Turning a Photo into an Ink Drawing or a Pencil Sketch (in Photoshop)

In this article, we’ll take a portrait photo and give it a hand-drawn touch by turning it into first an ink drawing (below left) and then a pencil sketch (right). As you can see, this guy is quite surprised at how well the technique works.

Creating an ink drawing or a pencil sketch in Photoshop

We’ll start by making the ink effect using a Smart Object, Gaussian Blur, High Pass, the seldom-used Note Paper filter, another round of Gaussian Blur, a Levels adjustment layer, the Multiply blend mode, and a little bit of luminance blending. It’s hardly a one-click solution, but the results are amazing. Plus, this flexible approach can produce several interesting alternative looks, including a credible pencil effect, also documented here.

Today’s article is based on Deke’s Techniques 026 and 027, presented by lynda.com. (The ink effect is also documented in video form on this site.)

Inking a Photograph

For this example, we started by combining the notebook paper background and a portrait by Warren Goldswain, both from the Fotolia Image Library.

starting layers

In this project, we’ll be duplicating layers several times. If you’re following along, rather than have the word “copy” appear in the layer names, you can turn the feature off by clicking on the icon at the upper right corner of the Layers panel and selecting Panel Options from the menu. Un-check the option that says Add “copy” to Copied Layers and Groups at the bottom of the dialog. Also, be sure to work in 8-bit mode, since most of the filters only work in 8-bit.

First, we’ll convert the portrait layer to a smart object. This will allow us to apply smart filters to the image: Right-click/Control-click on the layer (not the thumbnail) and choose Convert to Smart Object from the menu.

convert to smart object

Use Ctrl/Command + J to duplicate the layer and turn off the visibility of the bottom layer.

after duplicate layers

This produces a copy of the Smart Object that shares the same source as the original. Double-clicking on the Smart Object and editing the source will update both copies.

Next, we’ll add several Smart Filters to the top portrait layer.

We’ll blur the image slightly to reduce the details in the image before we tell Photoshop to trace them.

  1. Select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur from the menu bar.
  2. Set radius to 1px.
  3. Click OK.

Next, we’ll use command that Deke almost never uses.

  1. Select Filter > Blur > Smart Blur from the menu bar.
smart blur dialog
  1. Use the settings shown:
    • Radius: 3.
    • Threshold: 1
    • Quality: High
    • Mode: Normal
  2. Click OK

Next is one of the key filters for this effect. What it essentially does is gray out the non-details in the image, but keeps the rest in pretty good shape. We’ll use a radius of 2.0, but your radius may vary, depending on the image you use.

Select Filter > Other > High Pass from the menu bar, set the radius, and then click OK.

high pass dialog

Before you apply the next filter, tap the D (as in “default colors”) key to establish black and white as the resspective foreground and background colors. The next filter relies on those colors.

Now, select Filter > Sketch > Note Paper from the menu bar.

apply note paper filter

Use the settings shown and then click OK:

  • Image Balance: 25 (almost any other setting will completely mess your image up, though you can try other settings if you like)
  • Graininess: 0
  • Relief: 0

If you zoom in at this point, you’ll see that the lines have jagged edges, which are the result of the threshold effect of the Note Paper filter. We’ll blur to soften and modify the blending options of the blur.

  1. Select Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur from the menu bar, set the Radius to 1px, and then click OK.
  2. Double-click the slider icon on the top gaussian blur effect.
gaussian blur blending
  1. Change the blending mode to Multiply and then click OK.

This intensifies the effect. You’ll still see some jaggies, but it’s an improvement.

We won’t need the filter mask, so we’ll get rid of it to reduce clutter:

  • Right-click/Control-click on the filter mask thumbnail and choose Delete Filter mask from the menu.
delet filter mask

Now, we’ll create a Levels adjustment layer that only applies to the current portrait layer. You do that by creating a Clipping Mask.

  1. Hold the Alt/Option key down and select Levels from the menu inside the half-black circle icon at the bottom of the Layers panel. (Holding the Alt/Option key down tells the menu to open the New Layer dialog before it creates the new adjustment layer.)
new adjustment layer
  1. Name your layer contrast and make sure the “Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask” option is turned on. Click OK.
new layer dialog

The Adjustments panel will activate.

  1. Move the black point slider to the right until it touches the left edge of the data points in the Histogram profile.
  2. Click in the Gamma box (the one in the middle, hold the Shift key and tap the down arrow key three times to bump the value to reuse the value to 0.7.
black point and gamma

To make the white portions of this image disappear, we’ll change the blending mode of the layer:

  • Click in the Layers panel to activate the portrait layer and Change its blending mode to Multiply.
portrait layer multipy mode

At this point, the image approximates an ink drawing, except that no one would trace around features with a pen and not fill them in. We’ll use the original Portrait layer to do that.

  1. Click the eyeball icon to turn on the first portrait layer.
  2. Click on the layer to make it active.
  3. Change its blend mode to multiply.
first layer multiply mode

Finally, we only want to keep the dark details and eliminate the light details in the layer, so we’ll use Blend If to control that.

  1. Double-click in the neutral area of the layer to open the Layer Styles dialog.
    neutral area
  2. In the Blend if section of the dialog, move the right-hand control on the This Layer slider bar to the left to make the highlights vanish. In this example, Deke selected a value of 95.
knock out highlights

This produces very harsh transitions, so we’ll smooth the effect by splitting the slider:

  1. Hold down the Alt/Option key, then press the mouse button down on the right edge of the slider and drag it to the right. The slider will split apart.
  2. Once the slider is separated into two parts, you can release the Alt/Option key and drag the two parts independently. For this image, Deke dragged the right half of the slider to 18.
split slider
  1. Click OK to accept the change and complete the image:
final ink drawing

Bonus Versions

You can toggle the visibility of various Smart Filters to see their contributions and create alternate versions of the composition.

Press the mouse button down on the eyeball for the High Pass Smart filter and drag down across Smart Blur and the first Gaussian blur to produce a nice variation.

alternate version

Toggle the High Pass filter back on to see its contribution. Combining either Smart Blur or Gaussian Blur with High Pass will produce versions that show how these two filters work differently to eliminate detail.


Getting out the Pencil

Now, to turn the ink drawing into a penciled effect. For this example, we made two change to the ink drawing file:

start pencil drawing
  • A parchment paper texture was used for the background instead of the note paper you saw before.
  • Deke brought out the eyes and teeth by adding a layer as follows:
  1. Click on the plain portrait layer and use Ctrl/Command + J to duplicate it.
  2. Click the bottom-most portrait layer to activate it.
  3. Select the eyes and the teeth (e.g. with the quick Selection tool).
  4. Click the Add Layer Mask icon at the bottom of the Layers panel.
eye teeth mask
  1. Change the Blend Mode to Screen.
  2. Reduce the opacity of the layer to 5%.

Now, we’re ready to move forward with the effect. Click the top portrait layer to select it, and click the eyeball icon to turn off its Smart Blur filter.

smart blur off

We need to create a copy of the background layer to use as a displacement map.

  1. Hold down the Alt/Option key and drag the background layer to the icon to Create a New Layer. The Duplicate Layer dialog will appear.
  2. Select New from the Document menu.
duplicate backgound
  1. Click OK. You’ll be looking at the new document.
  2. Select Image > Mode > Grayscale from the menu bar. If you see the Discard color information warning, go ahead and click Discard.
discard color info dialog
Note: If you’re working with your own files, the files used for textures need to be flat. If your document has layers, choose Layer > Flatten Image from the menu bar.
  1. Use File > Save As to save the grayscale file in Photoshop (PSD) format.
save grayscale file

Now, we’ll use that file as a texture for the next effect.

  1. Return to the main drawing file.
  2. Click on the filtered portrait layer.
  3. Select Filter > Artistic > Underpainting.  (The filter will add some darkness and a bit of a wash effect to the image.)
  4. Confirm the following settings:
    • Brush size:2
    • Texture Coverage: 1
    • Scaling 1%
    • Relief: 5
    • Light: Top
underpainting dialog

The texture is not correct. We’ll load the grayscale file we just created and use that as our texture:

  1. Click the icon to the right of the Texture menu and select Load Texture from the menu that appears.
  2. Use the file dialog to locate the file and click Open (Load on Mac). The texture effect now matches the background.
load texture
  1. Click OK to apply the new Smart Filter.
  2. Don’t worry that applying the filter just messed some things up.
  3. Drag the Underpainting filter below Gaussian Blur to reorder the filters.
drag underpainting filter

To intensify the effect, we’ll change the blending mode:

  1. Double-click the slider icon on the right edge of the Underpainting Smart filter.
  2. When the Blending Options dialog appears, change the Mode to Multiply and then click OK.
underpainting blend mode

Next we’ll apply the Crosshatch filter, one of the few old gallery effects that Deke actually likes, and intensify its effect with a blending mode.

  1. Select Filter > Brush Strokes > Crosshatch from the menu bar
apply crosshatch filter
  1. Apply the settings shown and click OK.
  2. Double-click the slider icon for the Crosshatch Smart Filter.
  3. Change the Mode setting to Multiply and then click OK.

At this point, the Levels adjustment we created earlier to add contrast to the ink drawing is making things too dark.

  1. Double-click the Contrast layer to activate the Adjustments panel.
  2. Drag the Black point slider to the left, to around 2. (This is where the values begin in the Histogram for this particular image. The settings for your image may be different.)

To make the pencil marks conform more to the texture of the paper, we’ll use that gray paper file a second time as a displacement map.

  1. Click the filtered portrait layer to select it.
  2. Select Filter > Distort > Displace from the menu bar
  3. Set both the Horizontal and Vertical Scale values to 3 and then Click OK.
  4. When the Open dialog appears, locate the the gray paper file and click Open.
displacement dialogs

The resulting effect is subtle, but it does a better job of integrating the pencil marks with the paper. To see the difference, you can Zoom in on the image and toggle the eyeball for the Displace Smart Filter off and back on.


Our image is coming along well. We can improve it a bit more by copying some of the smart filters onto the second portrait layer. To do that, hold down the Alt/Option key and drag the filter onto the target layer.

  1. Alt/Option drag the Crosshatch Smart Filter onto the second portrait layer. Release the mouse button when an outline appears around the target layer.
  2. Notice that the effect will appears dark. That’s because the filter we just copied is set to the Multiply blending mode. To fix that, we’ll change the blending mode.
  3. Double-click the slider icon on the new Crosshatch copy to open the Blending Options dialog
copy crosshatch filter
  1. Change the Mode to Normal
  2. Click OK
  3. Alt/Option-drag the Displace filter onto the second portrait layer.
copy displace smart filter

There is a slight chance that Photoshop may track of the displacement map when you copy the Smart Filter. If that happens, you’ll see a dialog asking you to select and open it the same way you did earlier.

Once your displace filter is copied, you can get rid of the filter mask that’s cluttering up the Layers panel: Right-click/Control-click on the filter mask and then choose Delete Filter Mask from the menu.

delete filter mask

Finally, the color in the second portrait layer is taking away from the pencil sketch effect, so we’ll convert the layer to grayscale.

  1. Click on the layer to select it.
  2. Hold down the Alt/Option key and select Hue/Saturation from the menu inside the New Adjustment Layer icon (the black and white circle) at the bottom of the Layers panel.
  3. When the new layer dialog appears, name it “nosat” and check the box that says Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask.
add nosat layer
  1. Click the OK button to create the adjustment layer.
  2. In the Adjustments panel, drag the Saturation value to -1.
adjust nosat layer

And with that, we have our final version of the pencil drawing:

final pencil drawing

The combination of techniques and filters create an image that has depth and integrity. You can zoom in close to get a greater appreciation of how the elements meld.

Next entry:Deke’s Techniques 048: Drawing Rays of Light in Photoshop

Previous entry:The Next “Photoshop Masking & Compositing” Course Goes Live @ lynda.com


  • Ink Drawing/Pencil Sketch

    Nice effect and very knowledgeable use of filters and blending.
    The thing that looks off to me is the whiteness of the teeth and eyes with the background being parchment. Normally when you sketch, the lightest you can get is the shade of the medium you are drawing on.
    All-in-all however a great exercise for digging deeper into PS.

    Thanks Deke!

  • Love the Pencil Sketch - anything for watercolors?


    Really liked your tutorial here on turning a photo into an ink drawing or pencil sketch. Do you have anything similar for watercolors? I’ve been using a multilayer technique in CS5 using Artistic > Dry Brush, the Canvas texture, underpainting with burlap and the Underwater filter as part of my workflow. I’m looking for that Norman Rockwell look, but can’t seem to get it right. Internet searches just bring up similar approaches.

    Can you write up a watercolor tutorial for your next sharable moment?

    Love your work!

    - Uncle Lew

  • Animation in Photoshop

    Hey PS Master . . your courses have helped me alot, so as for many others . . I love you (as a teacher :p)  and recently also had a dream about you comimg to india Hahaha

    I want to know if you have touched upon the Gif animation part in photoshop in any of your courses, i really want to learn it from you . . .

  • Steel Engraving/Scratchboard

    Hi Deke-

    This was a cool effect. I’m wondering about an efficient way to go about taking a good photo and treating it to look like an old steel engraving or scratchboard look…sorta like the Wall Street Journal but more like a Mark Summers illustration.

    I keep thinking about the old displacement maps and such, any ideas off the top of your head?


  • Were the Filter > Sketch > Note Paper goes on CS6?


    Hi Deke, well, i found this tutorial pretty cool but, I was following it from Lynda.com and guess what, in CS6 there is no Filter > Sketch > Note Paper dillog box. What did they put it. Maybe it´s silly, but, they should had a (at list),  work Workspace that showed us what things were removed or changed? That reminded me when they remove the Extract Background dialog box when they introduced Refine Edge, but, well, How do i know it?

    Thanks, i´ll still search…

    Sgt. Peper

  • In CS6, it’s located…

    in the Filter > Filter Gallery… menu.

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