How to create your own Paint by Numbers

According to the very reliable Wikipedia, paint by numbers kits were in introduced by the the Craft Master brand in1951, selling over 12 million kits. The kits said proclaimed, “A BEAUTIFUL OIL PAINTING THE FIRST TIME YOU TRY”, although I’m not sure they’d envisaged a 5 year old me making a complete pigs ear of one I got for Christmas…

The public response to these kits led other companies to produce their own versions of paint by number. I’m going to show you how to create your own.  Well, without the paint….well actually, just the outline picture, but its a start.  The paint mixing bit you’ll have to have a go at yourself – just remember, most skin colours need a bit of blue to make them realistic (even very pale or pinky skinned people).

I love taking portrait photos, and also like to paint portraits, but am bobbins at getting face dimensions right…so here’s how to cheat and create a work of art with a little help.


  • You’ll need Adobe Photoshop for this…or any other photo package that allows you to create a cut out (cartoony type) effect.

I’ll show you two ways of doing this – one give less detail (good for practice runs/kids) the other gives more detail and involves using a Photoshop plug in called Simplify from Topaz Labs

IMPORTANT Remember to use layers in Photoshop so you can turn different images (the original, the cut out version, the outline, the cutout version with the outline on etc) on and off.

The simple way:

  • First find your photo – I nicked one of Mr Beckham from the t’internet which is probably naughty but hey, I’m not saying its mine…
  • Open in Photoshop and copy the background.  Name it Outline.
  • Select the Outline layer and go to Filter – Artistic – Cut out
  • Select these settings: 8 levels, 5 edge simplicity, 1 edge fidelity
  •  Click ok and go back to the Photoshop screen
  • Select the Pencil Tool – set it to 2pt and a mid grey colour
  • Now draw around the chunks of colour.  You can also do this by using the Magic Wand tool and clicking on each area, then selecting Edit>Stroke with 2pts set but I prefer the by hand method.
  •  Do this with each colour section – if you use Stoke, you’ll get duplicate lines in some areas – we’ll tidy these up later.
  • Now you have lines around each colour section you can deleted the colour out of it to leave just the outline.  Use the Magic Wand tool do this.  I turned the background layer off so you can see the deleted sections.
  • Once you’ve deleted all the sections you can tidy up the double outlines – they may come through as you paint over the sections.
  • If you go wrong, use the Pencil tool on 2pt to fill the line back in.
  •  Save your image as a jpg (File, Save As, Jpg).
  • Print it out and paint in the sections 🙂
  • Here’s one I made earlier….I did this with the more detailed version below.  Not exactly perfect, but you can see where I’m going with this…

The more complicated version uses Topaz Lads Simplicity plug in – you can try it out with a 30 day trial here. 

  •  Open the file in Photoshop and choose Filter>Topaz Labs
  • Faff about with the settings until you get something that looks like it has lines drawn around the colour changes – but with more detail than in Photoshop Cut Out.  Not being deliberately vague here, its just that different settings work better with different pictures.
  • Save your file
  • Go back to Photoshop and go to Filter>Artistic>Cut Out (use the same settings as above – 8 levels, 5 smoothing and fidelity 1)
  • Draw around each of the colour change sections you want – I tend to make the sections quite curvy and less complex than you get with the Simplicity tool (ironically) – remember, you have to paint inside these areas – don’t make it too hard for yourself.
  •  Use the Magic Wand tool in Photoshop to select each area and delete the colour.
  • You”ll be left with something like this – I didn’t do the hair cos I wanted to see if the outline had worked for the face..not because I was just too lazy…

And that’s it – just colour it in using the original photo and/or the photo with the outline over it as a template.


Have fun…and do share what you’ve created…I’d love to see your works of art.