How To Turn Your Precious Photos Into A Gorgeous Paint By Numbers

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How To Turn Your Precious Photos Into A Gorgeous Paint By Numbers - Custom paint by number

TLDR: This is the process of doing everything yourself. If the process is a bit tedious, you are welcome to we do also have custom paint by numbers kits

So you’d like to do a personalised DIY paint by numbers of a gorgeous photo that you somehow took from the deck of your last Croatian cruise (when feeling decidedly pesto-green about the gills)?

That’s a fantastic idea! However, how do you turn a photo into a painting without being skilled like a contender at Portrait Artist Of The Year on BBC? We’re here to help you start that amazing creative journey. So, before you rush off and email your entry to the BBC let’s go through the all the steps and get you started on a beautiful painting. If you follow these steps you will be able to create your very own painting of a favourite photo on paper “map” that is cut out and adhered to canvas. The results are very impressive!

If you are feeling adventurous, we have included a section (at then end) whereby you can carefully transfer your printed image off the paper and onto the canvas. It’s finicky and time-consuming so maybe do the paper map option first OR simultaneously. Don’t hinder that creativity.

For the colour mapping process, we are sharing a link to a free paint by number conversion software.

Whilst you can do this from a Smartphone we do recommend that you attempt it from a computer or tablet for a more hassle-free process. The software is called PBNify Generator.

First exciting step:

  1. Time to select a photo. A word of advice here would be to not over complicate it, but then again that statement is relative. Good contrasts work as it’s easier for the software to identify the colour changes. This colourful photo by the photographer Tom Winckels on Unsplash and this monochromatic one by Esteban Amaro on Unsplash Different ends of the colour spectrum but both will create fascinating paintings.

Upload your chosen photograph to PBNify.

Step 2: Exciting times: choosing the colour palette!

At this stage, you will appreciate the advice we gave of: keep it simple.  You will now have to move your cursor all around the painting clicking on every colour, highlight and shadow to select it into a colour palette number. Remember, each shadow is made up of gradients of colour. OR you can choose not to do that. The less gradient, the flatter toned your image will be. This will give it a very contemporary look and/or a very Japanese look. With gradients or without, they are both fantastic options and both are admired in the art world.

So more colours you pick, the more detail you will paint. Too many clicks and it might look like porridge, yup, that was from a test run. We recommend you err on the side of simple.

Step 3: PBNify On The Fly

Click the PBNify button, and wait a short time for your image to be converted into a template as well as a finished example. You will see your rows of palette colours and below that will be your image. If you are not happy with the outcome you can reselect.  Don’t expect to get it perfect on the first attempt. Take the time to play around with it.

If you click the outline button, you will see the template. If you click the filled button, you will see an indication of what the painted version would look like.

Step 4: Save, Save and Save

So you have the image you like, you have PNBify-ed it, you have select a simple quantity of colours and now is the time to click on “save” to save a copy of the filled version. We recommend this as it is helpful, like having the picture of a finished puzzle whilst building the puzzle. Also save the outline and definitely save the palette. You will be using this palette to mix up your paint colours so it is your Master Copy.

Step 5: Prepping

Now, Ms or Mr Rembrandt, get our your painting frock and check that you have the following supplies:

  • Your paint by numbers template 
  • Your colour palette from PBNify
  • Your favourite brand of premium acrylics (they dry faster). Or use oil paints. Slower drying but richer in colour depth.
  • A set of varying sizes of small paintbrushes
  • Small glass jars with lids and mixing palette.
  • A cup of water (or linseed oil and turps if you are using oil paints)
  • Paper towels or those old rags (no, we don’t want to know if they are your old knickers).
  • Stretch canvas – sized to the size of the paper you are printing out onto.
  • Matte white base paint.


Ready, Steady And Step 6:

If you’re painting directly on the paper and not involving a canvas, print it on nice, thick mixed media paper, and move on to Step 8.

Otherwise, you can print it on cartridge paper; trim any surplus paper, down to the size of the canvas and move onto:

Step 7:

If you’re going to paint on canvas, brush a thin coat of matte medium all over the canvas.

Have a look at your printout and spend a short time deciding how you would like to position it on the canvas: centred, asymmetrical, cropped off?  Next, with care apply the paper template. Don’t try to stick it down all at once. You need to try do an “unrolling” method where you curve the paper onto the canvas, roll the paper onto the canvas, your printout, beginning at one corner, unroll towards the opposite corner, smoothing out any wrinkles and bubbles as you go. It helps to use a hard plastic scraper or ruler etc.

Once it dries, paint over it with a thin coat of matte medium, and let it dry thoroughly before moving onto Step 8.

If you want to transfer your printout onto your canvas because you want thin layers of paint to show canvas through the paint, then you can follow an image transfer procedure at the end of this article.

Step 8: Mix And Match

For those painting onto the paper cutout, now it’s time to mix your first colour from your PBNify as a guide.

Hot Tip: Mixing one colour at a time to keep others from drying out while you paint a section. Close them into their lidded containers, and this means you can come back to them whenever you need them and they won’t be dry. It’s tough to remix matching colours every time you need them.

Double Hot Tip: Try to mix a little extra. This will become easier with practice.  The reason for this is to save a little extra of each colour until the end. There might have been a section that you missed, or you want to add a bit more of the gradient to a certain area etc.

Step 9: One At A Time

It is recommended you paint all areas needing that one colour before changing to the next colour. This means less cleaning of brushes and less chance of mudding your colours.  Paint the whole section. Give them time to dry as well. J

Patience Makes Gorgeous.

Chilli Hot Tip: Use your lightest colours first and, in addition to this, paint out the biggest areas of each colour. The benefit of this is that if you accidentally paint outside the lines the darker paint will hide those little slip ups.  Sneaky but definitely a trick that the professionals use.

So you have painted your heart out and your masterpiece is ready: if you want, you can seal it all with a coat of matte clear medium.

Hang it and wow yourself and your visitors!

Ps: we promised that for those adventurous souls out there who wanted to do a full image transfer onto your canvas, here is the process:

You will need:

  • Photocopy of image to transfer / copy in reverse if it matters to the image
  • Thick paper, canvas, or wood to use as background
  • Matte medium
  • Foam brush or wide brush
  • Old plastic card or brayer
  • Container for water
  • Sponge (optional)
  • Hairdryer (optional)


Ask your local print shop to do a photocopy or a laser print of your image that you want to transfer. We state laser explicitly because the toner must be in the paper (an inkjet won’t work).

Take your printout and cut around the image without touching the lines but cutting away most of the surplus paper.

Now take your clean foam brush and brush on the matte medium on the FRONTSIDE of your printout, the whole printout.  It is best to use a smooth and thick coat.

Turn your printout over onto your canvas. This means you will have spent a few minutes deciding on the positioning of your image before doing this. Use a brayer, stiff plastic scraper or old plastic card to gentle, smooth the image onto the canvas. Use the method mentioned earlier in this article. Be sure that good contact is made throughout. An air bubble means no contact, which means no transfer. Allow it to dry fully and here is when the hairdryer will help.

The matte medium will turn opaque once it has dried fully.  This is the time for the water jar and a piece of sponge. Make sure it is a clean piece. If you don’t have a sponge, you can use your finger or something else. So slowly work the sponge/finger/thingy in small circles and slowly begin to remove the paper backing. Don’t be too vigorous.

And you guessed right; it is a slow process so put on your favourite radio station or practise your yodelling lessons. Take it slow. It will probably need a few attempts. Any paper that is not rubbed off will block the image. Once you have removed enough to suit your needs, give the template a top coat of clear matte medium to seal it.

If this foam brushing, scraping and rubbing has tired you out just be reading the process and you don’t want to paint onto paper adhered to a canvas then you are welcome to purchase a Custom Paint By Numbers Kit from us. All that you need to do is upload your image of choice here on our website.

Each of our kits includes Professional Editing!  AND it comes will a full set of premixed paints to get you up and going quickly. So whether it’s the whole DIY process you want or just the painting option, you now have all the info at your creative fingertips.

Best of luck and please share pictures of your creations, we’d love to see them!