Photoshop CS5: Oil Painting with Pixel Bender

Photoshop CS5: Oil Painting with Pixel Bender


One of the cool new tools from Adobe Labs is Pixel Bender. This free extension lets you apply any one of a series of filters that comes with the extension to your images in Photoshop CS5. But that’s not all – Adobe also provides a simple interface for Pixel Bender that lets you create your own filters. As a result a community is building around Pixel Bender with users sharing custom created filters with others. In this post I’ll show you how to get started with Pixel Bender.


You will find the Pixel Bender extension here for download: Make sure to download the version that matches your operating system and your version of Photoshop CS5 (32 or 64 bit). The extension is an .mxp file and you need to install is using the Adobe Extension Manager.


You can install the extension by double clicking on the file to launch the Adobe Extension Manager. If you’re using Windows Vista or Windows 7, you should run the Adobe Extension Manager as an Administrator. So, from the Start menu, locate the Adobe Extension Manager entry, right click it and choose Run as Administrator. The reason for this is that the extension needs to be placed in a folder that you can only access if you have administrator privileges. If you launched the program manually choose File > Install Extension and locate and select the extension that you just downloaded.

Accept the license terms and the extension will be automatically installed inside the appropriate Photoshop CS5 program folder.

When you’re done, close the Extension Manager, close Photoshop and reopen it.


Pixel Bender won’t work on images larger than 4096 x 4096 so start by resizing your image if necessary. If desired, you can convert an image to a Smart Object before applying a filter.

To run Pixel Bender open an image and choose Filter > Pixel Bender > Pixel Bender Gallery. You’ll see a list of filters in the dropdown list which currently displays CircleSplash. Select the OilPaint filter and then adjust its settings. Using Stylization, you can adjust the length and bend of the brush strokes – the larger values look best. Cleanliness will adjust the smoothness of the effect and typically looks good at around 7 or 8. Colorization allows you to apply more or less color to the image. BrushScale changes the size and length of the darker brush strokes – a small value gives thin long lighter brush strokes and a larger value gives shorter thick very dark brush strokes. BrushContrast will adjust the contrast of the brush strokes and is probably better left at a value approaching 1.

In short, adjust the sliders until you get a result you like. If you are unsure how a slider is affecting the image drag it all the way to the left or right to see the effect. Then adjust from there.

When you’re done, click Ok to apply the result to the image. Unlike most filters which convert images to look like an oil painting, this one does well at identifying edges in the image so the painting looks more realistic.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Tania March 4, 2013 09:53 pm

    Can i instal Pixel Bender to photoshop cs6?
    And from where?

    Thank you very much

  • Michael Fineman October 28, 2011 07:11 am

    I've installed Pixel bender on my Mac and when I load it all I get is a blank white screen where my image is supposed to be.

    I even created a duplicate layer of my original thinking that might be the problem.

    I can see all the different choices but the process on GPU is grayed-out.

    Any suggestions?

  • Michael October 27, 2010 07:16 pm

    @Becky Sue.

    make sure you flatten the picture, and the size must be small.

  • Robert Johnston October 21, 2010 08:32 am

    As an artist using Oils and Acrylics, the results obtained with these settings are amusing. Anyone wanting to make images look like works of art, needs to go into a good museum and study what paint strokes really look like. Then, use many combination's of CS filters, capturing different areas, for different types of strokes.

    Even then, they do not look realistic. But by blurring them or smudging them and altering strokes so they do not look the same. Only then do they begin to look like a real painting. Personally, Id rather begin with a blank canvas in CS, then use various brushes to create an original Digital Painting...

  • Becky Sue October 20, 2010 02:59 am

    Hi Helen, I downloaded Pixel Bender for my Photoshop CS4 and when I open an image and try to apply the Pixel Bender filter I get an error message and Photoshop freezes and I have to close Photoshop entirely from my Task Manager. Any ideas as to what is happening? I downloaded the 32-bit version which is compatible with my computer. I really want to use this filter esp. with the Droste Effect. Thanks in advance.

  • Golfzilla October 8, 2010 12:29 pm

    Pixel Bender is fun and allows the making of interesting images:

  • Barbara October 6, 2010 08:09 am

    Don't get your panties in a bunch, there! Of course it's not oil painting, I think we are all well aware of that. Who cares what they call it. ... real oil painting isn't in danger of having its status taken away from it.

  • kate October 4, 2010 11:24 am

    This is not oil painting. Oil painting is done with oil paints. It's still digital painting. It's an effect. Don't call it oil painting, call it "oil paint effect" or something. Ugh. I hate that. And if you print it, it looks nothing like a painting because there's no brush stroke depth involved. Even giclee prints of real paintings record things like that.

  • scott detweiler October 4, 2010 08:12 am

    Aside from the tutorial you did on HDR, this has to be one of the worst articles I have read by you Helen. This tool can do awesome things, but you have used it in an completely awkward way and the result is craptacular (in my humble opinion). Sorry to beat on you, this is just awful.

  • photographer leicester October 3, 2010 10:49 pm

    You're a good tutor and I like how you explain the process but I've got to say that this filter isn't one of my favourites. Keep up the good work though!

  • Katja Nina October 3, 2010 05:21 pm

    hmmm, not so sure about the result of this tool. But hopefully they get better by the time.

  • kirpi October 3, 2010 04:30 pm

    I've been using (just for fun) a lot of similar tools for oil, watercolor, an more... both on Photoshop and Gimp (as well as other alternative image retouching software available for free), since its start, some 20 years ago. I must confess that results are definitely not like those you would get with the "real thing" but sometimes they recall it sufficiently well. There are often many parameters you can set to influence the results, and playing with them is a key to obtain better "painted" images. Also, not every photograph is suitable to undergo such a treatment: some give better results than others.

  • Com Puter October 3, 2010 09:03 am

    Looks like s***t. No artfilter ever did what it was supposed to do.
    You do not EVER get "a result you like".