Paint like a professional with Psykopaint

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Psykopaint is a web service that lets you paint like a pro without all the training, is loaded with tons of options, and lets you send your finished work as a photo-ecard to any email address for free.

Alternatively, you can use your favorite screenshot method to save your masterpiece to your computer for later usage. It has a very easy to use interface, is loaded with options to make your paintings unique, and even has a couple of fun video tutorials.

When I was younger, I briefly toyed with the idea of becoming a famous painter, like Rembrandt or Van Gogh.

Upon learning that it usually takes years of training and that the term ‘starving artist’ is more common than ‘famous painter’ for good reason, however, I gave the idea up and stuck to doodling for fun. Plus, I enjoy having two ears.

Psykopaint painting

Over the years, I have explored and used tons of different art programs and paint programs because I have never lost my love of the art itself. In particular, I have spent a lot of time using things like Photoshop filters and brushes to modify existing photos or even to do freehand works. One of the toughest things I have found is to get a photograph to look as if it was painted with a real brush instead of being ‘converted’ by a computer program. Gimp, for example, allows you to convert photographs to ‘paintings’ by applying a filter but it’s always obvious that it was done by computer. Painting with electronic ‘brushes’ looks more organic and more like a real painting, but has the disadvantage of being tough to do if you’re not great at drawing and is also quite difficult to do with a mouse instead of a tablet and touch-pen input device. So, when I discovered Psykopaint, I was immediately intrigued.

Psykopaint Image 3Psykopaint Image 2

Psykopaint is a free, online program that has three basic modes or uses. You can start with a blank ‘canvas’, use an existing photograph or other image file from your computer, or you can use one of the sample images that Psykopaint provides for you. To get started and get a feel for what the program offers, I went with the sample image of a cityscape at night.

Once I selected the sample image, and selected the size I wanted to work with, I was taken to a page that showed the full image and my mouse pointer was replaced with a large paintbrush icon. I took a moment to look around at the various options presented before actually doing anything and I discovered there are three basic parts to the interface itself. The workspace or canvas, which contains the blank background or the image you’re modifying is the main part of the interface. Below that, there’s a handy toolbar that shows the different brush options as well as things like zoom, color palette, and layer management. At the top is the menu bar, offering options for viewing your personal gallery of works, links to the home page and help index, and buttons to share your work through email, Facebook or RSS feed.

The main workspace is where you’ll find your paintbrush pointer and is where you affect the canvas or image. Using your mouse, you move the brush around as if it was in your hand, much like any other paint program. The thing I found to be really cool and fun, however, was that when you press the left button on your mouse and move the brush around, it applies the selected brush effect to the image or canvas in such a realistic way that it really does end up looking as if a master painter did the work! Moving the mouse slowly or quickly will create small changes or larger, more broad strokes and the mouse wheel allows you to zoom in and out for those fine details or larger coverage. I started waving the brush around almost manically, a huge smile on my face as I imagined the possibilities for this method of ‘painting’ and what I might be able to produce with it. Achieving the same kind of effect through real life analog paints and brushes takes a lot of training and practice and more than a little natural talent. Psykopaint removes all that and really brings the experience to the masses. Even a master painter, however can make a mistake and I am no exception. Almost instantly, I managed to put a huge blotch on the image that ruined it. Fortunately, I didn’t have to start over. Holding the CTRL key and pressing Z will undo anything you just did that you don’t like. The undo feature is a standard one for most art programs but I didn’t expect it to be there in a free web-based paint program so I was impressed. The amazing part of this experience was the amount of detail that is automatically achieved. I swear I could see the individual brush hairs in each stroke of the mouse. Very few art programs have that kind of built in functionality and realism, and most of the ones that do cost an arm and a leg, or at least an ear.

Below the workspace is the toolbar. The right side of the toolbar brings up the available brushes, each of which is based on the paintings of famous artists like Degas, Van Gogh, Monet, etc. There are also basic tools like pencil lines or text stamps. Using famous artists and their well-known techniques is, to my way of thinking, a great way to make the program appeal to those of us who want to paint like a master but don’t have the skill and/or training. Each preset brush, when you hold your mouse pointer over its name, will show an animated mini-window to provide an example of what results you can expect to achieve with it. That’s a great feature to avoid a lot of trial and error when you’re looking for a specific effect or even if you just want to explore what is on offer. Besides the preset brushes, there are also some really neat tools like the ‘paint cannon’ or the spray can or the knife edge. Each of these offers a pretty unique take on some standard tools to allow you to be even more creative and add a personal touch and feel to the work you’re producing. The toolbar also allows you to modify the parameters of each preset brush, like opacity and size of the brush. With all these options, you’re sure to find what you need to produce the effect you’re looking for.

The menu bar at the top is pretty self-explanatory so I won’t go into a lot of details on it, except to say that the sharing features for RSS and Facebook are a must-have in this day and age for nearly any website that allows you to create something of your own. After all, what’s the point of creating art if you can’t share it with your friends and the rest of the world?

Psykopaint Image 1Once you’re done with your masterpiece, you have a few different options for what you want to do with it next. My two favorite options are saving the painting as a screenshot to my local computer’s storage, and sending a free e-postcard of your work to an email address of your choice. Screenshotting the painting is a simple process and you can use your favorite screenshot program for it, or use the Windows standard of hitting the “PrtSc” key and then ‘pasting’ the result into MSPaint, which comes installed on any Windows operating system since 3.x, I believe. This method allows you to keep the original work, modify it in any way you want at a later date, and do pretty much anything else you can think of with it, as it will be an image file on your computer. Personally, I have been using my Psykopaintings as desktop wallpapers on my laptop. The e-postcard feature is also a lot of fun. You can currently select one of two different ‘styles’ of card, which will have the text of your message on the back and the full ‘print’ of your painting on the reverse side. The e-postcard is animated, when you flip it over and I find it to be a charming way to show someone that you are not only thinking of them, but that you took the time to make something unique just for them. Whether it’s a friend, relative, love interest, or whatever else, they are sure to be impressed with your artistic prowess and appreciate the effort you put into sending them something you created, rather than a ‘pre-made’ e-card from one of the thousands of websites out there.

Psykopaint Image 4If you’re feeling overwhelmed or having trouble figuring out how to do something with Psykopaint, they have a free YouTube page that has tons of video tutorials to help you learn more about it and how to accomplish your artistic vision. This level of support is always nice to see in a free program, and really shows the developer’s dedication to making their product accessible and easy to use.

Psykopaint is one of the few rare gems in the freeware world that offers one the chance to be creative in a painless and fun way, and share that creativity with others. Everything mentioned in this article is completely free and doesn’t even require registration of an email address or anything. Making the program free and accessible without signing up for anything is a welcome boon in a world where giving out your email address seems to be a requisite for everything from watching TV on the web to getting information on your local movie theaters and their show times. Psykopaint does offer a subscription service that lets you do things like have a real life canvas print made of your paintings, or have a profile page to display all your work to the whole world, but none of these options is necessary or required to enjoy the benefits of Psykopaint’s core experience. You can save your work as a screenshot or as a Psykopaint ‘.ppp’ file on your computer and do whatever you want with it, or send it as an electronic postcard, all for free! I want to stress that the program and its use don’t cost anything. It’s the totally optional services they offer on the website that require a subscription. Personally, I find this kind of thing to be a great notion. Give us freeware that lets us do wondrous things, but offer us a higher level of benefits if we want to spend money on a service, too. Making the program free and completely online, while offering services for a minimal cost seems the best way to balance the economic and personal value of any program, in my opinion. Even so, I doubt I will be using any of the services on Psykopaint’s website until I have had a lot more practice with it, but it’s nice to know the option is there, especially for folks who are professional artists or have a desire to be professionals.

Tested On: Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium and Chrome 5.0+

Available here.