HOW TO: Create Line Portraits From Digital Photos

We attended a house party last year where I saw the coolest thing. The hosts had seven kids, each memorialized in framed pencil sketches which filled an entire wall. The parents commissioned an artist to capture each child’s face once a year around the time of their birthdays.

The sketches looked to be traced from photographs, but it was the underlying idea that interested me. What follows is my own take on creating child portraits. They also make great covers for a first birthday invitation and family thank-you cards.

The following instructions are for Adobe Photoshop 7.0. Other flavors of Photoshop should have similar functions, but they may be located on different menus. Suggestions are welcome on how to achieve similar effects using other digital imaging software.

The following four portraits depend on using Photoshop’s filter function. The first portrait starts from a color photo. The last three portraits build upon the first portrait.

Begin with a brightly lit, or even over-exposed, zoomed in view of your
child’s face. If you have a more distant photo with a great facial
expression, it may work by blowing it up and over-sharpening to create
distinct facial features. That’s possible because your finished
portrait will be a line drawing, not a photo.

Baby portrait using the Photoshop photocopy filterPhotocopy Portrait
1. Crop photo if needed.
2. Brighten image. (On the Image > Adjust menu, use Brightness/Contrast, Levels, or Curves). This reduces the intensity of grayish artifacts introduced in Step 4. Experiment a few times to see how your lightening changes the output in Step 4.
3. Be sure your two selected colors are white and black with black on top.
4. Click Filter > Sketch > Photocopy (50% on both filter levels – 13 details, 26 darkness).
5. A scattered field of gray artifacts (blotches) will fill skin areas. The darker the skin, the more artifacts. Erase the artifacts to leave only primary facial features. (Using the pencil tool, with white as your selected color, wipe over the artifacts, leaving the darker lines – wrinkles, eyes, nose, hair, etc.). This final step gives your portrait its outlined appearance.

Baby portrait using the Photoshop cutout filterCutout Portrait
1. Using your existing Photocopy image, click Filter > Artistic > Cutout (4 levels, 4 edge simplicity, 2 edge fidelity). The number of levels you choose dictates how much detail remains in your portrait.
2. Using the pencil tool, replace unwanted markings with white. Typically, you might remove minor wrinkles or smooth rough edges.

Baby portrait using the Photoshop note paper filterNote Paper Portrait
1. Using your existing Photocopy image, click Filter > Sketch > Note Paper (0 graininess, 0 relief, 40 image balance to create a flat two color image). People usually use the Note Paper filter to create a bubbly texture, but not us. We want the white spaces to remain clear while the black gets texturized (into gray).
2. Using the magic wand (with 0 tolerance, and the Contiguous box unchecked), select all of the gray color. Alternately, select a patch of gray with the magic wand, then click Select > Similar to select all gray pixels.
3. Click Select > Modify > Smooth (10 pixels), to deselect the rough edges.
4. Create a new layer.
5. On the new layer, click Edit > Fill (with black or the color of your choice) to create a smoothed copy of your portrait.
6. Delete your old layer.
7. Using the pencil tool, replace unwanted artifacts with white. Typically, you might remove minor wrinkles or rough line edges.

Baby portrait using the Photoshop color halftone filterColor Halftone Portrait
1. Using your existing Photocopy image, click Filter > Pixelate > Color Halftone (17 max radius – a larger number generates larger dots).
2. Using the pencil tool, replace unwanted markings with white. Notice that I removed eye and nose wrinkles in the photo at left.

The numerical values listed for each step are far from absolute because each photo’s lighting is different and skin tones vary. Do some experimentation to achieve your preferred effect.

Questions? E-mail me at the link at upper right, or post a comment.

Comments

2 Responses to “HOW TO: Create Line Portraits From Digital Photos”

  1. Kevin says:

    Great tutorials.

    November 2nd, 2005 at 9:18 am

  2. Darla Dixon says:

    I downloaded a program that is supposed to do this, haven’t had any luck getting the program to load though…this is neat. I use Paint Shop Pro for my digital work, but I do hand-drawn pencil portraits as my home business (not traced, hand drawn). Your tutorial is definitely a fun thing to try and nice for notecards and such!

    November 4th, 2005 at 8:32 pm