Instapainting Turns Your Photos Into Hand-Painted Oil Paintings On The Cheap

Surprise! It’s Valentine’s Day, the stealthiest of all the holidays. Sneaks up on you, doesn’t it?

If you’re trying to get a gift today, you… might be a bit short on options. Will you go with the gas station teddy bear? The twice-crushed box of chocolates? A bouquet of acceptable-looking roses for $200?

If your nearly-forgotten flame would be content with the promise of a pretty cool gift in a few weeks, though, you might be set. Instapainting, a YC-backed company launching this morning, turns any photo into a hand-painted piece on canvas for under $100 bucks.

If you’ve ever tried to have something like this done before, you probably know: this exists. A few companies have been doing the whole photo-into-art thing for years. Where Instapainting thinks they have them beat, however, is in pricing and speed.

Instapainting’s smallest option (a 12″x12″ canvas) starts the pricing at $53 (including shipping), with the largest option (29.33″x22″) going for $130 . A quick search turns up a number of others in this space — OilPaintingExpress,, and myDavinci to name a few. The next wallet-friendliest option I could find was OilPaintingExpress, where a 12″x12″ work starts at $119. Most of them start the pricing at $200-$300 dollars.


Instapainting’s website is also a bit more… modern, for lack of a better word. Setting up your order takes all of a few seconds; upload your photo, crop it to the region you like, pick a canvas size, and you’re set. Built on top of tools like FilePicker and Stripe, the whole ordering flow is slick and simple.

So how do they keep the prices down? A few ways:

  • Your original photo is printed onto canvas first, and this printed piece is used as the base/foundation of the hand painted piece. In other words: they’re painting on top of the photo. The artist still has to know how to properly mix colors and how to recreate lights/shadows/etc. in oil, but it’s a whole lot quicker than starting on blank canvas. Many a professional artist might balk at the idea — but unless your friends start scratching at the paint to see what’s underneath, they probably won’t be able to tell.
  • As you might’ve guessed, much of the work is done overseas. Instapainting’s founders source their painters (primarily in China) one-by-one, mostly through their myriad online profiles. After quietly starting to roll the service out around a month ago, Instapainting says they have just shy of 100 painters producing pieces.
  • They ship your art rolled in a tube, leaving it to the customer to frame it or stretch it onto canvas. The company tells me they’re working on a quick-assembling canvas frame that they can pack into the shipping tubes, but that’s still a few months out.

But what about shoddy work? Cheaper rarely means better, after all. To keep quality up, Instapainting puts two layers of protection into the mix: first, each painting is checked by a second set of eyes before it heads out to the customer. Second, they guarantee their work; if you don’t dig the oil-painted version they send you, they’ll remake it or give you a full refund.

Meanwhile, the company is also dabbling with the idea of being a marketplace for artists looking to have their work recreated by hand. Artists upload the digital version of their painting or photograph, and Instapainting recreates their work and shares the revenue. It’s not quite the same as buying an original piece by the original artist, of course — but when your main concern is how it looks hanging above your couch, it’s a nice alternative to buying a standard print.

We’re planning on putting the just-launched service through the proper paces, so be on the lookout for a full review in the coming weeks.