6 Tips for Realistic Digital Painting in Photoshop

The ability to draw realistically is that the drawings are obtained as close as possible to the photos. I know that this does not sound very poetic, but for many newcomers the journey into the world of realism is full of confusion and disappointment.

Realism is oxygen for digital painting. It helps to breathe life into your work, associating them with familiar things. We become attached to realism because we see ourselves in it. Therefore, it is not surprising that many artists all their lives are trying to master realism and its wonderful greatness.

In today’s article, we’ll go through some useful tips that will help incorporate various elements of realism into your digital arts. It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a more experienced artist, read these techniques for more realistic drawings.

1. Use photo textures in your work.

A great way to immediately add realism to a digital drawing is to apply a texture to it. This can be done easily, including photo textures in your work.

Photographic textures are parts of photographs that you warp and manipulate to blend into a pattern. This technique is particularly well suited to achieve the perfect texture of clothing, leather, details of nature, common sand and dirt details.

In this incredible example of Johnson Ting, he creates a magnificent image of an astronaut. Notice how he uses small portions of the photos to add realistic textures to his design.

2. Draw with texture brushes

Remember Bob Ross? King gigantic hairstyles in the style of “afro” and “happy trees”? For more than ten years, he has painted great oil landscapes in his TV program The Joy of Painting. He achieved incredibly realistic details with simple materials, including a broad paint brush, which he used to create his signature trees.

You can also get a realistic result using a large number of textured brushes in Photoshop. They can be found on the Internet or create yourself. This will help you a series of lessons Custom Brushes in Photoshop.

Want to see how this is done? Learn how to use different brushes in these lessons:

  1. Paint Texture Brush in Photoshop
  2. We draw realistic fire in Photoshop
  3. We draw realistic water in Photoshop
  4. Draw realistic snow effects in Photoshop

3. Use Ambient Occlusion for lighting

Learning the Ambient Occlusion technique is like stumbling upon the holy grail of drawing techniques. If you are already familiar with drawing in shades of gray, then perhaps you know this common equation:

One black and white base + colors with different blending modes = almost finished drawing.

What could be more useful than understanding how light and shadow work? Of course, there are many other techniques, but the magic is always in the light.

We were already impressed by the possibilities of Photoshop to turn black and white shades into dynamic color drawing. But with Ambient Occlusion, it is enough just to apply a universal lighting scenario, which reduces the time required to complete the work by half. Maybe even more. After you complete the transformation of shades of gray into colored shades, the drawing will be almost complete. No more imageless “dopilivany” images after applying color or eliminating errors in the original blank.

Many authors of lessons successfully apply this technique. See how the author of this tutorial used Ambient Occlusion to create Chinese noodles in Photoshop. Just master this technique, and it will significantly change the process of drawing and allow you to create more realistic drawings.

4. Draw with natural color palettes

If you are not sure of your drawing skills, do not worry, over time you will improve them. But there is one great alternative to achieve realism, which is that you need to focus on color.

Even if you find it tempting to paint in bright, vibrant colors, limit your color palette to the colors available in nature. Take color samples from photos and test these values ​​in your drawings. Soon you will see that you do not need to be the best artist in the world to make your work much more realistic.

You can also study natural color palettes to understand how to draw people. Because of the composition of the human body, drawing skin, for example, will be more difficult than just using different shades of brown.

In this illustration, Alice Catrinel Ciobotaru can be seen how even tiny shades of purple are used for her simple lesson in drawing realistic lips. Learn more about the human body to learn to notice these tiny color changes and then try your own using natural color palettes.

5. Add a quick Noise filter.

If you forget about drawing with different brushes or you are tired of collecting pieces of photos for your creation, you can use one simple solution. Use a quick filter Noise (Noise).

To add noise, create new layer (New Layer) by clicking Ctrl + Shift + N. Fill it with light gray. Go to menu Filter> Noise> Add Noise … (Filter> Noise> Add Noise) and set the field values Effect (Amount) on 15%.

Install blending mode (Blending mode) on Overlap (Overlay) and cut Opacity (Opacity) to thirty%.

This effect will add granularity in seconds. Just make sure not to overdo it with the noise, because you do not want to spoil all your efforts.

6. Create additional light sources.

Every artist in his life draws at least a couple of portraits. To work on this technique it is not necessary to use only portraits, but with the help of them you can experiment with different color settings.

The best way to learn light is to study photography. Search the Internet for some information on various types of coverage, including:

  • Rim lighting
  • Back lighting
  • Ambient light
  • Different Combinations of Light

In the drawing lesson of a Victorian cat, the author experimented with how another light source can be reflected in the figure. The additional orange light source became a magical detail, which gave the drawing more realism and revived it.

Try to apply your work, exploring how this lighting technique makes the work more lively. Experiment with different colors and be pleasantly surprised by the result.


As in many things in life, if you understand simple formulas, you can significantly improve your work. Therefore, the next time you view the work of your favorite artist, do not just sit and admire. Learn it. Imagine how she was painted. Mentally divide it into parts – not for criticism, but to improve your techniques. Are the artists using the same technology? Very soon you will see how each artist has found his own drawing process, which he likes and uses.

They found their formula. You find your own.

I wish you success in your journey through the world of digital painting. Stay in touch with the Digital Painting from A to Z series for new tips and tricks. Good luck!

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