The Free Trick for How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers

May 11, 2019 separator DIY Tutorial

(Updated May 11, 2019) Learn how to create a custom paint by number template and transfer it to canvas to make your own DIY paint by numbers DIY wall art — special paint by numbers app not required!

The Free Trick for How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers

Remember my paint by number pillows?

Well, it turns out paint by numbers for adults is a big thing. 

When I made those many of you wanted to know how to turn a photo into paint by numbers.

I used Photoshop and Illustrator for that. It worked fine, but it took me a really, really long time and a lot of fine-tuning by hand. Plus, most of you probably don’t have access to that software.

Fortunately, I found a free paint by number tool online!

So today I’m going to show you how you can create your own paint by numbers with your favorite image featuring DecoArt Americana Premium acrylics and free paint by number conversion software.

How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers - Final Painting

How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers for Adults or Kids


Paint by numbers for adults means getting to do it totally your way, right?

So I’m going to show you exactly how to create a free paint by numbers template from your own photo, right at home.

While this is best done from a computer or tablet, if you’re looking for a paint by numbers app, PBNify will still work from a phone.

It’s certainly worth a try for a less complicated image, but if you’re having trouble, I’d move to a computer for the project!


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Paint by Numbers Original Photo

1. Start with a photo that’s as simple as possible and has good contrast. I used this pretty flower from Jeon Sang but changed it from lavender to more of a pink coral.

Upload it to PBNify.

How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers With PBNify 1

2. Click around with your mouse to select different colors.

The more colors you pick, the more detail your paint by numbers template will have. But each click is a new color you have to paint, so find a happy medium.

How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers With PBNify

3. Click the PBNify button, and wait awhile for it to convert your image.

Once it’s converted, you can click back and forth between “filled” and “outline” to see what the template looks like.

Free Printable Paint By Numbers Template - How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers With PBNify - Outline

4. Click “save” to save a copy of the filled version (for reference), the outline, and the palette.

Definitely don’t skip the palette because you’ll use it later to mix your paint colors!

DIY Paint by Numbers: How to Make Paint by Number Canvas Art


How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers - Supplies


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1. If you’re using my painting instead of creating your own from a photo, download and print your free template.

If you’re painting directly on the paper, print it on a nice, thick paper, and move on to Step 3.

Otherwise, you can print it on any old paper; trim the edges; and move on to Step 2.

How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers - Step 1

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

Carefully apply your printout, beginning at one corner and working toward the opposite corner, smoothing out any wrinkles and bubbles as you go.

Once it dries, paint over it with another coat of matte medium, and let it dry thoroughly before moving onto Step 3.

How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers - Step 2

3. Now it’s time to mix your first color. For my template, print out the color palette.

If you’re using your own photo, use the palette you generated with PBNify as a guide.

Tip: Mixing one color at a time to keep others from drying out while you paint a section. You can mix them in a lidded container to keep them from drying out as you work.

That way, you’re not having to try to remix a matching color because it has dried out.

Tip: Save a little extra of each color in your jars until the very end. It’s super easy to miss a section, so be sure to leave yourself at least a dab to go back and fill in any spots you missed.

4. Paint all sections of your first color before moving on.

How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers - Step 3

5. Continue by mixing one color at a time and painting that entire section, until you’ve finished the whole thing.

Tip: Start with the lightest colors and the largest areas of each color.

If you accidentally paint outside the lines, it’s much easier to cover up light paint with dark paint than vice versa.

Now, if you want, you can seal it all with another coat of matte medium.

Voila! That’s it! 

You’ve created beautiful custom paint by number art to display in your home!

How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers - Step 4The Free Trick for How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers Wall ArtThe Free Trick for How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers Wall Art

This DIY paint by numbers for adults project and post were created in partnership with DecoArt, but all opinions, ideas and photography are my original creations. Thank you for supporting the sponsors that help me keep Shrimp Salad Circus up and running!


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  20. I just found your post on Pinterest and I’m very glad I did. How do you print on canvas? I can’t find anything that shows printing a design to paint over on the internet. All I find is how to print out your photos on canvas.

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  25. Hello – thank you for the tip! When I click OutlineSave or FilledSave the screen goes to my print page and shows a blank page. I’ve tried save as a pdf, but that too is blank. Please help! I am so excited about this process.
    Thank you,

    1. I have the same problem! If I just download and try to save it goes to a .png format instead of jpeg. Can you help?

        1. For those who may not know, to screenshot on PC, Alt+Print Scrn will copy, open program such as Paint, Photoshop, GIMP, even Microsoft Word will work, press Ctrl+V.

  26. I had this idea and thought this was going to be one of those things I ended up looking online for forEVER or having to piece together other’s ideas. I was thrilled when this was literally the first search result and over the moon when the second part was a freaking instructional for transferring to canvas like I wanted! You’re the best! (And making it into a larger version for a bigger canvas had already been asked in the comments!) Thank you for this post!

  27. Thank you for showing us this great app. Just what I need. I like doing watercolour paintings, but I am not good at drawing. I struggle to trace the useful lines from a photo. This app is perfect – I can make the outlines as detailed as I want then print off the outline. I was wasting loads of ink printing off photos when all I wanted was the lines.

  28. Great information!! I really enjoy reading this blog information. Thanks for sharing this informative information.

    1. Hi Stefanie! It was working yesterday when I used it for something. I just checked, and it looks like they’re having some temporary downtime. I would check back tomorrow. Hopefully it’ll be back up super soon!

  29. I have a suggestion for the folks that want to do a larger painting or do not want to use paper. Once you print the converted photo – copy onto a transparency. Using an overhead projector you can make it as small or large as you like. You would then trace the outlines of the photo on the canvas. You don’t need to mark the colors because you have your printed out copy for a guide.

  30. Hi. I followed your tips and i was able to turn some of my pictures to a pallete. However, i find marking the colors too tedious. As a result, the pbnified picture turns out more of an abstract. Is there a trick to choose all colors applicable automatically? i think i miss out on some colors during choosing for pallet. Thanks.

    1. Hi Ellen, I’m so sorry I didn’t see this sooner! The more colors you select, the more detail your image will have. But it will also be more complex and involved to paint. I suggest just clicking all over different areas, even if they look similar. You can always delete certain colors if you feel like they’re too similar!

  31. Hi Lindsay! I’m so grateful to know this tip! I just wonder if I can use something else to replace the matte medium. I live in Vietnam and I can’t find it anywhere. Thanks in advance!
    Ps. My grammar is not very good so sorry if I confused you!!!

    1. Hi Nguyen! Your grammar is perfect, honest! You could also use Mod Podge for this, but I would use the matte (non glossy) version. If you have access to, you could find it there. 🙂

      And I’d love for you to share your paint by numbers project on Instagram when you make it so I can see and share it! Just tag #shrimpsaladcircus and @shrimpsaladcircus. <3

  32. Thanks for the tips! Just one question – When you said that you changed the color of the source photo before uploading to pbnify, how did you do that? I’ve looked through some different photo editors and cannot seem to see an easy way to just change the overall color of parts of a photo. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Mandi! I used Photoshop and either use the “replace color” function or “hue shift.” But Pixlr is a free in-browser program that should have similar functionality. I hope this helps! And I’d love for you to share your paint by numbers project on Instagram when you make it so I can see and share it! Just tag #shrimpsaladcircus and @shrimpsaladcircus. <3

      1. I want to use this on my phone is there an app or do I have to go to a website. I want quilt details for portraits. What do you think ?

  33. Does the print out need to be a laser print or would ink jet work? I’m wondering if the matte medium will make the ink run in the canvas-adhering step? This is wonderful <3

    1. Sorry I didn’t see this sooner, Kat! I think it would still work, but I’d do a small text one on scrap cardboard or something first so that you don’t ruin a canvas. And I’d love for you to share your paint by numbers project on Instagram when you make it so I can see and share it! Just tag #shrimpsaladcircus and @shrimpsaladcircus.

  34. would we be a process of doing this after its finished to take it somewhere to have the painting duplicated so it could be sold in bulk……..

    1. Hi Taylor. You could probably just take your design to any office store or commercial printer.

  35. Thank you for sharring how to do this. How do we mix the proper colors. There is no ratio or ‘recipe’ shown for each color.

    1. I found a site called SensualLogic Paint Maker that lets you upload a photo (obviously use the same photo you’re using) and click on colors within the photo (similar to PBNify). It asks for the paint colors you have on hand and then will give you a percentage or parts ratio of the color you picked. (It only allows you five choices unless you register. I did but I’m pretty sure you could make do without registering now that I have.) You can also use the RGB value given to you on PBNify. For example, I needed an aqua color; I entered the color #006e95 and it gave me the “recipe” of 3 parts Cerulean Blue, 3 parts Titanium White, 1 part Phthalo Green, 1 part Titan Buff. I obviously don’t have those exact colors because I have a different brand but it’ll give you ballpark recipes you can alter to get closer.

  36. I have a couple of questions for you regarding this technique. Can you please contact me. I won’t take up too much of your time. Thank you, MIKE KEMMLER

  37. Thanks a ton for your lovely post… I have been trying frantically to do some painting by numbers..than will be realistic… & i came to see you post… Can you tell me just one thing?? can this pbnify work in android phones?? just a query.. even if it does not.. then also its ok… I am too grateful to you for this wonderful idea… 🙂

    1. Hi Sayoni, I’m honestly not sure. I imagine it would work, but I think it would be much easier to do on a larger computer screen or tablet if you have one available so that you could see the colors more closely.

  38. Is it possible to create something to be painted with colored pencils? Can I find some templates to download and paint at home? Thank…

    1. Hi Max! You could use colored pencils for any paint by numbers template. You can use the ones I have on my blog, or you can even try Googling “free printable paint by numbers template.” Best of luck!

  39. When transferring the picture to the canvas. Can you use any a paper? I’m doing something for kids and I was going to make copies of a regular paint by number picture..maybe from a coloring book. Does it matter if you use regular copy paper? Could modge podge be an alternative to the Matte?

    1. I used regular printer paper! You only need heavyweight paper if you’re not mounting it on canvas. And Mod Podge Matte would work, but I wouldn’t use the glossy.

  40. thanks for sharing this photo tip. So a pic of my grandsons would be too busy to recreate then? I would certainly try it on a photo of flowers I took to experiment on. thanks again!

    1. Hi Susie! You could give it a try for sure, and you’ll be able to tell right away as you create it whether it’s going to be too complicated. It might work if you don’t mind using a lot of colors and spending quite awhile painting. I just definitely knew I wanted to keep mine a bit simpler.

      The flower would probably be a good starting place just to give you a better feel for the PBNify program. Happy crafting!!!

  41. Is there another generator that gives the picture more detail? I am trying to do a portrait with this method.

    1. Hi Ashley! This would work the same way as any other program you might find. I didn’t recommend it for portraits simply because the more detail you have, the more complex the painting and color palette will become. If you want to give it a try, though, any program would work the same way on a portrait — you just have to keep clicking to add more colors to get a higher level of detail. Best of luck!

    1. Hi Mariyam, I haven’t done a large one before, but you could try taking your design to somewhere like Staples or Office Depot and having them create a large format or engineer print!

  42. Thank you for sharing this, I can’t wait to try it out. Could you elaborate more on how to get the image transferred onto canvas, please?

    Thank you

    1. No problem, Amie. Glad to hear you’re going to try it! That part is explained in Step 2 under Instructions. Did you have a specific question about it? Thanks!!

      1. Do you take the paper off after matte over it? If so, how. And if not, does this effect the canvas look?

      2. Do you take the paper off after matte over it? If so, how. And if not, does this effect the canvas look?

        1. No, you’re essentially gluing the paper to the canvas, and then you paint directly onto the paper. If you look closely at the finished picture, you might end up with a few wrinkles from the paper from getting it wet with the matte medium, but you could maybe avoid that if you were super careful and didn’t get it very saturated.

    1. Hi Corine, you definitely can! 🙂 Check out the “How to Turn a Photo into Paint by Numbers” section in the post for instructions.

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  44. Thanks for sharing this! Great way to PBN your own creations. I was previously using Photoshop, but this is so much easier!

    1. Thanks, Nancy! I still use Photoshop and Illustrator for the ones I really want to fine-tune, but this is SO MUCH FASTER!!! 🙂

  45. I really love this. You did a beautiful job. I was wondering though, do I see wrinkles in the paper over the canvas? If so, is there a way to eliminate that?

    1. Thanks, DeeDee! Yes, there are a few wrinkles, which is an unfortunate effect of getting paper wet. The best way to minimize that would be to use as little of the matte medium as possible.

  46. Woah that is so cool! I had no idea there was a site you could do that! And such a clever way to adhere the paint by number to the canvas. Pinning this now!

    1. Thanks so much, Sarah! I was way too excited to find that site and may have made a million templates… 😉

  47. Love this, thank you for sharing. This is even a good way to help you see the colors in a photograph that you would like to paint.

  48. THIS IS AMAZING! I love love the floral art you made and the colors are so gorgeous!! I can not wait to give this a try myself. Pinned for sure.

  49. WHAT!???!?! That’s game-changing!! So glad I saw this post—can’t wait to try it out for myself 🙂

  50. Is there a chance you could show us how to convert a photo to paint by numbers in Photoshop? This way is cool, but I try to learn new things about Photoshop and it would be great to learn a new skill.

    1. Hi Paulina! Thanks so much for your interest. I actually use Illustrator and then Photoshop when creating these from scratch, so it’s a pretty elaborate process. I will certainly try to get a tutorial together one day soon, but probably not before my baby is due next month. Stay tuned! 🙂

  51. Aahhhhh I’ve always wondered how you did that! I have definitely wanted to create my own paint-by-numbers, thank you for sharing your method! The result is just gorgeous!

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