Deke’s Techniques: Turning a photo into a line drawing in Photoshop

Published by | Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

This week Deke shares one of his most asked-for techniques, how to turn an ordinary portrait into a line drawing. It seems that when people encounter wonderful photo-realistic line drawings out in the wild, they immediately equate said photo-realism with Photoshop. And, if nature didn’t endow you with the ability to draw, then applying some careful Photoshop effects to a well-chosen photo is indeed the way to go.

In this week’s free movie, you’ll see how to take a photographed portrait, apply the Photocopy filter and then adjust and finesse your drawing with the Levels command, Gaussian Blur, a little hand-work (you’re calling it a “drawing” after all), and finally some advanced layer effects. The result is a technique that can work on any well-defined portrait. For example, check out how this unsuspecting photo booth poser in the upper image can become the proto-Nagel woman you see in the lower image below (while doing some fairly wonderful things to my chalkboard in the process).

Colleen Wheeler strikes a pose

Photo transformed into line drawing with Photoshop

For members of, Deke has an exclusive movie in the Online Training Library® this week called Adding a crosshatch shading pattern that really sells the illustration effect. By the time you go through Deke’s meticulous steps, you’ll take this dramatic photo on the left and turn it into the deadly (but awesome) line drawing on the right:

Adding a Crosshatch shading pattern with Photoshop

See you back next week with another technique from Deke!

Interested in more?
• The entire Deke’s Techniques collection on
• Courses by Deke McClelland on
• All Photoshop courses on

Suggested courses to watch next:
• Photoshop CS5 One-on-One: Mastery
• Photoshop for Designers: Layer Effects
• Photoshop Masking & Compositing: Advanced Blending
Illustrator Insider Training: Rethinking the Essentials

Share this:Share on Facebook382Tweet about this on Twitter25Share on Google+0Pin on Pinterest70Share on LinkedIn5 - start learning today

Tags: ,

10 Responses to “Deke’s Techniques: Turning a photo into a line drawing in Photoshop”

  1. Anthony says:

    Hi love your effect but I ran into trouble when I could not repeatedly use the lasso tool to kep cleaning up the black on the face. I kept adding a another mask by option clicking.
    ???? could not finish

  2. Jeremy Hawes says:

    Excellent tutorial, love the line art effect. Found an alternative use for it already in some web design stuff :)

  3. @Anthony, once you create the layer mask (at about 4 minutes into the video), try using the Polygonal Lasso tool to add areas to the mask. Make sure the mask is selected in the Layers panel. Fill those areas with black.

  4. @Jeremy Cool! Would love to hear specifics about your alternative use.

  5. A says:

    This is a terrible effect that should be limited to an iPhone app filter for the tasteless.

  6. A, it’s clear this technique wasn’t your cup of tea. It’s true that not every effect works for everybody’s taste; that’s one of the glories of the infinite variety of Photoshop techniques. Are there any effects you’d like to see Deke take a swing at in future episodes?

  7. Amy says:

    I ran into a problem at the end of the tutorial. When I merge all the layers, some of the edges of the image become blurry. It only happens when you merge the photo.

  8. Thaily says:

    “if nature didn’t endow you with the ability to draw”

    I know we make it look like magic, but there’s actually more to being able to draw than just talent. There’s a lot of hard work; studying and practicing and having to deal with a lot of dumb misconceptions that makes people undervalue the amount of work that goes into developing this -skill-.

    And guess what, most people under the age of 30 can tell the difference between a filtered photo and an actual drawing. These are not drawings, they’re lazy and it shows.

  9. @ Amy, can you explain more about your experience. Are you saving out a JPEG or just flattening? (Deke, who never met a layer he didn’t love wanted to know why you were flattening.) What kind of blurriness is happening?

  10. @ Thaily, I agree, the talent and hard work of practiced artists shows regardless of medium, whether pen and ink or a complicated digital tool like Photoshop.

Leave a Reply