation behind, it took me years to do this with digital media. In any case, the key for EVERY painting or drawing is to learn to do with real charcoal or oil.

06-08-2017, 11:40 PM
When I feel like I want to do extra miles on making my digital painting to look traditional, I use PS for making the sketch, then color it with artrage, and then refine details/crop/cleanup in PS.

07-22-2017, 04:47 AM
I am using rebelle (from escapemotion) and Topaz impression. Rebelle is a stand-alone program, however Topaz impression is a Photoshop plug-in. There are lots of ready use presets. You can use oil painting presets, or if you want there are sketching, watercolor or some famous painter's styles presets.
If you want to use Rebelle, you can import any image to program and play with it. Actually, it is the best software for me, which can be very useful, if you want to get very close results to reality. Strongly suggested.