Turning a Portrait Shot into an Andy Warhol-Style Silkscreen, Part 1

A few months back, a lynda.com subscriber wrote me to ask if I had documented a way to turn a portrait into an Andy Warhol-style silkscreen effect. By which she meant, the famous series of portraits of Marilyn Monroe. By now, we’ve seen enough of Marilyn on this site. (If only because Andy made her look like a drag queen.) So let’s try out something different: Warhol’s take on that beautiful and charming star of the silver screen, Mao Zedong. Just look at the sweet puss on that chiquita. Meow Mao!

Meow Mao

(Quick note: This depiction of Mao is technically a serigraph. Both silkscreens and serigraphs are variants of screen-printing. While screen-printing is arguably the more accurate catch-all term, I use silkscreen because you’re more likely to have a clue what I’m talking about.)

At the time, my answer was no. But I promised to explore the technique one day, and that one day is now. My first take on it was dekePod Episode 018: “The Andy Warhol Silkscreen Effect.” But it’s possible a couple of you might think that my spirited video explores the topic a little too quickly. (Tho in my defense, I’ve received very positive feedback from cheetahs and house flies.) Which is why I present this article, which you have to be a member to read.

My goal is to show you how to turn any photographic image into a high-contrast silkscreen rendering, as demonstrated below. I’m not promising the finished effect will precisely match Warhol’s. Photoshop is a different medium than silkscreen, Warhol applied his own flourishes to each piece, and every artistic adventure is unique. But a studied manual approach is a world better than any of the one-click Warhol tools out there. And my technique provides you with the opportunity to make high-contrast color renderings that are all your own. Who knows? Perhaps in time, your work will sell for $17.4M. (Naturally, there is the small matter of your having to die first. I know, sucks, but that’s how the great auction houses work. Just as Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, we artists work on our backs.) 

Happy couple

One note before we embark on the technique. In addition to the steps, I’ve included a 6.5MB file called You-and-me.zip. Download the file, unzip it, and open the result inside Photoshop. Every layer and effect is here. But given the complexity of the process, you’ll find it easier to navigate via layer comps. To see what I mean, choose Window > Layer Comp to bring up the Layer Comps palette. And then click the ► icon at the bottom of the palette to advance from one layer comp to the next. This will move you thru the process and give you an sense for the madness behind the method.

With all that in mind, let us embark:

Step one: Open a color or black-and-white portrait shot. Warhol was a gay, cosmopolitan, fashion-savvy trendsetter, so it’s unlikely he’d go in for anything as pedestrian as the wholesome young breeders pictured below (courtesy of iStockphoto photographer Satu Knape). But I have a soft spot for irony.

Satu Knape

Step two: Your typical Warhol silkscreen is typified by a region of shadows filled with garish colors. So the shadows are the place to start. Here’s how to make them:

  • Go to the Channels palette and Cmd-click (PC: Ctrl-click) on the RGB composite to load the highlights as a selection.
  • Click the Save Selection as Channel icon at the bottom of the palette to convert the selection to an alpha channel.
  • Bolster the edge detail using the High Pass filter. For this image, I set the Radius value to 25 pixels. (The dekePod video shows a Radius of 50 pixels because I was working at twice the resolution.)
  • Choose Image > Adjustments > Levels and punch up the contrast. I used a black point (first value under the mountainous histogram) of 125 and a white point (third value) of 130. Your values will vary, but they should be close together. You want posterized, harsh-contrast shadows as pictured below.
    High Pass and Levels
  • Go in with the brush tool and paint away the detritus that doesn’t seem to be contributing to the detail. You want the faces nice and smooth. Here’s what my cleaned-up faces looked like.
    Cleaned-up faces
  • Press Cmd-I (PC: Ctrl+I) to invert the mask.
  • Cmd-click (Ctrl-click) on the alpha channel to load it as a selection.

Now to fill the shadows with color. Switch to the Layers palette. Then make a new layer (call it Shadows) and fill the selection with the desired color. I recommend something dark. Press Cmd-D (Ctrl+D) to deselect the image. The base detail is set, as shown below.

Colored shadows

Step three: All right, that shadows step was technical and laborious, but now it’s just a matter of selecting areas outlined by the shadows and filling them with color. For example, let’s start with the clothing. Use the polygonal lasso tool to trace around the clothing, below the kids’ faces. Don’t worry if you select into the hair and necks; you can cover that up in the next step. Now add a layer below the Shadows layer and fill it with a bright vivid color. I went with red below. Again press Cmd-D (Ctrl+D) to deselect the image. (You’ll be doing a lot of that.)

Filled in clothing

Step four: Repeat the previous step for the other fill colors. I recommend you fill the faces and the hair of each person independently. (It’s what Andy would have done, after all.) Below we see the filled regions on their own and with the shadows in front. Remember to relegate every color to its own layer for maximum flexibility.

Colored regions
Colored regions with shadows

Step five: Now for the makeup. Don’t question it, you have to add makeup. Girl, boy, gay, straight, hermaphrodite, gynandromorph, doesn’t matter. Eye shadow and lipstick that covers the teeth. Below we see the makeup on its own and with the other layers. See, I told you it’d look great. You gotta give Warhol credit for anticipating metrosexuality.

Makeup that covers the teeth
All layers so far

Step six: At this point, any edits you make are liable to be subjective, so I’ll just tell you what I’m doing:

  • I start by adding a solid fill layer at the back of the stack to represent the blue sky, as shown below with all but the Shadows layer.
    Sky and fills
  • But that leaves a bunch of distracting blotches in the sky, as become evident when I turn the Shadows layer back on.
    Blotchy sky
  • So I make yet another layer, this time above the Shadows layer (that’s a first!), select around the blotches, and fill the selection with orange, as shown below. The selection is generally pretty ad hoc, except around the fine tendrils along the top of the girl’s hair. But it’s all done with the polygonal lasso.
    Orange sky
  • Finally, I set the layer to a blend mode I almost never use, Lighter Color. The blotches serve as an almost Rorschach complement to the sky.

Lighter Color

Step seven: Warhol was big on nudging his fill colors slightly out of register. Presumably, coloring inside the lines is for knuckle draggers. So here’s what you do:

  • Select the Shadows layer and add a garish drop shadow effect. In the case of the one below, I set the color to the same yellow I used for the girl’s hair. Then I set the Blend Mode to Normal, the Opacity to 100 percent, the Angle to 0 degrees, and the Distance to 8 pixels.
    Off-register drop shadow
  • If you don’t like what that does to the face details, you can separate the drop shadow from the layer by right-clicking on the Drop Shadow item in the Layers palette and choosing Create Layer. Click OK in response to the largely meaningless warning.
  • Move the new Shadow’s Drop Shadow layer behind everything except the sky and clothing to achieve the final effect below.
The final silkscreen effect


Me, I love the result. Notice how I cropped the girl tight to the chin but kept every fiber of hair on the boy’s head. Andy would have wanted it that way. (Possibly he would even have hoped the boy would eventually come to his senses.)

But this is only the beginning. There was never any such thing as one Warhol silkscreen. Everything had to be a series. So enjoy this technique and the accompanying layered sample file for now. And keep your eyes peeled for Part 2 of this article, in which I’ll explain how to create a series of automated variations.

Next entry:Martini Hour 020, In Which Deke Aspires to Be Asleep In the Gutter

Previous entry:Visual Notetaking: Wish We Had This in School

  • The Deke/Andy Warhol-type/silkscreen

    Thank you so very much for showing this.  I saw you do a demo on CreativePro.com.  Great slideshow. Can’t wait for the next part!

  • But if you go carryin’ pictures of chairman Mao,

    You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

  • Andy Warhol / Debbie Harry

    Andy Warhol paints Debbie Harry on an Amiga


  • Can you imagine?

    When I was reading your tutorial I was thinking how much fun Andy would have with todays photo editors! Can you imagine the type of artwork he would create now? (haha Amiga) Anyway, this tutorial is great - thanks! Now we all can have our 5 minutes of fame in the image web world.

  • andy warhol effect..

    I dont think the andy warhol technique is that good, it works in 1 in 5 images! The black edges are too smudgy, not clearly defined if that makes sense. I’ve looked online a thousand times for tutorials on pop art, and they all say to use the threshold adjustment, but even that is hit and miss, is there any way of reproducing the line art that’ll work on every image, have a look at pascoepopart.com.au how do they do that?

    Dont mean to be rude by the way!! I’m also a premium member of lynda.com and you are by far and above, the top man of photoshop in the world, bar none!! How on earth do you know some of that stuff?


  • You’ve got to start with a clearly defined photo

    First, thanks for the kind words.

    Second, the High-Pass-followed-by-Levels technique is one of those tried-and-true standards. But you have to start with an image that offers a reasonable degree of contrast in the first place, preferably a tight head shot.

    Perhaps link an image or two and I can show you how it works.

  • thanks for posting this

    thanks for posting this

  • andy warhol effect..

    Thanks so much for getting back to me, you are indeed a kind fellow, i really appreciate it. The warhol style you chose is very much about Marilyn Monroe, the sort of Warhol style i was looking for was the che-guevara style in which he starts with a black line art and converts that into different colorsl That concisely drawn black line art cant really be acheived by using the high pass and levels adjustment layer, it looks more like it was done with the pen tool!.  Please, please please, Deke, you are the only one i can turn to for this, nobody else could possibly have the knowledge, to do it, i wont be offended if you do not have the time to show me, i know you are a very busy person, i’m just so greatful that you took the time to reply to me in the first place. Incidently, i’m 78% completed on your advanced photoshop cs4 training tutorials on lynda.com, and soon looking forward to a completion certificate, yippeee… My wife said to me that i listen to your voice more than i do hers, i suppose she’s got a point, i almost feel i know you.
    Many thanks Deke


  • pop art

    Any ideas deke on how to do andy warhol “Che Guevara” style pop art, instead of the marilyn monroe style, pleeeeeeese?


  • G’day, mate.

    I’m not Deke (he’s way prettier), but I still want to clarify what you mean, so we get the right prawn on the barbie.

    Which image of Che are you trying to work with? If it’s that iconic image that you see everywhere there are good wee socialists (like in Australia and NZ), then isn’t the hard work already done? Or are you working from a photo? If you’re working from a photo, could you link to it for us, please?

    I’d kinda like to give it a go, because - like Deke - Che Guevara was a very handsome man, so working on the image to try to understand where you’re coming might just benefit us both, as I get to learn new stuff AND be pervy (two of my favourite things, fo’shur), and between us we might be able to find a solution while allowing Mr. Teach to spend time with his lovely kids. :-)

    Fair dinkum.



  • g’day too…

    Fair dinkum….....Cant believe deke’s prettier than you!! Yeh, i’m talking about the iconic image of che guevara (with the nine heads, if that makes sense?) and how you would apply to any portrait photo. If you really need for me to attach an image, just let me know. But generally, just get a picture of someone’s portrait shot and try and get that black line that warhol did with his che guevara (though its so precise it looks like its been done with the pen tool, when Mr warhol didn’t have access to that tool at that time. Have a look at pascoepopart.com.au to see the way that some of them are done, which may well help throw that prawn on the barbie for me and you to both understand!! There must be a way to take any photo, and get that black outline,..so many online tutorials tell you to use the threshold command which only works in 1 in 6 images, and the cutout filter, or posterise does the same,just dont work consistently… and , i’ve lost my train of thought now, hope ya get the gist ...pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease, pleassssssssssssssse!! pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeese….....with sprinkles on it….


  • Good Site!

    I love your site!!

    love to read articles ^^

  • Thanks what a great Warhol lesson

    Thanks can’t wait to play around with your ideas.

  • Ok, Blue, I think I got ya.

    It’s not that you want to replicate the Warhol Che on the Che image itself - you just want that ‘cleaner’, though more dense, look. Amirite?

    My guess is that utilising a single channel and playing with levels and threshold should work on most images, but later this evening I’ll find some photos to play with and see what happens. If I manage to get anything I’ll post it to Flickr to show you. If not tonight, then tomorrow - (I may go to bed very early tonight ‘cos I’m feeling a bit crook, like I’ve got a bloody squawking Galah knocking about in my top paddock. Crikey!

    BTW, hope I’m not coming across like a two-bob drongo - but it’s been years since I last spoke any Strine. :-p

  • I was wrong :(

    Threshold didn’t work for one of the images I chose off the internet. Deke’s technique worked nicely (despite my amateur ham-fistedness).

  • Just in time for our Halloween Invites

    This is great and I think it will work well for our Halloween invites.  I can already see I am going to be spending some time here.

  • Thanks for trying….

    I have a new pop art request. In 1983 Warhol did a series of prints of the brooklyn bridge, how on earth can you replicate that using photoshop cs4, this is a special request to deke, petra or any other kind soul!!


  • well that is unique!

    well that is unique!

  • question

    Now to fill the shadows with color. Switch to the Layers palette. Then make a new layer (call it Shadows) and fill the selection with the desired color. I recommend something dark. Press Cmd-D (Ctrl+D) to deselect the image. The base detail is set, as shown below.

    hello. this doesnt work for me :-(

    I have created a new layer but i cannot fill out the selection with a dark colour.
    when i use the the brush i always fill out the entire layer with this brush and not only my selection from Alpha 1.

    What is my misstake. may you help me please

    greetings from germany

  • Archive Lesson

    Many thanks, Oh Great one and to your staff.
    Found a missing lesson after much hunting. Keep the galaxcy rollin’

    and remember the golden ratio of vermouth.

  • Andy Warhol- silkscreen effect

    This is the best demonstration I have ever seen! The end result surpasses Andy Warhol by far! Thumbs up for you Deke!

  • Andy Warhol-type silkscreen Part 2

    Hi Deke
    I am trying to find the Part 2 of this technique - you mentioned in Part 1 that 2 would be following and would cover some automated techniques for this effect.


  • Warhol Deke Redux

    more fun than filling out a 1040 for Uncle Sam

    but where’s part deux - was this series abandoned?

    would love to know ending details regarding creating multiples:

    do you flatten and save each variation first?

    The “combine” trick mentioned at end of the accompanying video is a great teaser - would be nice to know the deets on it: searches at dekeOnline come up empty


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