How to Make a Pencil Drawing From a Photograph Using Photoshop

By | 3rd July 2015

pencil drawing from a photographA Pencil Drawing or other hand-drawn illustration has a certain timeless appeal and can make your illustration seem more genuine than simply inserting a stock photo, so they are great for spicing up articles and blog posts. Many Hand-Drawn Logos form the basis of brand labels and if you look at drinks labels you will often find a pencil drawing of a crest  included in the design.

It is easy to make photographs look like hand-drawn pictures if you know how, but you need an image editor for best results. For this tutorial I am using Photoshop, but you could use a number of others although the results can appear different.

Do Not Breach Copyright For Your Pencil Drawing

Make sure the original image is not copyrighted before you start, otherwise you could find yourself on the end of an expensive legal battle. If the image is the subject of copyright, make sure you have permission to edit it. Normally, if you purchase an image from a stock gallery the option to change it is available but may not be included in the standard terms so check carefully before you begin.

For this tutorial on making a photograph look like a pencil drawing I am going to take an image of a lady chef in a kitchen, but I only want her face and hand for my image.

1. Open the photograph in Photoshop – in my case I’m using Photoshop CC but this technique will work in most versions:

The basis of our pencil drawing

2. Create a duplicate so that you can close the original and keep it safe

You can do this several ways but my favourite is to use the Image menu and choose Duplicate from there. Give the new image a meaningful name – the default is OK in this case:

Copy the original

3. Next, save the new image as a PSD file.

With any image file, particularly a JPEG you will lose quality every time you save it as the compression method is “lossy”. This means that all the pixels that are removed in the process of reducing the file size are thrown away – and you can’t get them back. That’s why any editing should always be done on a Photoshop document – you can save it as an image file again when you have finished.


4. If you are not going to use all the image it is as well to crop as much of the original away as you can.

Using the crop tool drag a rectangle around the image and pull the sides in until you just have the part you are going to use left, then crop it. You will be amazed at how much the file size is reduced, and any editing will be a lot quicker now.


Turning it into a Hand-Drawn Pencil Drawing

Now, the fun starts…


5. From the Layers palette make a copy of the background layer

It is a good idea to name the layers as you create them as this keeps it clear what they contain and helps you stay organised


6. Select this new layer and desaturate the image

This removes all the colour from the image but only on that layer. It isn’t the same as changing the image to Greyscale – all the colour pixels are still there when you desaturate, they just don’t show



7. Rename this layer BW or something similar, then make a copy of it

You can create a copy by right-clicking the layer and choosing create duplicate or simply by dragging the layer down to the new layer button at the bottom of the palette


8. Select the BW copy layer and turn it into a negative

This is easy – just press Crtl + I or Cmd + I on a Mac


9. Now change the blend mode to Colour Dodge

The blend modes are shown at the top of the Layers palette – by default it will say Normal, but if you click the drop-down to the right a list of alternative blend modes will appear. We want Color Dodge


10. Keep this layer selected and apply a Gaussian Blur


You will find this under the Filter menu, Blur then Gaussian Blur. A little dialog box will pop up into which you can specify the size of the line you want. I tend to stick with a value between 1 and 2 pixels for a realistic effect, but in this case as the image is already so pale I have gone for a much bigger pixel radius of 25:

Making the image look hand-drawn

11. Now you can clean up the image if you need to. I can still see the tiles in the background, so I am going to enlarge the image and remove them. First I will merge the visible layers Shift + Ctrl + E or Shift + Cmd + E on a Mac:


12. Now I can paint out the tiles in the background with a white paintbrush. Don’t try to use the eraser tool – you will end up with black showing through! It is a good idea to zoom in when you are touching up the picture.


13. Now for the enhancements. Areas you want to emphasise, like the eyes for example, can be made brighter by using the Burn tool while areas you want to recede can be made paler with the Dodge tool:


The Burn tool makes the eyes sparkle…


While the Dodge tool softens the black piping around the jacket

14. When you have finished editing and are happy with the result you can apply a couple of final touches if you want. For this example I am going to the Image menu, Adjustments and then Levels:


By dragging the sliders you can lighten or darken the image:


15. I don’t want to make it too dark, so I will choose to drag the shadows slider on the left to about one third across to value 70

16. Finally, I will apply a crosshatch filter from the Filter gallery:


This is found under Brushstrokes:


17. The Stroke length can be adjusted to whatever you want – the longer the stroke, the more realistic, the shorter the stroke the more like a photograph it looks… For this image I am going to choose a stroke length of 30 and boost the sharpness right up to 15:

chef-22 chef-23



I’ll leave the strength set to 1 but try different settings yourself until you get the look you want.

Here’s a close up of the before and after:

chef-24 chef-25

When you are finished editing and are happy with the hand-drawn pencil drawing look you can save the file again as an image – either a JPEG or a PNG. If you are using the image to print from it must be saved with a resolution of 300 ppi – online use only requires 72 ppi.

For more tutorials on Photoshop and other desktop apps visit our blog

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