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Photoshop Tutorial: Create a Pencil Drawing

Photoshop Tutorial: Create a Pencil Drawing

Originally Published September 2010

Among the filters Photoshop ships with are a handful that are supposed to generate charcoal, pencil, pastel, and other such drawings. Unfortunately, they don’t really do a very good job. So today, as I was scratching my head wondering what to write about this week, I started playing around with a technique that would result in a fairly good pencil rendering, starting from a photograph. The method I came up with is fairly quick and involves no actual drawing or brushwork. The key to making this work is getting a good high-contrast black and white image to work with. There may be a way to use Photoshop’s built-in tools to get there, but it was beyond me. I ended up calling in for back up. The Topaz Adjust filter was just the ticket. I don’t normally like to assume readers have anything other than Photoshop and/or Painter, but in this case, I highly recommend this plugin. It does a few things extremely well, and is well worth it’s modest price. (I am not a Topaz affiliate or family member, etc. I just love their products.)

It was taken at a Viking reenactment in York, England. The first step towards turning this photo into a drawing is to duplicate the layer (drag it down to the new layer icon), and then start up the Topaz Adjust filter. Once it’s loaded into your plugins directory, you’ll find it under Filter > Topaz Labs > Topaz Adjust. Once it starts up, you’ll see a bunch of presets going down the left side. I chose the one called “Psychedelic.” The results were almost gruesome: it really brings out details. Click okay, and now the second layer contains the results (remember we copied the background layer first). Here’s our poor Viking now.

Name this second layer “Psychedelic,” and then drag it down to the new layer icon to duplicate it. Name this duplicate “Black and white.” With this new layer active, go Image > Adjustments > Black and White. You could just use Desaturate, but Black and White does a better job. Choose the preset option Maximum White, and click OK. Here’s what he looks like now.

Okay. Now comes the part that I’m rather proud of, since I came up with it after hours of trying different things. What we’ll do next is copy the whole image in layer Black and White (do Select all, then Copy), and then go to the Channels palette. Don’t be nervous, the Channels palette is a pussy cat. Down at the bottom, just to the left of the trash can icon, is the new channel icon. Click it once. A new channel is created and it’s totally black. It’s named Alpha1, which is fine. Just do a paste, like you would with a layer, and you’re done. The image is now copied into a channel, for reasons you will shortly learn.

There’s a neat item in the Lighting Effects dialog that I was introduced to by Steve Caplin, in his book “100% Photoshop.” Here’s the dialog.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, I forgot to have you duplicate the Black and White layer, so go ahead and do so. Name this layer “Lighting effects”. Go Filter > Render > Lighting Effects. (By the way, if you are running Photoshop CS5 in 64 bit mode, you won’t see this menu item. You’ll need to close out and start Photoshop CS5 in 32 bit mode in order to use Lighting Effects.) For this image, I don’t really need to change the lighting, but I do want to use the Texture option at the bottom. Since I need to set up some sort of lighting, I arrange a spotlight so that it lightens the face a bit, since it is rather dark with all that detail. Then, down at the bottom, select “Alpha1″ from the drop-down. This is a list of your channels. In order to use this, you must load something into a channel, or use one of the existing ones (red, green, etc.). Make sure “White is High” is turned on, and move the slider way to the right. Click OK. Here’s what happens:

It’s beginning to look more like a drawing now. In fact, you could call it a day right there, I suppose, but then you’d miss this next part, which is even more cool. Have you ever used the Pattern Stamp? Most Photoshoppers haven’t, I would guess. It’s nested with the clone tool, and has that checkboard thing going on. That’s the Pattern Stamp. We’re going to once again copy our image in progress, and create a pattern from it. Do Select All, then Copy (or better yet: CMD/CTL+A, then CMD/CTL+C) Make sure you have the new layer (Lighting Effects) active. Go Edit > Define Pattern. A dialog comes up, with your file name as the suggested name of the new pattern. You can call it something else, if you like. Then click OK. Now click on the Pattern Stamp. In the tool bar up top, click on the drop-down for the pattern selector. At the very bottom is your new pattern. Select it.

Before we begin painting with our new pattern, let’s create some paper to paint on. Add a new fill layer (Go Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color. Pick a nice warm, dark grey. You can then use the texturizer filter to add a paper texture, if you like (Filter > Texture > Texturizer). I used the Sandstone texture.

Now we’re ready to paint. Insert a new, blank layer at the top of the stack. Name it Painting. Choose any brush you like (it doesn’t seem to effect the Pattern Stamp much, that I could see), and use 100% opacity. Just start painting, and like magic (or like the clone tool in Painter, if you prefer), the drawing begins to appear on the paper. Now, we could have just taken the Lighting Effects layer and moved it up above the gray paper layer, and used an Overlay or Multiply blending mode. In fact, go ahead and try that. It doesn’t really do what we want, does it? The Pattern Stamp method manages to paint both the whites and the blacks, so that we end up with an image that looks like it was drawn with white and black dry media. Pretty neat, eh? I thought so. But then, I’ve been banging away at this thing all day, and my brain is a bit soggy at this point.

By the way, the Pattern Stamp tool can capture and paint with color images, too, of course. I hope you enjoyed this method I’ve developed. If you like it, please let me know. If you’re sitting there scratching your head, let me know that, too! Thanks for reading.


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