How to Turn a Digital Photo Print Into a Beautiful Painting (using Water!)




These are great ways to decorate your area, give as gifts, or just to try something new on an afternoon.

Using a technique I call "reverse painting", you can use a paintbrush and water on a printed digital photo to manipulate the printed ink for different effects! In particular, you can turn a photo into a beautiful and unique painting.

Compare and contrast the two images shown (a "before" and "after") - make sure to click on the images to view larger versions and see the differences better.

The results shown were obtained with a digital photo print, water, a brush, and the techniques described in the next steps.

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Step 1: Why and How It Works

One day, I noticed that glossy photo paper is a little like the back of a postage stamp. If you wet your fingertip and touch the paper, you will find that it sticks.

Now, while the ink that the photo image consists of isn't necessarily water-soluble, the back-of-postage-stamp binding agent between the paper and the ink is.

This is why we can apply water selectively with a paintbrush to loosen, diffuse, and lift/wash away sections and layers of the printed photo. I call this technique "reverse painting" because instead of painting color onto the paper, you are instead selectively lifting it off and allowing it to remix or reflow (or be removed entirely). You control how this happens with your brush and water.

This process allows you to create beautiful and interesting effects, which I will cover in the next steps.

Note: In my tests, cheap photo paper ("Likon" 20-pack from the 1$ store) seems to work better then the more expensive kinds (such as HP Photo Print).

Step 2: Some Basic Techniques

Here are some basic "reverse painting" techniques; they show different things you can do with the digital photo print and water. Every technique involves applying water - the difference is all in how it's done.

The basic techniques are: The Eraser, The Smudge, and Sanding.

The images in this step demonstrate these basics. The next step covers applying to entire photos to make them look like paintings.

You can experiment to find your own techniques, too!

Step 3: Making Photo Prints Look Like Paintings

Using mostly the "Smudge" technique from the previous step, we can loosen, diffuse, and slightly mix adjacent colors on entire images.

Applying more water and being careful to stay in color boundaries (or carefully crossing them), then allowing to dry can give make the photo look like a watercolor painting. I find that it's best to work with a photo that has bright colors, is high-contrast and high-brightness, and is not too busy or "dense" for this effect to be good.

Shown is a lucky cat figurine which has been made to look like a watercolor painting. Also included is the flower from the intro, shown halfway done.

Have fun and don't be afraid to try something new! Fiddle about, and discover your own techniques and share them in the comments, or better yet, make your own Instructable to showcase it!



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    15 Discussions


    3 years ago

    love the idea, thank you for sharing!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Such a cool idea, I was looking for this! The alternative was to get it professionally done ( but I'd rather do it myself if I could :) I'll try this or else get it done professionally!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    super idea! i can get cheap decorative paintings this way. thanks a lot for sharing.


    9 years ago on Step 3

    Very nice technique. One time (long time ago) I saw this lady at a crafts fair and she had a similar technique. She would take a polaroid picture and with a nail would smudge all the chemicals before they developed. The result was a little painting. The only drawback is that she would have to take a nice picture first and do it right there and then. With you technique, the images are endless, and if you mess up, just print another one!

    I was wondering, could you just edit the image on the computer and print the mirrored version then put that face down on a piece of paper and take a wet sponge and wet the entire back of the photo paper and have the photo transfer to the other paper? Would that work and would that still give the painted effect?

    2 replies

    11 years ago on Step 2

    Those are just names for the different techniques I demonstrated. The Eraser primarily removes ink from the photo in a specific, focused area. The Smudge primarily smears/blends the color (i.e. "smudges"). Sanding removes ink in a more gradual, wholesale way (compared to the Eraser).


    11 years ago on Step 2

    Hi, I love the idea that you have presented here. I am not sure what you mean by eraser, smudge and sanding though, can you explain what these actually mean. Many thanks, very creative!!


    11 years ago on Step 3

    Wicked cool! From a certified just-don't-touch-I'll-fix-it-in- Photoshop whiner! KUDOS!

    Neato! A whole evolutionary leap beyond the "eraser aging" technique, that I, and probably everyone else, used to use on newspaper photos of public figures.


    11 years ago on Step 3

    Very illustrative, inspiring and with nicely described clear steps! For someone totally not able to draw, paint or do any such things, this technique could be useful. I'll definitely try it! Thank for giving me hope (that I can also "paint" :P) !! Loves, Eda


    11 years ago on Introduction

    This is so neat! Thanks, I've got to try it.