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  1. Design & Illustration
  2. Photoshop Actions

How to Create a Sketch Effect Action in Adobe Photoshop

Read Time: 12 mins
Final product imageFinal product imageFinal product image
What You'll Be Creating

In this tutorial, I'm going to teach you how to create a Photoshop sketch effect. You will learn how to turn your photos into amazing, advanced sketches. I will try to explain everything in so much detail that everyone can create it, even those who have just opened Photoshop for the first time.

The effect shown on the left is the one I will show you how to create here in this tutorial. If you would like to create the effect shown on the right, a sketch with a paint effect, and just using a single click, then check out my TechnicalArt sketch Photoshop action over on Envato Elements or as part of a bundle on GraphicRiver.

TechnicalArt Photoshop ActionTechnicalArt Photoshop ActionTechnicalArt Photoshop Action

Would you like to learn how to make a photo to sketch effect in Photoshop through a video? Then follow along with us over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

What You'll Need

To recreate the sketch effect in Photoshop, you won't need much. You'll just need a stock image of a taxi cab. You can grab one from Envato Elements as part of your subscription to the unlimited creative asset service.

1. Let's Get Started

First, open the photo that you want to work with. To open your photo, go to File > Open, choose your photo, and click Open. Now, before we get started on the Photoshop sketch effect, just check a couple of things:

  1. Your photo should be in RGB Color mode, 8 Bits/Channel. To check this, go to Image > Mode.
  2. For best results, your photo size should be between 1500–4000 px wide/high. To check this, go to Image > Image Size.
  3. Your photo should be the Background layer. If it is not, go to Layer > New > Background from Layer.
  4. To make some auto-corrections to your photo tone, contrast, and color, go to Image > Auto Tone, Image > Auto Contrast and then Image > Auto Color.

Checking image size mode and making auto correctionsChecking image size mode and making auto correctionsChecking image size mode and making auto corrections

2. How to Create the Background

For the background, we are going to use a solid color fill. Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color to create a new solid color fill layer, name it 'Background Color' and enter the settings below:

Creating new solid color fill layerCreating new solid color fill layerCreating new solid color fill layer

3. How to Create the Base Sketch

Step 1

Now we are going to create the base sketch. Select the Background layer and go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy to duplicate the Background layer, and then drag that new layer to the top of the layers in the Layers panel. Press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches and go to Filter > Filter Gallery > Sketch > Photocopy and choose the settings below:

Adding the sketch photocopy filterAdding the sketch photocopy filterAdding the sketch photocopy filter

Step 2

Name this layer Base Sketch and change its blending mode to Multiply.

Renaming layer to Base Sketch and changing its blending modeRenaming layer to Base Sketch and changing its blending modeRenaming layer to Base Sketch and changing its blending mode

4. How to Create a Draft Sketch Effect

Step 1

Now we are going to create a draft sketch. Go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy to duplicate the Base Sketch layer. Pick the Lasso Tool (L), click anywhere inside the canvas, choose Free Transform, and increase the width and height to 105% as shown below:

Transforming draft sketch layerTransforming draft sketch layerTransforming draft sketch layer

Step 2

Name this layer Large Draft Sketch and set its Opacity to 14%.

Renaming layer to Large Draft Sketch and changing its opacityRenaming layer to Large Draft Sketch and changing its opacityRenaming layer to Large Draft Sketch and changing its opacity

Step 3

Select the Base Sketch layer and go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy to duplicate the Base Sketch layer again. Pick the Lasso Tool (L), click anywhere inside the canvas, choose Free Transform, and decrease the width and height to 95% as shown below:

Transforming draft sketch layerTransforming draft sketch layerTransforming draft sketch layer

Step 4

Name this layer Small Draft Sketch and set its opacity to 14%.

Renaming layer to Small Draft Sketch and changing its opacityRenaming layer to Small Draft Sketch and changing its opacityRenaming layer to Small Draft Sketch and changing its opacity

5. How to Create a Rough Sketch Effect

Step 1

Now we are going to create a rough sketch. Select the Background layer and go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy to duplicate the Background layer, and then drag that new layer to the top of the layers in the Layers panel. Go to Filter > Filter Gallery > Artistic > Cutout and choose the settings below:

Adding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filter

Step 2

Go to Filter > Stylize > Find Edges and then go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

Stylizing and desaturating layerStylizing and desaturating layerStylizing and desaturating layer

Step 3

Name this layer RS_1, change its blending mode to Color Burn, and drop its Opacity to 30%.

Renaming layer to RS_1 and changing its blending mode and opacityRenaming layer to RS_1 and changing its blending mode and opacityRenaming layer to RS_1 and changing its blending mode and opacity

Step 4

Now we are going to create more rough sketch layers using the same method. So repeat Step 1 and Step 2 in this section, but in Step 1 instead of using the settings we used the previous time, use the new settings below:

Adding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filter

Step 5

Name this layer RS_2, change its blending mode to Color Burn, drop its Opacity to 25%, and drag it under the RS_1 layer to keep the proper layer order.

Renaming layer to RS_2 and changing its blending mode opacity and orderRenaming layer to RS_2 and changing its blending mode opacity and orderRenaming layer to RS_2 and changing its blending mode opacity and order

Step 6

Again repeat Step 1 and Step 2 from this section, but in Step 1, instead of using the settings we used previously, use the new settings below:

Adding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filter

Step 7

Name this layer RS_3, change its blending mode to Color Burn, drop its Opacity to 20%, and drag it under the RS_2 layer to keep the proper layer order.

Renaming layer to RS_3 and changing its blending mode opacity and orderRenaming layer to RS_3 and changing its blending mode opacity and orderRenaming layer to RS_3 and changing its blending mode opacity and order

Step 8

Again, repeat Step 1 and Step 2 from this section, but in Step 1, instead of using the settings we used previously, use the new settings below:

Adding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filter

Step 9

Name this layer RS_4, change its blending mode to Color Burn, drop its Opacity to 20%, and drag it under the RS_3 layer to keep the proper layer order.

Renaming layer to RS_4 and changing its blending mode opacity and orderRenaming layer to RS_4 and changing its blending mode opacity and orderRenaming layer to RS_4 and changing its blending mode opacity and order

Step 10

Again, repeat Step 1 and Step 2 from this section, but in Step 1, instead of using the settings we used previously, use the new settings below:

Adding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filter

Step 11

Name this layer RS_5, change its blending mode to Color Burn, drop its Opacity to 18%, and drag it under the RS_4 layer to keep the proper layer order.

Step 12

For the last time, repeat Step 1 and Step 2 from this section, but in Step 1, instead of using the settings we used previously, use the new settings below:

Adding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filterAdding the artistic cutout filter

Step 13

Name this layer RS_6, change its blending mode to Color Burn, drop its Opacity to 7%, and drag it under the RS_54 layer to keep the proper layer order.

Renaming layer to RS_6 and changing its blending mode opacity and orderRenaming layer to RS_6 and changing its blending mode opacity and orderRenaming layer to RS_6 and changing its blending mode opacity and order

Step 14

Now we are going to group all these rough sketch Photoshop layers. While the layer RS_6 is selected, Shift-click on the RS_1 layer to select these two layers and all other layers between them. Then go to Layer > New > Group from Layers to create a new group from the selected layers and name it Rough Sketch.

Creating new group from selected layers named Rough SketchCreating new group from selected layers named Rough SketchCreating new group from selected layers named Rough Sketch

6. How to Create Shading

Step 1

Now we are going to create some subtle shading for this photo to sketch effect in Photoshop. Select the Background layer and go to Layer > New > Layer Via Copy to duplicate the Background layer, and then drag that new layer to the top of the layers in the Layers panel. Go to Filter > Stylize > Find Edges and then go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

Stylizing and desaturating layerStylizing and desaturating layerStylizing and desaturating layer

Step 2

Go to Filter > Filter Gallery > Brush Strokes > Angled Strokes and select the settings below:

Adding the brush strokes angled strokes filterAdding the brush strokes angled strokes filterAdding the brush strokes angled strokes filter

Step 3

Name this layer Shading_1, change its blending mode to Multiply, and drop its Opacity to 12%.

Renaming layer to Shading_1 and changing its blending mode and opacityRenaming layer to Shading_1 and changing its blending mode and opacityRenaming layer to Shading_1 and changing its blending mode and opacity

Step 4

Now repeat Step 1 from this section, and then go to Filter > Brush Strokes > Crosshatch and enter the settings below:

Adding the brush strokes crosshatch filterAdding the brush strokes crosshatch filterAdding the brush strokes crosshatch filter

Step 5

Name this layer Shading_2, change its blending mode to Multiply, drop its Opacity to 5%, and drag it under the Shading_1 layer to keep the proper layer order.

Renaming layer to Shading_2 and changing its blending mode and opacityRenaming layer to Shading_2 and changing its blending mode and opacityRenaming layer to Shading_2 and changing its blending mode and opacity

7. How to Add Noise

Step 1

In this step, we are going to add some noise to our Photoshop pencil sketch effect. Select the Shading_1 layer and go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer and name it Noise.

Creating new layer named NoiseCreating new layer named NoiseCreating new layer named Noise

Step 2

Now press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches. Go to Edit > Fill and enter the settings below:

Filling Noise layer with foreground colorFilling Noise layer with foreground colorFilling Noise layer with foreground color

Step 3

Go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and choose the settings below:

Adding noise filter to the noise layerAdding noise filter to the noise layerAdding noise filter to the noise layer

Step 4

Now change this sketch effect Photoshop layer's blending mode to Screen and drop its Opacity to 64%.

Changing Noise layer blending mode and opacityChanging Noise layer blending mode and opacityChanging Noise layer blending mode and opacity

8. How to Create the Color Look

Step 1

Now we are going to add a nice color look to our Photoshop sketch effect. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves to create a new curves adjustment layer and name it Color Look.

Creating new curves adjustment layerCreating new curves adjustment layerCreating new curves adjustment layer

Step 2

Double-click on this layer thumbnail and enter the following settings:

Changing settings of Color Look layerChanging settings of Color Look layerChanging settings of Color Look layer

9. How to Make the Final Adjustments

Step 1

Now we are going to make some final adjustments to our photo to sketch effect in Photoshop. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Photo Filter to create a new photo filter adjustment layer and name it Photo Tint.

Creating new photo filter adjustment layerCreating new photo filter adjustment layerCreating new photo filter adjustment layer

Step 2

Double-click on this layer thumbnail and select the following settings:

Changing settings of Photo Tint layerChanging settings of Photo Tint layerChanging settings of Photo Tint layer

Step 3

Now we are going to add contrast. Press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Gradient Map to create a new gradient map adjustment layer and name it Overall Contrast.

Creating new gradient map adjustment layerCreating new gradient map adjustment layerCreating new gradient map adjustment layer

Step 4

Change this sketch Photoshop layer's blending mode to Soft Light and drop the Opacity to 18%.

Changing overall contrast layer blending mode and opacityChanging overall contrast layer blending mode and opacityChanging overall contrast layer blending mode and opacity

Step 5

Now we are going to add some vibrance and saturation to the Photoshop pencil sketch effect. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Vibrance to create a new vibrance adjustment layer and name it Overall Vibrance/Saturation.

Creating new vibrance adjustment layerCreating new vibrance adjustment layerCreating new vibrance adjustment layer

Step 6

Double-click on this Photoshop sketch effect layer thumbnail and choose the following settings:

Changing settings of Overall VibranceSaturation layerChanging settings of Overall VibranceSaturation layerChanging settings of Overall VibranceSaturation layer

Step 7

Now we are going to boost the highlights slightly. Go to Layer > New > Levels to create a new levels adjustment layer and name it Overall Brightness.

Creating new levels adjustment layerCreating new levels adjustment layerCreating new levels adjustment layer

Step 8

Double-click on this layer thumbnail and choose the following settings:

Changing settings of Overall Brightnes layerChanging settings of Overall Brightnes layerChanging settings of Overall Brightnes layer

Step 9

Now we are going to add sharpening. Press Control-Alt-Shift-E on your keyboard to make a snapshot. Go to Filter > Other > High Pass and enter the settings below:

Adding high pass filterAdding high pass filterAdding high pass filter

Step 10

Name this layer Overall Sharpening, change its blending mode to Hard Light, and drop the Opacity to 76%.

Renaming layer to overall sharpening and changing its blending mode and opacityRenaming layer to overall sharpening and changing its blending mode and opacityRenaming layer to overall sharpening and changing its blending mode and opacity

You Made It!

Congratulations, you have succeeded! Here is the final result of our Photoshop pencil sketch effect:

Final resultFinal resultFinal result

Customize Your Results

You can now customize the final sketch effect in Photoshop. I will give you a few tips:

  • Select the Background Color layer, double-click on its thumbnail, and in the Color Picker panel, choose another color. Click OK.
  • Select some of the layers and play with their opacities to create different Photoshop pencil sketch effects.
  • Select the Color Look layer, double-click on its thumbnail, and in the Properties panel, change the settings for a different color look.
  • Select the Photo Tint layer, double-click on its thumbnail, and in the Properties panel, change the settings for a different color look.
  • Select the sketch Photoshop layer Overall Contrast and change its opacity to adjust the contrast.
  • Select the layer Overall Vibrance/Saturation, double-click on its thumbnail, and in the Properties panel, play with the Vibrance and Saturation values to create different results.
  • Select the layer Overall Brightness, double-click on its thumbnail, and change the settings to adjust the brightness.
  • Select the layer Overall Sharpening, and change its opacity to adjust the amount of sharpening.

Here is what I got:

Customized final resultCustomized final resultCustomized final result

Awesome Work!

If you would like to create an even more advanced sketch with a paint effect as shown below, and just by using a single click, then check out my TechnicalArt sketch Photoshop action.

Action final resultAction final resultAction final result

The action works so that you just brush over the areas that you want to remain in paint, play the action, and the action will do everything for you, giving you fully layered and customizable results. 

Action final resultsAction final resultsAction final results

Top Sketch Photoshop Actions From Envato Elements

If you're looking to take your projects even further in less time, a sketch Photoshop action will do just the trick. The options from Envato Elements are simple to use and have professional results. Check out a few of them here to turn a photo to a sketch in Photoshop:

1. Digital Photoshop Pencil Sketch Effect Action (ATN, ABR, PAT)

Digital Sketch Photoshop ActionDigital Sketch Photoshop ActionDigital Sketch Photoshop Action

This cool action creates a stunning Photoshop sketch effect. Once you run Digital Sketch, you'll get an artistic result that has fully editable layers, colors, and elements. That means you can customize your photo to sketch effect in Photoshop without much fuss.

2. Colorful Sketch Effect in Photoshop (ATN, ABR, PAT)

Colorful Photoshop SketchColorful Photoshop SketchColorful Photoshop Sketch

Not every sketch needs to come in black and white. This cool sketch effect Photoshop action lets you add some color to your artistic work. Even though it's easy to use, the sketch Photoshop action also comes with a video tutorial in case you need help.

3. Urban Sketch Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR, PAT)

Urban Sketch Effect PhotoshopUrban Sketch Effect PhotoshopUrban Sketch Effect Photoshop

If you like taking shots of landscapes, apply this sketch filter Photoshop action to your work. It adds a unique artistry to your photos. Getting Urban Sketch working is pretty easy. This sketch Photoshop action download also comes with 20 different color presets.

4. Sketch Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR)

Cool Photo to Sketch Photoshop EffectCool Photo to Sketch Photoshop EffectCool Photo to Sketch Photoshop Effect

The results of this Photoshop sketch action are a sight to behold. The fine details found here look handmade. It's also pretty simple to use. Just brush the area where you want the Photoshop pencil sketch effect applied and play. 

5. Rough Sketch Photoshop Action (ATN, ABR, PAT)

Rough Sketch Effect in PhotoshopRough Sketch Effect in PhotoshopRough Sketch Effect in Photoshop

If you're looking for sketches that are rougher around the edges, this is the perfect choice for you. This sketch Photoshop action captures the essence of your photos with a raw art style. One cool feature of this download is that it creates ten sketch variations for you to choose from.

Did this photo to sketch Photoshop how-to guide pique your design interest? Then check out the following sketch effect tutorials:

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