In my last article I took a very quick look at the new iPhoneography app Aquarella by JixiPix. I used it in isolation to give a watercolour effect to some of my old street, landscape and still life images.

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It looks good and I’m a fan. I’m a bigger fan of app stacking though, especially when it comes to textured / painterly effects. Apps like Glaze, Aquarella, Distressed FX, Snapseed grunge effect, etc are all wonderful apps that I use and readily recommend but all have a signature appearance (or several signature appearances). They can yield beautiful results but as an experienced iPhone photographer and editor I normally recognise the look and for me that detracts from the finished work.

In this workflow I want to combine a number of apps to generate a result that quite closely resembles a painting. Obviously the iPhoneography workflow gives the process away but when the image is viewed in isolation I want people to initially at least question whether it is a photograph or a painting and then go on to question which apps were used in its creation.

Paint app stacking

Ideally the app stacking process should mask the signature appearance of any single app.

I also want to take a look at boosting resolution which can be important for printing, especially where a heavy crop is involved. Normally I advocate getting the resolution resolved at the outset of an iPhoneography edit but there will be occasions either through forgetfulness (as in this case) or where apps have resolution limits that force resizing to be deferred until the end of the edit.

iPhone photography apps used:

iPhone painting - quackers

{ quackers }


UPDATE: Stackables app has been retired since this image was created.

There are a number of possible alternative apps. My recommendation is Mextures. Mextures and Stackables are similar in both appearance and workflow. Specifically, just like Stackables, Mextures comes supplied with multiple textures, effects and filters which can be applied in a limitless combination. The formula can then be saved for repeated application to any number of iPhone images.

View my Mextures workflows.


Process and apps used

ProCamera7 ~ initial capture:

On an iPhone5 I have a very healthy resolution at capture of 3,264 x 2,448 (just shy of 8 Megapixels):

Snapseed ~ this is a rare occasion where I go with quite a heavy crop. Even though I was just doodling this should have triggered a resolution consideration but I ignored it:

I always aim for a minimum resolution on the shortest side of 2,000px but this crop reduced the image to 1,825px square:

Glaze ~ a Glaze painterly version is created and saved:

Aquarella ~ an Aquarella painterly version is created and saved::

Superimpose ~ the Aquarella version is imported as the background and the Glaze version imported as the foreground:

I enjoy playing the the ‘Difference’ and ‘Exclusion’ blend methods at around 50pct transparency when playing with versions of the same image:

In this case I go with ‘Exclusion’ at 50pct in the ‘Transform’ menu but also want to introduce a blue to the water and so I adjust the foreground color balance in the ‘Filters’ menu by boosting Red and Magenta levels slightly:

Stackables ~ the blended image is then run through Stackables where colours are adjusted and painterly and other textures are applied via a bespoke formula. This edit contains a total of 5 layers:

Superimpose ~ ideally I would have completed this process at the outset but initially I was undecided how the edit would progress:

By now I have decided that I dislike the reflections at the top of the image and would prefer a more minimalist feel:

I therefore import the same image as both foreground and background and then via the ‘Transform’ menu scale the foreground to fit. I then flip it both horizontally and vertically:

I then mask the whole of the foreground and use the eraser to unmask the upper part of the image using the background as a guide to hide the reflections:

Handy Photo ~ I now decide that I would like to add a little extra detail to specific areas:

The initial step is to run the Snapseed version through Handy Photo sketch filter which is adjusted to just focus on the main outlines:

Superimpose ~ The Handy Photo sketch is imported as the foreground over the clean minimal version just completed in Superimpose which is flattened in the ‘Transform’ menu to create the background:

The two layers are then blended under ‘Darken’ at a subtle transparency of around 35pct. I then proceed to the mask area and hide almost all outlines except the duck heads which are the main parts of the image I would like to add definition to:

This is the final image but at this stage I realise I need to correct the resolution issue caused by the heavy crop. I have a number of options. The two main iPhoneography apps I use to increase resolution are the original Filterstorm app or an app called Big Photo. On this occasion I decide to run the image through Big Photo boosting resolution by 200pct. This increases the size of the image from 1,825px square to 2,580px square with no noticeable impact on quality (this is bigger than a standard iPhone5 square image which would be a maximum of 2,448px square). This style of processing is especially suited to resizing.

The following images demonstrate the size difference:


Get the iPhoneography apps mentioned in this article

Apps used in this article:

  • ProCamera7 my preferred iPhone camera replacement app offering both JPEG and TIFF formats together with separate focus and exposure points along with many other features

  • Aquarella – iPhone or iPad version. By the excellent JixiPix, works to convert images into watercolour style painting with various presets, manual adjustments and random effects

  • Glaze generates a wide range of painterly / brush styles and finishes

  • Handy Photo using the sketch tool to help provide definition to important areas of the iPhoneography image

  • Snapseed a must have free iPhoneography app (Originally by Nik now owned by Google). Used in this article for the initial square crop

  • Stackables – iPhone or iPad version. Very similar to Mextures. Gives another library of textures and overlays

  • Superimpose my personal go to app for layers masking and blending processes

  • Big Photo used at the end of the edit to boost resolution x2.


I hope you enjoyed my iPhone photography painterly workflow. The key learning point for me is to work with a number of apps to adopt your own style of painting. Thank you for reading and I hope to see you again. Please follow my Facebook Page to keep up to date not only on my articles but also on deals and updates on the apps I use. Both Aquarella and Big Photo went free recently and ProCamera7 and Handy Photo both reduced in price. All were announced on my Page.



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  1. Geri says:

    Excellent painterly tutorial Skip and beautiful result

  2. […] I combine a number of iPhone apps to generate a result that resembles a painting. App stacking should mask the signature appearance of any single app. I also look at boosting resolution.  […]

  3. Sherri B. says:

    Great and informative tutorial – thank you!

  4. Ulash says:

    Hi Skip,

    Do you remember your stackables layers and settings? Thank you.

    • Paul Brown says:

      Hi Ulash,

      Yes I normally save the formula each time although most need a bit of tweaking each time to suit the image. This one was:

      – Paint square texture (overlay around 50pct)
      – Asphalt texture (overlay around 50pct)
      – Sonora Sands filter (normal 100pct)
      – Snowflake gradient (overlay around 60pct)
      – Peppermint filter (normal around 20pct)

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