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Turn a Photo into a Painting with Adobe Creative Suite CS5 and CS6
David Smith on Tue, June 5th 0 comments
There's something wonderfully organic and artistic a brush stroke provides compared to the stark "reality" of a photographic image. David Smith transforms photos into painting using Creative Suite.

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. 


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