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Turn a Photo into a Painting with Adobe Creative Suite CS5 and CS6

There are actually a much wider range of tools and techniques for turning photos into paintings using Adobe software than can be dealt with in this short article. That being the case I’m going to focus on just one. Using Photoshop and then Illustrator this is a fairly simple yet very effective technique for you to try. 

The original photo

The original photo


Step 1 - Create an Outline of the Image

Open the image in Photoshop and from the Filter menu choose Stylize > Find Edges.

Find Edges


Save the image as a JPEG. 


Step 2 - Open in Illustrator

Open Illustrator and choose File > Open or press Command-O. Find the JPEG you created in Photoshop and Click OK. 

The JPEG in Illustrator


Step 3 - Trace into a Vector

Select the JPEG on the Artboard and click on the Live Trace button in the Control Panel.

Live Trace


The outlined JPEG is turned into a vector. It may well be the case that the Default preset for Live Trace does the job well enough. 


Step 4 - Adjust the Trace

For this image I found setting the Live Trace preset option to Color 6. 

The image after adjusting Live Trace to Color 6

In this case it makes for a great set of Paths outlining the image (TIP: It’s always worth trying other Live Trace preset options for different results) 


Step 5 - Create a Live Paint group

There are now two options available to you. You could expand the traced image to create lots of individual paths. This would make the paths malleable if the shape wasn’t quite what you wanted, however the image would become much more complex. 

Instead use a Live Paint group, which enables the filling of Paths while keeping the image less complex. 

The Live Paint button


With the traced image still selected, click on the Live Paint button to convert the image to a Live Paint group. 


Step 6 - Close any Gaps

Tracing images into Vector paths is a quick and easy workflow, however it is rarely as accurate as drawing paths yourself. Gaps are always a possibility, and they will allow color to flood out to fill other paths. 

Gap Options dialogue box


Open the Gap Options dialogue box and check the Gap Detection box. Then set the Paint Stops at option to Small Gaps. This will effectively Dam gaps that might have been left in the Traced paths. 


Step 7 - Fill Colors

Select the Live Paint Bucket tool or press K. Select a fill color and use the tool to select each path in turn and fill it. 

Live Paint Fill


This may take some time but keep going until your image starts to fill with the colors you need.


Step 8 - Remove Backgrounds

The Traced image will still have paths making up the background. To remove them, first Expand the traced image to create a group of individual paths. 

Expand button


Select the unwanted paths using the Direct Selection tool or press A and press Delete. This might take some time, but keep going until they are all gone.


Step 9 - Create an Ocean

To ensure that the background doesn’t interfere with the illustration, create a new layer and place it beneath the original layer. 

Ocean Layer


Use the Brush Library to select appropriate brush styles for your image and begin painting. Here I varied the Brush, Size and Color and built up a sea like image. 


Step 10 - Create a Sky

Add a further layer, again placed under the original layer. This is where I created the sky. 

Sky added


For this image I drew a large rectangle to fill the sky and created a Radial effect using a triangular path Rotated and Duplicated, and filled with another color. (TIP: A gradient might be just as effective here). 


Step 11 - Mask the Edges

The edges of the illustration look a little rough. Last step then. Create a large solid rectangle that covers the parts of the image you intend to see. 

Mask Rectangle


Select all the paths on all the layers (Select > All or press Command-A) then choose Object > Clipping Mask > Make


The Final Image


And there you have it, the transformation is complete. As I said, there are other options to explore, but for now see how you go using this one. 


David Smith

David Smith | Articles by this author

David Smith is Scotland's most qualified Apple and Adobe certified trainer. Having completed his education at Edinburgh College of Art's BAFTA winning Film School, David moved straight into TV production, first as a Vision Mixer then quickly becoming, at the age of just 24, a director of live TV studio productions. In 2001 he moved into Higher Education where he became a lecturer in TV Production, specializing in post-production and live studio production. During this time, and working with the support of the BBC, Channel 4 and independent production companies, David was instrumental in the design, development and implementation of industry-approved vocational courses across Scotland's Colleges. In 2006, after working closely with Apple Computers to create a unique multimedia studio for education at the Music and Media Centre in Perth, David became Scotland's first Apple-Certified Trainer for Pro Apps. This led on to David forming the first Apple Authorized Training Centre for Education, north of Manchester. In 2008 David made the move to full time training and joined the ranks at Academy Class, Ltd. where he continues to train industry professionals as a certified trainer across the Adobe Creative Suite and Apple Pro Apps range.

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