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Create an Illustrated Look From a Photograph

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Read Time: 5 min

In this tutorial, I will show you how the create a stylized illustrated look from a photograph. The best part is that it requires no artistic ability! You can do this to any photo and pretty much any subject, but I think it works best with people.


You can see a Before/After below (just roll over the image once it's all loaded in). I bought my image from iStockPhoto - here's the item (Note if you download the sample PSD file from Psdtuts+ Plus, the image has a watermark over it, so you'll need to purchase it and swap it in).

Step One:

Create a new Solid Color Adjustment layer and fill it with White. Above that layer, create a new blank layer by hitting the New Layer Button at the bottom of the layer palette. Name that layer "Basic Shapes." Now turn both of those layers off.

Step Two:

We are going to use the Pen Tool (P) to trace all of the basic structural elements of the image. In my case, it will be the outline of the body and the outlines of the clothes.

With the Pen Tool selected, simply click anywhere you would like to start then continue to click and drag to trace the part you are working on with the path. To make it look more like a sketch, we are going to use a lot of small paths rather than trace the whole thing with one long path. When you come to a place where you think the path should end, hold down the Cmd (or Ctrl) key ,and click anywhere off the path. That will deselect it and now you are free to create another one. Keep doing this until all of your basic shapes are traced. Here are a few shots of how I traced my image:

A common misconception is that a path needs to be a loop. Not true. We are going to use all "open paths" in this tutorial.

Step Three:

Turn on your white layer and your blank layer. Select the blank layer. In the paths palette, drag your work path down to the New Path button at the bottom of the palette to save it. Select the Brush Tool and open the brushes palette. Select any round, hard brush preset. Under the Brush Tip Shape section, modify the brush to create a thin ellipse by bringing the roundness down to 12%. Make the angle 45 degrees. Turn on the Shape Dynamics section bring the Size Jitter to 100, the Minimum diameter to 35, and the Angle Jitter to 5.

With the blank layer still selected, hit D to make black your foreground color then right/control - click on the path and choose Stroke Path. Make sure that Simulate Pressure is checked and use Brush as your source. Hit OK. You might have to adjust the Master Diameter in the brushes palette if the lines are too thin or thick.


Repeat steps 2 and 3 a few more times, each time getting more and more detailed in what you trace. The more detail you trace, the thinner you should set the Master Diameter on the brushes palette. Each time you do a pass, make sure to apply the stroke onto a new layer.

Step Four:

Now that we have the outlines, let's paint in some color. Duplicate the the layer that contains your photograph. Put the copy at the top, above all the other layers. Set the Blending Mode to "Color".

Hit B for the Brush Tool. In the Brushes palette set the Brush Angle to -45 degrees and turn off the Shape Dynamics. Make the brush a bit larger.

Make a new blank layer and call it "Paint." Make sure that it's below all of your outline layers. Make sure that your foreground color is still set to black. In the properties bar, set the Opacity of the brush to 10%. Very roughly paint in the color where you want it. Be sure to release the mouse every now and then so that the color begins to multiply over itself. Don't worry about staying in the lines too much. I used a Wacom Tablet so it was easy for me to get nice strokes but if all you have is a mouse just do the best you can.

Step Five:

Hit E for the Eraser Tool. Set the eraser brush up the same way that we did the paint brush. Make sure that the eraser brush's Opacity is at 50%. Now go back and tidy up your paint job. I like it when you can still slightly see the paint going over the lines.

Step Six:

On my image, I want the pants to be blue instead of that peachy color, so I am going to make a new Hue/Saturation Adjustment layer at the very top of the layers palette. Drag the Hue slider over until you get the hue that you like. Adjust the saturation as you like. Wait, the whole image changed! Thats Ok — we are going to fix that.

Click on the layer mask thumbnail on the Hue/Sat layer and hit Cmd+I to invert it. The image will go back to the way it was before. Set your background color to white and select the Eraser Tool. Set the eraser's opacity to 100% and paint on the mask so that the hue adjustment we made appears. Now just paint where you want the color shift.

Continue this way until you are happy with the colors.

The shirt adjusted.

The skin tone adjusted.

Step Seven:

Make one more new blank layer just below the "Paint" layer. Call it "bkg paint". Select the brush tool again and make the master diameter huge. Mine is at 200. With the brush opacity at 5% do a few really broad strokes across the whole image just to bring in a little color to the background.

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