How to Turn a Photo into a Line Drawing

There is just something special about the drawings that many people like. It may be that artistic touch to it or perhaps that simplicity it possesses. As such, it can be an extremely useful addition to your eCommerce, your blog, or any other type of business that uses visual content to add some drawing into your media.

You may be thinking: ‘That sounds awesome but I can’t afford an artist to draw for me.’ Luckily for you, you don’t have to. Using Photoshop you can create a beautiful drawing from any photo fast and for free. By applying the right combination of actions and settings, we can turn photo into line drawing, which will look exactly like an upscale artist drew it by hand. Turning a photo into line drawing is not all that difficult once you learn the steps and get familiar with Photoshop. The process is also known as the picture to outline.

Sure it takes some practice to get the best possible results, however, by following the steps we will present you with today, you’ll be able to get pretty amazing results on your first try. We promise you will be a true photo to line drawing converter, you’ll be able to convert photo to line drawing with ease.

Before we move on to the exact steps on how to turn a photo into a line drawing in Photoshop, we want to tell you about the importance of line drawing in eCommerce and how it can help your store, brand, and overall conversion.

Are you ready? Let’s dig in.

Importance of Line Drawing in eCommerce

In case you don’t know what eCommerce is, it is an online product selling website, an online store. There are various eCommerce models of business, however, they all have a common goal – attract as many customers as possible and have them purchase as many products as they can. Yes, it is all about the profit and conversion, as in any business.

And since people just to only visit physical stores, where they were able to touch, feel, and smell the products and also get a sense of the store, this can’t be achieved online. With online stores, the only aspect you can offer clients is visual content, thus it better be good. Sure they will also pay attention to your listings, the price, etc. but if your visual content is not great, they will likely move over to another seller.

As such, it is super important to offer some amazing visual content. But guess what, all sellers know that. So, to stand out, you also need to offer something original, something that will stay in customers’ minds and turn them into regular clients. Meaning, you want your content to be of the highest possible quality and also unique.

Here is where turning a photo into a line drawing can make a huge impact. Sure, you don’t want to use it for product presentation; those images must be clean and represent your product as it is. However, using a picture to outline approach for your categories images, your header images, and your social media branding can be a real game-changer that will help you boom your business.

Don’t believe us? Try it and be amazed by the results.

However, we can stress this enough: the quality of images, whether they are regular or picture to outline type, must be very high. Customers these days pay attention to this more than ever. As such, make sure to practice the steps we will present below.

Moreover, if you don’t have the time or the will to do the editing yourself, you can always hire a competent Photoshop editing company to be your photo to line drawing converter and do all convert photo to line drawing for you.

How To Turn A Photo Into A Line Drawing In Photoshop

As promised, below we will provide you with the exact step that will help you turn photo into line drawing. In order to make your application of the following steps as successful as possible, we advise you to first just go through them all and read them carefully. Then open Photoshop and perform the steps on your test image as you go through the steps for the second time. That way you will be able to memorize the steps soon and be able to convert photo to line drawing by heart in no time.

To turn a photo into a pencil sketch in Photoshop properly (to get that real artistic look like it has been truly drawn by the hand), you need to apply some very specific tweaks to your initial image. In the below steps, we will focus on pencil sketch results, however, there are many other drawing styles you can achieve. Among many, you can also create a vector line outline.

Note: If you are familiar with Photoshop, you know that there are various ways and methods to get the same end result. The methods presented below is the one our Photoshop experts prefer.

Adjust contrast of your photo

Asses your initial image, if you feel like there are objects that don’t stand out quite all that well, make sure to increase the contrast. Generally, we always recommend you increase the contrast to get better results.

Move your mouse cursor over to Layers panel and make sure the layer that contains your image is selected. In case you’re working in a flattened image (such as a JPG file format), this layer will be the locked Background layer, which will be shown by the lock icon next to the background layers image. To turn it into a fully adjustable layer, simply double click it in confirm the popup window.

To tweak the contrast, click the Image in the top menu, then Adjustments and finally Curves. You will note that there is the ‘Brightness/Contrast’ option on top but the Curves option will enable us more advanced adjustment.

After clicking the ‘Curves…’, the Curves dialog box will appear. You want to make sure Preview is checked. In the graph on the left side of the dialog box, click on the middle of the line running diagonally through the graph and drag downward. By doing so, you’ll create a curved line in the graph. Looking at the image, you’ll notice that the dark areas will get darker, while the lighter areas will remain light. This is exactly what we want.

Adjust contrast of your photo - turn a photo into a line drawing

Note: If you’re working with a CMYK image, you’d pull up in the middle of the line instead of down.

Settings your layers

We will need a total of four layers of your base image. So, select it and click on the Layer panel menu (the small lines in the top-right corner of the Layer panel) and choose the Duplicate Layer option. Repeat that three times.

Instead of going to the menu, you can copy your image into new layers by pressing “CMD/CTRL+J” on your keyboard.

Settings your layers - turn a photo into a line drawing

NOTE: Using keyboard shortcuts may seem strange and unnatural at first, however, getting used to it will make your work a whole lot faster.

Convert image to grayscale using an adjustment layer

First, make sure you select the top layer of those duplicates you’ve just created in the previous step. Then select the Adjustment Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers panel (it is the icon that looks like a half black, half white circle). Once you will click on the icon, a drop-down menu will appear. Choose Hue/Saturation from it.

With this action, you’ve just created an adjustment layer for Hue/Saturation, which means all layers that appear beneath the adjustment layer will retain the Hue/Saturation properties you set for that adjustment layer.

With your adjustment layer still selected, go to your Properties panel, located to the right of your image by default. In case you don’t see your Properties panel, go to Window (main top menu) and choose Properties from the dropdown menu at the top of the Photoshop application window.

Convert image to grayscale using an adjustment layer - turn a photo into a line drawing

There are three sliders in the Properties panel: Hue, Saturation, and Lightness. Drag the slider for Saturation as far as it will go to the left to set the value listed for Saturation to -100 (you can also type it into the box).

If you did everything right, your image should now appear grayscale.

An additional method to convert to grayscale:

The Hue/Saturation adjustment layer (as done above) makes your image appear grayscale, but if you want to eliminate all color completely from your image as you work, you can convert your image to grayscale by choosing Image > Mode > Grayscale from the dropdown menu at the top of the application window.

NOTE: If you have an adjustment layer in place when you convert to grayscale (as just described), the adjustment layer will be deleted.

Convert the photo to a line drawing

So far we have been basically just preparing for this step, which is also a bit trickier but nothing you can’t handle. Just follow the instructions to the point.

In this step, you’ll learn how to outline or trace the picture in Photoshop using a series of effects applied to the layers we’ve prepared.

NOTE: In case your goal is to create just an outline of your photo, you may decide your picture is complete after this step.

First, make your top two duplicated layers invisible – click on the eye icons next to the layers in the Layers panel. Then select the visible layer that is second from the bottom (just above the initial layer) of the Layers panel.

Click on the dropdown menu at the top of the Layers panel next to Normal and Select Color Dodge.

With the same layer still selected, invert the image by typing CMD/CTRL+I. If you are not comfortable using keyboard shortcuts, you can also invert the image by choosing Image > Adjustments > Invert from the dropdown menu at the top menu bar.

Next, go to the top menu Filter item, then Blur, and finally, click the Gaussian Blur from the dropdown menu at the top of the application window.

The Gaussian Blur dialog box will appear. First, make sure that Preview is checked so that you can see how the image changes as you move the slider to the right or to the left.

Convert the photo to a line drawing

Adjust the slider accordingly until your image looks like a line drawing. By moving the slider to the left, you get thinner lines; moving the slider to the right and increasing the blur will thicken and darken the lines. The latter will also add some shading to the image.

Got it? Good job!

Making the strokes of your line drawing thicker in Photoshop:

You may want to thicken the strokes of your line drawing. To do so, duplicate your original layer one more time and move the new layer just above the layer you just adjusted (layer with Color Dodge blend mode).

Then go to Filter > Filter Gallery… from the dropdown menu at the top of the application window.

Under Stylize, choose Glowing Edges. This will enable you to adjust the Edge Width on the right-hand side of the window. Reducing Edge Brightness will also result in a cleaner edge. To confirm your actions, click OK.

Back in your layer, click CMD/CTRL+I to invert the layer. Then change the layer blend mode to Multiply.

If you did as instructed, the outlines of your image will now be thicker and darker.

Fix your Background and Foreground colors

In the Toolbar (typically on the left side of the screen), set your Background Color to white. To do so, double-clicking on the Background Color icon. Once in the Color Picker (Background Color) dialog box, click on the upper left-hand corner of the large color box, where the white is.

Next, set your Foreground Color to a medium gray by double-clicking on the Foreground Color square in the Toolbar. Once in the Color Picker (Foreground Color) dialog box, click midway down the left side of the large color box (select the gray color).

Fix your Background and Foreground colors

NOTE: Since we are keeping the color picking cursor all the way to the left (which represents a grayscale region), other colors more to the right side are not your concern.

Add Pencil Shading to your image

Back in the Layers panel, select the layer above the layer you just worked with (two steps back). Then click on the eye icon to make the layer visible again. If you did everything right (which we don’t doubt at all), your image will now look like a black-and-white photograph again.

Now choose Filter in the top menu bar and then click the Filter Gallery… from the dropdown menu at the top of the application window.

The Filter window will open. In it, click on the folder marked Sketch and select Charcoal.

To get the results we want, we must adjust the Charcoal Thickness, Detail, and Light/Dark Balance. To do so, use the sliders until the image in the preview window has the appropriate amount of detail. Keep in mind, you already have a line drawing of the photo in a lower layer, so you only need to create shading in this step. Once you are satisfied with the result, click OK.

Add Pencil Shading to your image

NOTE: Don’t be afraid to move the sliders around. Until you click OK, the action is not applied. And even if you do, you can always undo your steps (CMD/CTRL+SHIFT+Z).

Now click on the dropdown menu in the Layers panel next to Normal and adjust the Layer Blend Mode of the charcoal layer to Multiply.

Add a cross-hatching effect to your image

Go to the Layers panel and click the eye icon on the top layer to make the layer visible. Are all layers now visible in your image? They should be and they should all have an open eye icon.

With the last layer selected, go to Filter > Filter Gallery… once more from the dropdown menu at the top of the application window. If you see the Filter Gallery option more than once in the dropdown, make sure you select the lower option (the one that has three dots at the end).

Once the Filter window opens, click on the option marked Sketch and choose Torn Edges. By adjusting the toggles on the right-hand side of the window, you will start to see the details of your image.

Once you’re satisfied with the appearance of the Torn Edges filter, click on the ‘New’ icon located at the lower right-hand side of the Filter window. (This is the icon that looks like a piece of paper with a bottom-left corner folded, just like the New Layer icon in the Layers panel.)

By doing so, you will see Torn Edges appear twice on the right-hand side of the Filter window. While having the top instance of Torn Edges still selected, click on the Graphic Pen filter and change the Stroke Diagonal to Left Diagonal.

Besides, you can adjust the sliders for the Graphic Pen filter until you’re satisfied with the image in the preview window. Remember that you’re only creating shading at this stage (the same as with the previous layer). Click OK to complete the action.

Now change the Layer Blend Mode from Normal to Multiply as you did with the layer below.

Since the graphic pen filter is crisper than the charcoal filter that we applied to the lower layer, we want to add a slight motion blur to it.

With the same layer still selected, go to Filter > Blur > Motion Blur from the dropdown menu at the top menu bar.

Add a cross-hatching effect to your image

As the Motion Blur dialog box opens, first make sure Preview is checked so you can see the blur before you apply it. Then set the angle to -45° and move the Distance slider to the left to make a very insignificant blur. To confirm your action, click OK.

Make your final task

You are basically done. Congratulations!

Here are just some final steps to make things look even better.

1. Adjust the opacity of layers: you can play around with the layer’s opacity to get better results (do not change the opacity of the two bottom layers).

2. Clean up: certain areas of the white background may look as if they have smudges or dark spots. To remove those, follow these steps:

  • Stamp the layers by selecting all layers, including the Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, within the Layers panel and pressing CMD/CTRL+OPTION/A+E (created stamped layer will appear at the top of your Layers panel).
  • Set your foreground color to white and choose the Brush tool from the Toolbar. Within the new stamped layer, carefully paint over any smudges using the brush tool.

Make your final task

Are there any online tools that turn a photo into a line drawing?

If you went through the above steps and are fairly unfamiliar with Photoshop, you may be overwhelmed right now, right? You may even be thinking that there must be a simpler way.

Luckily for you, there are some online tool and even many smartphone apps that can do that sort of conversion with a single click, however, you should be aware that the results produced with this tools and apps will not come close to the quality of a result of the above steps or other manual steps executed by a Photoshop expert. As such, it makes sense to use those tools if you plan on using the images for personal use or fun, however, if you want the best images to be used on your eCommerce store or other business purposes, you want to master these actions yourself or hire an expert.

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We did our best to provide you with detailed step-by-step instructions on how to turn photo into line drawing or even further add that pencil drawn effect. These steps may seem difficult if you are new to Photoshop, however, we promise you can get used to them and perfect your results rather fast. Moreover, there are some online tool and smartphone apps but the result they produce can’t compare with those done manually, thus are not recommended for commercial use.

Moreover, if you don’t have the knowledge, the time, nor the will power to edit the photos yourself, you can always hire professionals. These days there are many to choose from and due to large competition, the prices are very affordable.

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