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How to Paint Faster in Adobe Photoshop


How fast can you paint? Does it take a couple of hours, days, or weeks?

Digital paintings are a labor of love, but that doesn't mean you can't learn how to optimize your time.

For so many years I always felt like a slow painter. My favorite artists described their works with comments like "done in five hours" or "one hour study." And admittedly, whenever I saw this, I felt incredibly discouraged.

But I always knew there had to be a way to increase my painting speed while retaining top quality.

So how do you learn how to paint faster?

Does Speed Actually Matter?

In a professional setting―absolutely. But there are a wide variety of reasons why you might want to learn how to paint faster.

Here are a few areas where speed might matter:

  • submitting quick pitches for new projects/clients
  • meeting project deadlines
  • juggling multiple projects or jobs
  • creating quick studies for learning and improvement

Learning how to paint faster just requires a little assessment of your current routine. By altering a few things, you can change your creative process, and ultimately your career.

Now some may argue that the beauty of painting is that it's a labor of love that needs plenty of man hours. But once you jump into the industry as a working artist, the only thing that really matters (besides quality) is how fast you can get things done. So hypothetically, if it takes you a year to complete one painting, that simply won't work for the majority of clients.

How to Digitally Paint Faster: The Basics

Time Yourself

How can you know how long it takes without timing yourself? Whether you use your computer's clock, an app, or even a stopwatch, try to get a general number of hours, days, or weeks that go into your art.

Time Yourself to Digitally Paint Faster in Photoshop

Here's a tip: If you find yourself taking more than a day to finish, then try to come up with a deadline to have your painting due by. Whether your art is personal or professional, deadlines will help hold you accountable for how long you take.

It used to take me upwards of two weeks to complete one painting. And when I was a true newbie―even longer. Once you know how long you take, you can determine what's stopping you from painting faster. Try asking yourself these questions:

  1. How long does it take to complete one painting?
  2. How often do you stop?
  3. Why do you stop?
  4. What are you distracted by?
  5. What are some things you can do to shave off time?

Set realistic goals based on your skill level. If you start at a month, try to shave a week or two off your time. Consistency is what matters here, so be kind to yourself.

After all, "Rome wasn't built in a day." 

Study Photoshop's Tools and Settings

Do you know Photoshop's basic keyboard shortcuts? Or how to change colors with Adjustment Settings and Blend Modes? Advanced digital artists are able to create their paintings in a fraction of the time because they take advantage of all the shortcuts available in Photoshop.

Photoshop Tools Used for Digital Painting
(#1) Common tools used for digital painting versus (#2) uncommon tools that make the process faster.

Never underestimate the power of brushing up on software knowledge. I use everything from Lasso Tools to Layer Masks for any digital painting.

Your first priority is to get a grasp of Photoshop's brushes and settings, and then slowly venture out into alternative tools. With each tool you master, you'll get even faster!

Try Small-Scale Exercises

Don't overcomplicate the process. Take one lesson at a time, at your own pace. Just like with physical exercise, if you feel as if you're plateauing, try a new challenge to overcome. Yes, this does mean you have to look at your art with a critical eye, but it's natural to require more from yourself.

And while you're at it, try out some of these exercises to improve speed:

  • Practice creating clean line art.
  • Test out color theory and composition with thumbnail paintings.
  • Practice gesture drawing from photo references.
  • Improve color theory by using photos to develop color schemes.
  • Test out different Photoshop brushes for speed and efficiency. For instance, this Leaf Brush Set helps you paint perfect leaves for trees in no time!

People mistake practice for painting every day. But the key to improvement is effective learning. Take the time to study and test out different theories based on actual references.

Study Photos for Digital Paintings
Use photos to help you understand colors, composition, and anatomy.  (Bird Reference from PhotoDune.

Paint Faster: How to Get Your Numbers Up

Want to add more quality to your portfolio while increasing speed? Here are some ways to get those numbers up!

Speed Paintings and Grayscale Studies

A speed painting is a quick piece you create in a short amount of time. They follow a specific theme and are usually painted in under 30 minutes. There are many groups on Facebook that put up daily challenges, so join them and see what you can come up with.

Another way to get in the habit of practicing more is to digitally paint studies, especially in grayscale. Color is intimidating to us all, so studying black and white photography for a few quick studies can help you understand any underlying issues in your art. 

Black and White Digital Paintings in Adobe Photoshop
Improve your speed with studies. Only a six-month time difference here!

Collaborate With Other Artists

One huge change I recognized in my own art happened after collaborating with fellow Envato Tuts+ Instructor, Rowena Aitken. Together we created the line art and final painting for a festive winter scene.

During this collaboration I had a major "aha" moment. Although our styles are different, I admired Rowena's incredibly clean line art. For weeks and weeks, I studied her line art and even made practice strokes next to it.

Digital Painting and Clean Line Art in Adobe Photoshop
Rowena's clean line art (left) versus what I learned by studying hers (right).

One of the great things about collaborating is that half the work is already done, while you also get to see art through another person's eyes. Because of that collaboration, I now strive to create cleaner line art for all my paintings―which in turn, helped my painting time tremendously. So thanks, Rowena!

Take on Real Creative Jobs

Nothing will make you take more responsibility for your weaknesses than actual creative jobs. We live in an incredibly competitive world where new talent is discovered every day, so how you stack up against your competition will motivate you to do better. 

I owe a lot of my own progression to the fact that I wanted to be taken more seriously as an artist. So while I was lazy with my own personal pieces that never got done, I knew that wouldn't be acceptable in a professional environment. Hold yourself accountable for your progression and you'll see how necessary it is to make better choices.

Hair Digital Painting Tutorial by Melody Nieves
Real studies from my Envato Tuts+ tutorial, How to Digitally Paint Hair.

Always Remember Quality vs. Quantity

Getting your numbers up is not about creating as many paintings as possible, but rather, creating more quality paintings. I always see artists who create a lot but the quality doesn't necessarily improve over time.

Striving for quality builds not only your skills but also your confidence. After all, we are emotionally invested in our work as artists, so doing better will make you feel better. 


Although your major goal is to improve your painting time, it will take a while to get there. But your efforts and consistency will all be worth it in the end.

Time yourself, study your process, and learn new techniques.

There are so many ways I'd love to help you get better with digital painting. Check out these tutorials for more:

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