Collage of original photo and digitally created drawing

Photoshop: Turn a portrait photo into a drawing with just a few steps

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With its countless combinations of tools and functions, Photoshop offers almost unlimited possibilities to change your own photos retrospectively. Photoshop does not only allow you to edit your photos in a classic way to improve them, but it also provides you with many ways to express yourself creatively.

One of these ways would be to convert a portrait into a pencil or crayon drawing. This can be done in just a few steps – we show you how.

The choice of portrait

When selecting the portrait, you should make sure that there are not too many interfering factors in the background. Of course, the best thing would be to take a picture with a uniform, bright background.

However, since you don’t always have a photo with such a background at hand, you can simply crop the person on the photo. How to crop a person or an object is explained in our article “Photoshop: Three ways to crop objects“. By converting a photo into a drawing, you can easily conceal some areas during the editing process. Therefore it is not that bad if your cropping doesn’t work in difficult places like the hair.

In post-processing, RAW images are usually preferred due to their high amount of image information. For this kind of processing, a JPEG in a good resolution is no problem.

Pencil drawing – The path from rich colours to a black-and-white drawing

After opening the portrait in Photoshop using “File – Open…” or drag and drop, duplicate the background layer with “Ctrl+J” for Windows or “Cmd+J” for Mac.

Screenshot Photoshop - Portrait mit verringerter Sättigung

Name the duplicated layer “black and white” for clarity. As the name of the layer indicates, the next step is to remove the saturation from the recording. Go to “Image” in the menu bar and select “Reduce Saturation” under “Corrections”.

Then you should duplicate this layer by pressing “Ctrl+J” or “Cmd+J” again. For example, you can name the new layer ” Colour Dodge”.

Screenshot Photoshop – Portrait invertiert

Use the key combination “Ctrl+I” or “Cmd+I” to reverse the colours of the recording. Alternatively, you can use the “Image > Corrections > Reverse” path in the menu bar.

Screenshot Photoshop – Ebenenbedienfeld Mischmodus «farbig abwedeln»

In the Layers panel, change the blend mode from Normal to Color Dodge. The image should no longer be visible. Instead of the portrait you only see a white or almost completely white area.

Now go to “Filter” in the menu bar and use the “Gaussian Blur” for the blur filters. With the blur filter you define whether your drawing should be drawn with a hard or a soft pencil. In this case, a radius of 90 gives the result of a rather soft pencil.

Screenshot Photoshop – Gaussscher Weichzeichner als Härten-Angabe des Bleistiftes

However, the 90 value does not achieve the same result for all images, as this is closely related to the resolution of the image. Therefore, try to adjust the Blur Radius value until you get the desired result.

To give the image the appearance of a real drawing, there is another trick to enhance the pencil look. Select the layer “Black and White” and the layer ” Colour Dodge” while holding down the control key and use “Ctrl+G” or “Cmd+G” to merge the two layers into one group.

Use the Layers menu in the menu bar to select “Layer mask > Hide all”. The coloured original version of the image will probably now be displayed. Create a new layer above the background layer and colour it white to hide the background layer.

Then click in the black box next to the newly created group to activate the mask of the group. Then use a brush to draw the portrait back to the Photoshop editing area.

Screenshot Photoshop – Gaussscher Weichzeichner als Härten-Angabe des Bleistiftes

Do not choose a smooth brush for this. You can choose one of the many different brush templates. This example uses Kyle’s Ultimate Pastel Paloza. Let the lower edge of the portrait run out unevenly for a more authentic look.

digital erstellte Zeichnung in schwarzweiss

Add paper structure

A paper structure in the background would underline the look of a drawing even more. There are two ways to get such a structure into the image. First, you can insert a photo of a paper structure into your edit and change the blend mode of the layer to “Multiply”. Then reduce the opacity of the layer to about 70 percent.

The second option also works without another file: Simply create a new layer and set the blend mode to “Copy together”. Then colour the layer with a light grey tone and select 50 percent opacity. In the menu bar under the tab “Filter” there is the function “Noise filter”. Now select “Add noise”.

Screenshot Photoshop – Rauschfilter anwenden

Take the highest value in the thickness setting to get a grain in your drawing. If the structure is too strong for you, you can of course reduce the thickness slightly.

With a click on “Ok” you have added a paper-like structure to your drawing in just a few steps.

Colour pencil drawing – Bringing colour back into play

If you want it to be not just a pencil drawing, but a coloured pencil drawing, you can simply bring the colour of the original picture back into your drawing.

Alt: Screenshot Photoshop – Mischmodus «Farbe»

Duplicate the background layer using the key combination “Ctrl+J” or “Cmd+J”. Move the duplicated layer to the top of the Layer panel. Change the blend mode from “Normal” to “Color” and then apply the Gaussian blur again. In this case, a radius of 20 was applied. With this application of the blur it makes sense to keep the value of the radius small, because if the value is too high, many colours are lost and only the dominant colour of the image remains.

digitale Buntstiftzeichnung eines Portraits

After these steps you should have succeeded in creating a pencil or coloured pencil drawing from a digital portrait.

Have fun trying it out!

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