UPDATE: Since version CS6, the Pixel Bender plugin no longer works in Photoshop. Nevertheless this Oil Paint filter is now included in the plugins directory in the standard installation, so if you use Photoshop CS6, just skip all the installation instructions and just go to FILTERS > OIL PAINTING… and start following the tutorial.
Pixel Bender is an awesome tool from Adobe Labs that lets you create your own Photoshop filters. Basically it is both a programming language and a plugin. You can create your own filters and run them from inside Photoshop via the Pixel Bender plugin.
The default Pixel Bender installation comes with a gallery of filters. A new addition to these filters is the Oil Paint effect. This filters lets you apply an artistic oil painting effect to your images. It is really fast and extremely easy to use. Let’s take a look at the options.
First you have to download and install Pixel Bender. Just visit Adobe Labs page and follow the instructions.
Lets start with this image I downloaded from Dreamstime.
Now go to Filter > Pixel Bender > Pixel Bender Gallery…
Select Oil Painting from the right panel pulldown menu.
The default values are maybe the best for most images without much room for improvement. Check the image below:
Nevertheless, let’s check what you can do with the controls. The controls that will make a radical change on the image are: Stylization and Cleanlines Playing with these controls will result in either a super soft naive look or a rough pastel style.
Notice that I didn’t touch neither the Brush Scale nor the Colorization controls. The Colorization control is more like a saturation control, so it is not relevant in the effect itself but in the fine tuning of the image.
Regarding the Brush Scale control, it scales a brush texture in a way that’s "floating" in some way above the image. So, in the end, you shouldn’t be distracted by these two tools in the first stages. After you are satisfied with the overall look of the image, then you can start to fine tune it with these two other controls.
The last control, Brush Contrast simply hides or emphasizes the brush stroke texture.
The image below shows how to use the Colorization control to give more drama to the final effect. And judging for the results, it is very clear how the Brush Contrast settings can hide or show the brush texture.
In the image below we can see that the Brush Texture control doesn’t make a dramatic change in the image style. In fact in most cases I would keep it in the first 50% range to avoid, well, an ugly result:
One last tip, this filter seems to run better on detailed and textured images. A clean closeup may not be the best image for this particular filter.
Of course, this is an artistic plugin running on Photoshop, so experimenting with controls and different images is a must. But sometimes it is useful to have some basic guidelines for the first approach.