It’s been a while since Adobe has added a new creative filter to the mix, but Photoshop CS6 offers a new artistic filter that many photographers will enjoy. The Oil Paint filter is a GPU-accelerated feature that allows you to apply realistic looking oil paint effects directly to your pictures.
Open an image into Photoshop, preferably one with a good range of lighter and darker tones.
Create a duplicate of your background layer and convert it to a Smart Object by right-clicking the layer and choosing Convert to Smart Object. This will ensure that you can use Oil Paint as a Smart Filter, enabling you to change the settings at any time without degrading the quality of the active layer or original background.
Choose Filter > Oil Paint. This will open a new modal filter window. The first thing you’ll notice is that there are no tools or brushes; just a few simple control sliders.
Zoom into the important part of your picture so that you can more closely evaluate the effect of each one. Depending on the size of the original image, I like to zoom in to 33% or 50% as a start.
Time to experiment with the settings! Note: press Option - Cancel (Reset) at any time to start over.
The Stylization and Bristle Detail settings tend to add local contrast to the simulated brush strokes. In other words they create light-and-dark boundaries between each curved line or swirl so that the effect seems more pronounced.
The difference between the two is that Stylization will add additional randomness to the patterns seen in the brush strokes, while the Bristle Detail impacts mostly the contrast alone. The animated figure below shows the difference (individually) between the looks that are created (while other values remain at their defaults) when moving the sliders to opposite ends of the spectrum.
The Cleanliness setting produces a more pronounced effect by simplifying or adding to the level of detail found with each brush stroke. The effect is almost analogous to using a brand new brush versus a dirty brush that has some bristles that are stuck together with drying paint. A high Cleanliness value will create a more smooth, uniform appearance while a low value will create an almost “grainy” look.
The Scale setting will scale the size of the brush patterns that are being applied to the document. As they scale their relative position will change.
Under Lighting, there are two controls: Angular Direction and Shine. Angular Direction defines the angle at which the simulated light is hitting the surface of the canvas, thus changing the perception of contrast between the strokes. A light coming from one angle may make a stroke look bright, while coming from the opposite angle (for example, 0 versus 180) may make the stroke look dark.
Shine controls the overall intensity of the oil paint effect. You can think of it as being like an Opacity control with the effect overlaid onto the picture.
Once you have a sense for what each slider does, try to set the Cleanliness, Bristle Detail and Scale in a way that is consistent with the size and amount of details in your photograph. For this image I went with less detail and smoother strokes, because waves and clouds tend not to have a lot of detail in them.
Zoom back out and if you still like the look of your detail and brush strokes, change the Angular Direction and Shine to taste. When you’re done click OK to see the finished result in Photoshop! Anytime you want to make changes, double-click the “Oil Paint” item under the selected layer and you will be returned to your settings.