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How to create a line drawing from a photo In photoshop

This Photoshop tutorial will show you how to line drawing from a photo In photoshop in five easy steps. This tutorial will teach you a lot about filters, smart objects, and blending modes, and even if you never need to create this effect with your photos, you will learn a lot by following along. So, let’s get started.

How to Create a line Drawing From a Photo In Photoshop

Step 01: Extract the background from the foreground. 

To get better results with this effect, you want to isolate your model from the background, so we will use a layer mask to extract her from the background. So one of the easiest ways of doing that is by selecting the Quick Selection tool and clicking and dragging over your subject until it’s selected.

convert image to line art photoshop

Now, if you’re in Photoshop CC, you can click on the select subject button, and you can let Photoshop’s artificial intelligence select the main subject. It won’t be a perfect selection, but you can fine-tune it from there. I’m holding Alt, an Option on the Mac, and click and drag on these areas to deselect them. 

Create a line drawing effect

You don’t have to be precise since we will create a line drawing effect, so being messy is good. You can select the layer mask icon to remove the background with your subject selected. 

Then, you can click on select and mask in the properties panel. In Photoshop CS6, it’s known as refine mask or refines an edge. It looks a little different, but the controls I will use in this tutorial work the same in older versions.

turn photo into line drawing photoshop

Then, you can fine-tune the sliders to refine the mask. In this tutorial, I’m going to smooth the edges a little bit so that things are easier to see, I will change my overlay to black, and you can see the edges of the mask. Then, you can add contrast to the edge. 

Also, you can shift the edge inward and select the refine edge tool, and you can paint over her hair to extract it from the background. And again, the tutorial that I linked to down below explains how all these tools work. 

Separate the subject from the background

Then, I’ll press OK. And I do want to mention that if you’re working with an image and want to keep the background, then still separate the subject from the background and apply the effect you’re about to learn on both layers. 

That way, you have more control over them, but in this tutorial, we’re just going to work with an image without a background. So that was the first step, extracting the foreground from the background.

Step 02 – Converting the Photo into a Smart Object

Step two is to make this layer into a smart object, and you can do so by right-clicking on the layer and selecting convert to smart object. And, if you’re working on Photoshop CS6 or older, do not convert it into a smart object.

line drawing from a photo In photoshop

I don’t recall if all the filters I’m using in this tutorial work with smart objects in older versions, but they work on regular pixel layers, so follow along with a standard pixel layer. 

A smart object is simply a shell that protects the layer, and you can apply transformations, adjustments, and filters, non-destructively, and you can delete them later if you want to or edit them. 

It just allows you more flexibility, and also, I’m going to show you a cool trick with smart objects at the end of the tutorial.

Step 03 – Create the Main Line Drawing Effect

Now that I have the smart object, we’re going to move on to step number three, which is to create the main drawing effect, and we’ll need several layers. So, I’ll start by duplicating the smart object and press Ctrl>J, Command J on the Mac. 

I’ll call the original layer original and the duplicate. I’ll call it base. And it’s a good idea to name your layers, so you know what’s happening in the layers panel. 

Invert the colors in that layer

So, I will start creating the main drawing effect with the base layer selected. I’m going to start by pressing Ctrl>J and Command>J on the Mac one more time and call this layer “inversion.” And I’m going to invert the colors in that layer by going into image, adjustment, invert, and it inverts the colors, so black becomes white, oranges become blue. 

You’re flipping the colors, and you’re inverting them.

photo to line drawing photoshop

Then, I will change the blending mode to color dodge, disappearing from the image. Then, I’m going to go into filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur, and you can blur the layer, and, as you blur, you can see that this is already creating the drawing effect. 

See that? So this is a color pencil drawing effect, and you can fine-tune it accordingly. Remember, we are working non-destructively, so no matter what setting I use, I can come back and edit it. Also, the settings I use for all the filters in this tutorial are relevant to this image. 

Fine-tune it

So obviously, when you’re working on your projects, you’re working with a different image, and you may require different settings. Hence use the settings I use as a starting point, but then, with your image, fine-tune it accordingly. So, in this case, I will use a high setting. 

I want a lot of detail, so I’ll use 31.8 and press OK. So I don’t necessarily want the color pencil effect, so I’m going to have to turn the image black and white, and you can do that non-destructively by creating a black and white adjustment layer. This adjustment layer turns everything below it black and white.

photoshop photo to line drawing

You can double-click on the label if you want to edit any smart filters. So I can double-click on Gaussian blur and adjust it as you need. I will cancel this, but anyway, I will collapse the filters by clicking on this icon. That was step number three.

Step 04 – Using the Charcoal Filter to Add Shading.

And now, we’re going to move on to step four, which is applying a shading effect. To do so, I’m going to duplicate the original layer, so I’ll press Ctrl>J and Command>J on the Mac. 

Then, I’ll drag that duplicate layer to the top of the layer stack, and I will use that layer to create a shading effect, and I will use more filters for that.

photo to line art photoshop

 The filter that I’m going to use is found in the filter gallery, and that filter is under the sketch section, and notice that the sketch section has all these different filters that make your images look like other kinds of sketches. The one that I want is charcoal.

photoshop convert image to line drawing

By the way, something significant, I’m going to press cancel. Notice that my foreground color is black and that my background color is white. So, if I had different colors selected, like red and green, if I went into the filter, filter gallery, watch what happens with that charcoal effect. 

So if you don’t get black and white, that’s why. Check your foreground and background color. So, I’m going to press the D key on the keyboard for my default colors, which are black and white, or you can click on this little icon here, which does the same thing, and actually, I don’t necessarily want black. 

pencil effect

I’m going to double-click on the foreground color, and I’m just going to select dark

gray because I want to replicate the pencil effect. So I’ll select the dark gray, then go into filter, filter gallery, sketch, charcoal, and notice how this looks a lot like a pencil sketch, and you can adjust the sliders accordingly. 

In this case, I’ll leave the charcoal thickness at 1, the detail at 5 will work great, and the light and dark balance at 50, and press OK.

blending mode

Now, we want to keep the black and remove the white to merge the images or blend the images. We’re going to use blending modes. And there’s one blending mode that hides white pixels and keeps the dark pixels, and that’s the multiply blending mode.

So, with that layer selected, I will select the multiply blending mode and notice how that blends the charcoal filter with the rest of the design. I’m going to rename this layer and call it shading because it’s shading the hair and other parts, but not as much. 

stacking filters

And you can think about this as filter stacking. We’re stacking filters on top of one another. Also, even though I’m not going to do it in this tutorial, I want to show you that if you go into filter, filter gallery, you can stack filters from here. So, notice how we created a charcoal effect. If I click on this icon, I can create a second charcoal effect or use a different filter, click on this new filter icon, and stack a different one. 

So I can stack filters through the filter panel, but I’m not going to do that in this tutorial.

I want to show you that quick tip. So I will press cancel on this, and we will continue working with this design.

Step 05 – Using the Find Edges Filter to Add Lines.

We’re going to move on to step five, which is making the actual lines of the drawing. So, I’m going to duplicate the original layer, once again, by pressing Ctrl J and Command J on the Mac and dragging its way on top of the layer stack, and I’ll call it lines. 

And I’m going to go into image, adjustments, black and white, which is the same as the black and white adjustment layer we created earlier.

photoshop picture to line drawing

It turns everything black and white, but in this case, it did it within the smart object. So I just wanted a black and white version of that image, and now, we’re going to find the edges to create the outlines of the drawing. 

To do so, I’m going to go into filter, filter gallery, and under stylize. We have this filter called glowing edges, and what you have to do when working with this filter for this purpose is imagine the image inverted. 

Outline of the drawing

So anything white will become black, and anything black will become white. So imagine that these are the outlines of a drawing, so anything white will become the outline of the drawing, and you can adjust the width of the lines, how bright the lines are, and how smooth they are. 

In this case, I want them very smooth and maybe not as bright, but of course, in your image, you’ll have to fine-tune them accordingly and press OK. So, what we want to do now is do that inversion once again.

This time, I’m going to use a keyboard shortcut, Ctrl>I, Command I on the Mac, to invert, which is the same thing as going into image, adjustment, and Invert. And we’re going to use the same blending mode we used earlier, which is the multiple blending mode, which removes the bright pixels and keeps the dark ones.

Before and after

So this is before and after. One other thing that I’ll do to this layer goes into image, adjustment, and levels, and with levels, I’m going to control how dark the darkest pixel in that layer is.

create a line drawing from a photo In photoshop

Remember, I said that I didn’t necessarily want pure black. I wanted a dark gray to mimic the pencil effect. That’s what I’m doing with this layer and this adjustment.

So, with the black point, I’m going to drag it to the right, and I’m telling Photoshop that the darkest pixel on this layer will be that shade of gray. Then, you can adjust the other points to the contrast and the level of detail in the line drawing, and then press OK.

One issue with this layer is that I got more detail than I wanted. So, I’m going to press the Z>key and zoom in so you can see. Do you see how I got way more detail there than I wanted? You can see it here, more specifically, in her face.

So, I’m going to double-click to the side of the layer to bring up the layer style window. Under Blend If, I’m going to use them, this, layer controls, to hide some of those pixels. See that?

hide the brighter pixels

So I can click and drag this to the left to hide the brighter pixels, but I don’t want a sharp transition, so I’m going to hold the Alt option on the Mac and click. I split those in half and separated them to create a smoother transition. See that? So, that’s before and after, and I can press OK.

I cover everything that you want to know about Blend If. I’ll place a link right below in the description. I’m going to right-click and select fit to screen to see the entire image.

So this is what this layer did. So I’m going to select the lines layers by clicking on them. After that, I’m going to hold shift and click on the base layer and press control G, Command G on the Mac, to put that into a group, and I’ll call this group drawing effect.

Then, I’ll create a solid color fill, make it white, and drag it to the bottom of the layer stack.

Bonus: Fine Tune The Image

So this is sort of like a bonus step. I’m going to look at some of the problems that arose by stacking layers on top of each other. See that?

turn image into line drawing photoshop

So, I can zoom in, and you can see that the eyes look great in some of these other layers but not so good in the lines or shading layer. Hence, you could create a layer mask and then paint with black, using the brush tool, to hide pixels in that area.

Select a soft brush

So I can select a soft brush. Let me find one, like maybe this brush here, and reduce the brush size by using the left bracket key on the keyboard, and I’m painting with black. See that? See how when I paint with black, I hide some of those pixels, and it brings back the pixels below, and then I can bring some of that detail.

So you have to go around the image and select which pixels to bring back. I’ll do the same in the mouth. I like mouth from the underlying layers better, and I can disable this layer and see what changes, and I can do the same thing.

create a layer mask

I can create a layer mask and maybe bring more detail into her eyes.

I’ll double-click on a hand tool just so that you can see what we’ve done, and I think the eyebrows may also need a little work. So in your project, look through your layers and see which will work best. Now, the next thing I’m going to do is make it look like a drawing effect.

You can do it with a mouse, but things will be easier with a Wacom, and they’ll probably look a little bit better.

So, I will select the brush tool, the dry media brushes, and the ultimate tile pencil. After that, I will create a new layer, and I’ll call it handmade details. And in this layer, I’m just going to paint some details.

select the brush for Photoshop CC

Now, I should mention that I selected the brush for Photoshop CC, so if you’re in Photoshop CS6 or older, let me show you what to do. If you’re in Photoshop CS 6 or older, you will not have these new brushes. Instead, you have, what is known as, the legacy brushes now, and you can’t see them by default in Photoshop CC, but if you click on the gear icon, you can select legacy brushes.

bring back the old brushes

So, if you are in Photoshop CC, you need to bring back the old brushes, and if you’re in older versions, you’re not going to see the new ones. You’ll see the old ones, which are these, and under default brushes, which are the default brushes in the old version of Photoshop, you will find a pencil brush. Scroll down, and it is right here pencil.

So, if you’re in Photoshop CS 6, that’s what you can select. In newer versions, you can select a new brush or the old one.

So, I’m going to stick with the new brush and what I’m going do is, that in that empty layer, I’m simply going to paint, and I’m going to make my brush small, and I’m going to do some test brush strokes. So, there it is.

Zoom in and fine-tune

That’s what I want. And what I’m looking at is I’m trying to see how big my brush needs to be to match the detail of the drawing.

So, in my case, about a size of 7 should work, so I’ll undo those changes, and what I’m going to do is, I’m going to zoom in and fine-tune the detail. So, make it look more like a hand drawing, so I’m going to come here just like that. Just make it more like a drawing.

I’m just enhancing the detail. Now, here’s a trick for you. If you press the R key on the keyboard, you can click and drag to rotate the view. You’re not rotating the image, just the view. Then, you can press the B key for the brush tool and trace around the outlines of the image.

painting these sketchy line

Just keep painting these sketchy lines to look more realistic and feel more natural and organic. And I’m not being very precise because I want it to look more like an actual sketch, not necessarily a refined drawing. And to go back into the original view, press R once again and click on reset view, straightening the image.

So this is my result. This is before, and this is after. Obviously, in your projects, you can spend a lot more time fine-tuning those details and making them more realistic.

Bonus: Smart Object Trick

I’m going to show you that smart object trick I was talking about now. So, we’ve been working non-destructively with smart a object, which allows us to change the contents.

What I mean by that is, if you come to any of the smart objects and double click on any one of them, they’re all the same, they’re all linked, and it will open up a new tab with the layer that we started with, and we can replace that layer with something else.

photoshop create line drawing from photo

So, I’m going to find an image in my library’s panel.

It could be any image. It doesn’t have to be from the library’s panel. And I’m just going to drag this image in here and scale it appropriately, and I’m just going to press Ctrl S, Command S on the Mac to save, and go back into my working document, and you can see how we applied the sketch effect to that image.

We need to repaint the handmade details, but the overall effect is there. All you will need to do now is come into the different smart filters and edit them.

Inversion layer

For example, on the inversion layer, you can double-click on Gaussian blur and change the radius; that way, you can change the detail to make it work for the new image. I’m going to press cancel, go back into the smart object, delete this layer, press Ctrl S, Command S on the Mac to save, and go back into the document we were working with and enable the handmade details.

Bonus: Create Line Paper

And actually, I just thought about one thing I wasn’t planning on showing you, but I’ll show you now because it just came to mind.

drawing from a photo In photoshop

If you want to create line paper, it’s straightforward to do. All you need to do is click on the new adjustment layer icon and select the pattern. Then, click on this dropdown, the gear icon, and select color paper.

Press OK and scroll down

Press OK and scroll down to this pattern, which is line paper. Then, you can change the scale to 200 and press OK. And then, you can change the blending mode to multiply, which applies a line paper effect to your design.

Also, if you found this helpful tutorial, hit that like button, subscribe, and click on the notification button to get notified the next time I put up a new tutorial.

I hope that you liked this photo to line drawing Photoshop tutorial.

Picture of Michael S. Carey

Michael S. Carey

With over 15 years experience as a graphic designer, Michael is passionate about helping people enhance their content by mastering image manipulation software. Michael has worked with a variety of educational publishers in the U.S. and U.K.

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