Turn Any Photo Into a Pencil Sketch

It just takes five simple steps in your image editor to make a photo look like a pencil drawing.

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I've often wished I could draw. My drawing abilities stopped evolving in kindergarten, so my drawings of people remain the stick figure variety. That's why I like the fact that I can capture portraits with my digital camera--no drawing skills are required. And for those occasions when I want something that looks like a drawing, I can easily take a full-color portrait and turn it into something that looks like a pencil sketch with just a few clicks.

Making a pencil-sketch version of a photo is quite easy, and you can do it in almost any photo editing program. In fact, if you have Adobe Photoshop Elements, you can do it more or less automatically. In the Edit pane on the right side of the screen, open the Effects section and drag one of the tiles (say, Charcoal) into your photo. From there, you can explore all of the various styles, like Chalk & Charcoal, Water Paper, and Crayon (there are about 50 options in all).

If your photo editor doesn't have this sort of one-step drawing effect, or if you'd rather try your hand at making the effect yourself, I've got all the details right here. I'll show you how to do it in Photoshop Elements, but the process is easy to replicate with other programs as well--you just need to have a photo editor that supports layers.

Choose a Portrait

To get started, open your photo in Photoshop Elements. Not every photo will look good using this technique, so you might need to experiment. I've gotten the best results with photos that have fairly simple backgrounds. I'll start with the photo of my wife on the left.

Add Some Layer Magic

The first thing you need to do is to duplicate the image in a new layer, so choose Layer, Duplicate Layer, and click OK. Nothing will appear to change, but you should see two layers in the Layer Palette on the right side of the screen. Make sure the top layer is selected.

Next, let's turn the top layer into a black-and-white image. To do that, choose Enhance, Adjust Color, Remove Color. The image should now look black and white. Now we need to duplicate this layer, so again choose Layer, Duplicate Layer, and click OK. There should now be three layers in the Layer Palette. With the topmost layer selected, set the blending mode from Normal to Color Dodge.

As soon as you do this, the photo should change--it'll probably look rather bleached. Let's make it even weirder: Press Ctrl-I to invert the colors, and the image should now be almost completely white.

Finish the Drawing

It might not look like it, but we are almost done. All that's left is to add some blur, which will, believe it or not, resolve the almost-white canvas into a pencil sketch. Choose Filter, Blur, Gaussian Blur. You can experiment with the Radius value until you get a result that you like. For my photo, a value of about 7 was just about right.

If you like the sketch, save your photo. But you can improve things a bit as well. If you want to deepen the pencil lines a bit and enhance the shading, use the Levels tool. Choose Enhance, Lighting, Levels. Here, you can increase the value of the midtone slider and/or the shadow slider a bit until you like what you see.

Hot Pic of the Week

Get published, get famous! Each week, we select our favorite reader-submitted photo based on creativity, originality, and technique.

Here's how to enter: Send us your photograph in JPEG format, at a resolution no higher than 800 by 600 pixels. Entries at higher resolutions will be immediately disqualified. If necessary, use an image editing program to reduce the file size of your image before e-mailing it to us. Include the title of your photo along with a short description and how you photographed it. Don't forget to send your name, e-mail address, and postal address. Before entering, please read the full description of the contest rules and regulations.

This week's Hot Pic: "Jester" by Dwayne A. Taylor, Salem, Massachusetts

This isn't the first time that Dwayne has won the Hot Pic of the Week with a butterfly photo (see his March Hot Pic winner "Butterfly Creation" and his August runner up, "Up Close and Personal").

Dwayne writes: "Here is another picture based on my summer passion: The raising and releasing of Monarch butterflies. This is a fifth instar Monarch butterfly caterpillar, looking directly into his face. I shot him with my Canon Digital Rebel and a 100mm macro lens. When I saw the photo on my PC, I immediately thought of a court jester, hence the name of the photo."

This week's runner-up: "Surfin' Safari" by Robert King, Carson, California

Robert writes: "I was watching the big waves at Seal Beach Pier one afternoon, and at sunset this parade of surfers entered the scene, heading for the water. I shot this picture with a Nikon D40x."

To see last month's winners, visit our August Hot Pics slide show. Visit the Hot Pics Flickr gallery to browse past winners.

Have a digital photo question? E-mail me your comments, questions, and suggestions about the newsletter itself. And be sure to sign up to have Digital Focus e-mailed to you each week.

This story, "Turn Any Photo Into a Pencil Sketch" was originally published by PCWorld.

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