Richard Harrington recently shared a picture on social media that looked like a painting, and in the corner it read, “Created with Adobe Paint Can.” I immediately downloaded this free app from the Apple App Store. Although it’s only for iPad and iPhone, if you go buy an iPad for the sole purpose of using this app, it would be worth it.

I’ve always wanted to learn to paint, and I’ve used many of the painting apps available. The Oil Paint Filter in Photoshop CS6 was a favorite, and I’m glad Adobe brought it back in CC2015. Topaz Lab’s Impression is also an excellent app. But Paint Can is fundamentally different than both of these because it allows for local brushing, not just global settings. In CS6 I often ran the filter three times with different settings then blended the images together using layer masks to get the look of a different brush in a certain area of the picture, and likewise with Topaz Impression. Paint Can lets me change the brush size and density and paint with my finger or stylus over any portion of the picture. In fact, It lets me paint over the same spot again and re-render it with a different look.

The interface has two tabs: Presets and Manual. The Presets make the brush into a set size and style and gives suggestions on how to use it, like the Light Background brush. The Manual tab gives control over the style, size, and density of the brush. The denser the brush, the more paint is laid down with each stroke. One quick tip related to brush size is that the brush size is relevant to the screen, not the picture. That means when you enlarge the picture by pinching with your fingers, the brush makes a smaller stroke on the image, which has the effect of being a more detailed stroke.

You can disable the “Created with Adobe Paint Can” caption in the settings, or add your own caption, or remove the border entirely.

I spent as little as two minutes making some of these paintings, and I spent as long as two hours on others. I enjoyed using a finer brush to bring more detail to certain areas or change the texture. I developed a technique of using a highly detailed brush, then blending over it with a softer brush at a low opacity to remove harsh strokes from specific places.

The controls are simple and intuitive, and I constantly used the Undo button at first, but quickly figured out how to use the brushes to created a texture that matched the mood I was going for.

These pictures all came from my website, so you’ll see my watermark in the corner that was also painted over. I wish this app could add color, which would allow me to paint out those watermarks or cover some area that is distracting. I’d also like to see resolution options in the saving function. Still, the pictures came out of the app at 2048 pixels on the long side, which is larger than many of them went into the app, and with a little care, I should be able to make a large print from them. The videos about the app show the Adobe folks making very large canvas prints…your mileage may vary.

Levi_Sim_Paint Can App Cover-1


As with all finishing tools, knowing how to use Paint Can means I can shoot with the end in mind. I can see a scene and make a photograph with the intent of using this tool to finish it, and that makes me more creative while shooting.

I’m having a great time making paintings from my photographs. I did these while watching a movie with my wife. I think I’ll turn my daughter loose on it next and see how she likes painting with her fingers on photographs.

Adobe Paint Can is free to download on the App Store. It’s too bad that it’s only for iPad and iPhone, but at this price, we really can’t complain about availability. And like I say, I’m enjoying it so much, it may be worth buying an iPad as the cost of admission. Both the manual controls and the presets work well to lend a more impressionist feel to your photographs, and it does it at least as well as the other painting apps I’ve used.

Highly recommended.