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How to Turn a Photo Into an Acrylic Pop Art Painting

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Rich writes on many topics, including Chinese, teaching English, religion, traveling in Taiwan, football, and painting.

How to Turn a Photo into an Acrylic Pop Art Painting

How to Turn a Photo into an Acrylic Pop Art Painting

How to Turn a Photo Into a Pop Art Painting

With the multitude of websites offering to turn your photo into a painting, which basically involves printing off your photo and stapling it to a canvas, why not do it yourself and have fun actually painting it with acrylics?

Whether you are looking to brighten up an otherwise dull wall or give a personalized gift, painting a one-of-a-kind work of art is a truly rewarding activity. The following 5 step process to turn your photo into an acrylic pop art painting is designed to let your creative juices flow and give you more artistic control over the design of the final painting.

I'll show you the following:

  1. How to choose the right photograph,
  2. how to rework the photo into a two- or three-color pop art image on your computer using the innovative graphical effects program Repligator,
  3. how to add a grid to the new image using Microsoft Paint,
  4. how to sketch the pop art image onto a canvas, and finally,
  5. how to paint with acrylics.

Don’t worry if you think you think you can’t draw or can’t paint because the method of using a grid to sketch the painting, a popular method used by artists when they want to draw accurately or save time, acts as a guide to help you draw easily and quickly. This means that adults and children can enjoy turning photos into an acrylic pop art painting.

What You'll Need

Further explanation of required materials is provided in each step below.

Digital SuppliesArt Supplies

A favorite digital photo

A blank canvas

A plastic paint palette

A computer

A ruler

A pencil

Repligator software

Acrylic paints

Paint brushes

Step 1: Choose a Photograph

You will probably have in mind which photograph you want to turn into a painting. I will assume that you have a digital copy of the photo on your computer; otherwise you will need to make a digital copy of a printed photo either with a high resolution scanner or simply take a photo of the photo using a high resolution camera.

Most of the time, you will only want to paint a section of a photograph, as in my example. The Repligator software in Step 2 below will help you crop the image so all you have to do for this step is find your favorite photo. For me, the photos that make the best paintings are action shots where the subject is not aware of the camera.

My niece

My niece

Keep these things in mind when choosing a photo:

Brightness: photographs that are too bright or too dark will be hard for the Repligator software program (see Step 2) to pick out lines and shapes clearly. For example, a holiday snap taken on a sunny day may lighten the skin or add highlights that it makes it hard to define facial features.

Contrast: photos with low contrast, such as poor quality scanned images, generally do not work well for this exercise. If your photo seems like you are looking out of a dirty window, find another.

Fortunately, you will be able to adjust brightness and contrast in Step 2 but if your photo looks great already, then you won’t have to mess around too much with these.

Using color reduction in Repligator

Using color reduction in Repligator

Step 2: Rework the Photo in Repligator

Repligator is a very inexpensive and easy to use graphical effects program for Windows that lets you create stunning, professional graphics for both personal and commercial use. It’s ideal for digital camera users and web/graphic designers wishing to transform photos into cool images without paying a fortune for Photoshop or a professional artist. Repligator contains 150 effects including: Pop Art, Motion Blur, Sepia, Psychedelic Art, Andy Warhol, Half-Tone, Spiralize, Ethnic Print, Rough Sketch, and many more.

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How to transform your photo into a fun pop art image ready for painting:

  1. Download and install Repligator on your computer.
  2. Run the Repligator software. Go to File and select Open image file…
  3. Go to the location of your photo and double-click to open.
  4. Every time you open a photo in Repligator, it will help you to optimize the photo for transformation. The first step is to adjust the brightness and contrast using the sliders. Adjust as necessary using the preview to guide you and press Next.
  5. It will then allow you to rotate the image by any angle. Press Next to move to the next step.
  6. The third and final step after opening a photo in Repligator is to crop the image. Use your mouse to select the area you want to transform on the left image and it will give you a preview on the right. Press Next to move on to the fun effects.
  7. To create a unique painting of your photo using just a few colors, use the drop-down menu to find and then select Color Reduction.
  8. Press the handy Next Example button to see what your photo could look like after transformation.
  9. Press the Fine Tune button to move on to the next screen and start to personalize your image with your favorite colors.
  10. Keep the Contour Width set at zero and move the Number of colors slider down to a number below 10 but higher than 2.
  11. Make sure the drop-down menu at the bottom right is set to Off (no mixing).
  12. When you are happy with the preview image but would like to change colors, simply click on the colored rectangles on the left and choose a different color. This will instantly change the preview.
  13. When you are happy with the completed design, press OK and it will open the image up full screen.
  14. Go up to File and then Save image file… to save the image to your desktop or to another easy-to-find location on your computer.

How to open an image in Paint:

  1. Go to the image location.
  2. Right-click on the file and select Open with and then select Paint

If you don’t have Paint, use another simple photo editing software on your computer. Mac users can follow similar steps to open the image in Paintbrush.

Using Paint to add grid to image

Using Paint to add grid to image

Step 3: Add Grid in MS Paint

  1. Select the Line icon from the Shapes toolbar and pick a color from the Colors section
  2. Place your cursor where you want one horizontal or vertical line to begin. Double-click at the desired location, holding the Shift key down as you drag your cursor across the workbook to the opposite side; let go of the mouse and Shift key when finished. Continue placing horizontal and vertical lines, spaced according to your preferences
  3. Go to the file menu and then click Save or press Ctrl+S to save your photo with the complete grid.
Take one box from the digital image and sketch it in the corresponding box on the canvas lightly

Take one box from the digital image and sketch it in the corresponding box on the canvas lightly

Step 4: Sketch Photo Onto Canvas

In Step 3, you have worked out the grid size to draw on your blank canvas. Use your pencil and a ruler to measure out and draw your grid lightly onto the canvas. When the full grid is complete, take each box from the computer image and sketch it on the canvas. Don’t worry that the image you transformed in Repligator has some uneven edges, just do your best to see where the outlines of the shapes are and draw straight lines.

With this method, you can take any box at any time and sketch it out lightly to make the complete picture. Let the grid guide you to see how the lines in the photo match up to the grid. Does a line cross the corner of a box? Does a line go through the center of a box and then directly up to the top?

TIP: For really complex sections, you can split a box into another 4 boxes on both the digital image and then on the canvas. This helps to sketch difficult parts exactly and reduce mistakes.

Buying a canvas:

A great advantage of this activity is the low cost of materials, and that includes canvases. They can be bought in all shapes and sizes, and if you buy in bulk, they will be even cheaper (and you have the perfect excuse to make more paintings). If you’re like me, then you like paintings without frames. Therefore, I recommend buying a deep edge canvas, also known as “box canvases”, rather than a thin frame canvas because you can use the chunky canvas edges as part of the painting for more visual appeal.

The finished painting

The finished painting

Step 5: Paint an Original Masterpiece

This is the final and best step of all. After all your hard work getting to this point, you can relax and enjoy painting your design. Since your image only contains two or three colors, you can start with the lightest one and paint all the areas that should be that color. Squeeze out a generous amount of paint onto your paint palette, dip your brush into the paint, and go for it. When you’re done, move to the next color and fill in those areas. Continue as necessary until the darkest color is complete.

Painting the darkest areas last allows you to cover any parts where you went over the lines or filled in an area with the wrong color. The great thing about pop art is that your painting will still look great no matter how precise you are with the brush. Acrylic paint is usually thick enough to only require one coat but if pencil lines are still visible, you will need to apply a second coat.

TIP: As stated above, acrylic paints dry almost instantly so I suggest that you wash your brushes and paint palette straight after use.

Painting with acrylic paint:

Acrylic paints are great for arts and crafts projects because they dry almost instantly, become water-resistant when dry, big tubes are very cheap to buy and last a long time, and generally do not need to be mixed with other colors. The exception to mixing is black because it can produce a shiny finish when dry compared to other colors. To remedy this, simply mix it with dark blue or grey before painting onto the canvas. Although acrylic paint will wash off your skin easily, be careful not to get any paint on your clothes because it will be hard to get out. For this reason, it’s best to wear old clothes or an apron when painting.

A personalized wedding gift to my friends

A personalized wedding gift to my friends

Everyone Will Want One

Sit back and admire your masterpiece. The more you practice with this method, the quicker and more creative you will become. You will begin to use more interesting photos, add more colors, change backgrounds, and so on. The possibilities are endless. However, don’t be surprised when your friends and family admire your work so much that they start asking you to make paintings for them. Perhaps you can turn this hobby into a source of extra income or just use it to give personalized gifts for birthdays, Christmas, weddings, Thanksgiving, mother’s day, 4th of July, etc.


Gloria Siess from Wrightwood, California on September 16, 2016:

I love doing this on Adobe Photo Shop!! Fun.

CherylsArt on August 30, 2014:

Interesting technique. I've done grid method drawing before but have used a light table and also the window instead of software for the drawing step.

Firoz from India on June 18, 2013:

Impressive article. Voted up.