How to change a photo into a pencil line drawing in Photoshop

by hannah 122,382 views93

Change any Photo into a Line Drawing

coke can line drawing created from a photograph
coke can line drawing created from a photograph

It is a relatively easy process to turn a photo into a line drawing with photoshop. Follow the steps below which uses layers, image desauration, layer modes and a guassian blur to change a photo into a pencil sketch. This effect will work on almost any image. The final quality will depend on how sharp your original image is. If there are lots of strong lines in the original image, then this process is the one for you. Use the quick key commands at the bottom of the post to change any image into a line drawing in under a minute!

Step 1.

Open up the photo that you wish to change into a drawing.

open photo you wish to change to a line drawing
open photo you wish to change to a line drawing

I have used this Coke can photograph by Cyclonebill. It can be found on WikiMedia Commons if you wish to use the same image to follow this tutorial.

Step 2.

Duplicate the image in the layers pallette.

duplicate layer
duplicate layer

Step 3.

With the new layer selected you need to desaturate the image. To do this go to Image > adjustments > desaturate. Or choose Shift Apple U / Shift Ctrl U.

desaturate the image
desaturate the image

Step 4.

Duplicate this modified layer. You should now have a colour background layer and 2 desaturated layers above.

layer palette
layer palette

Step 5.

Select the top layer and invert the image. To do this go to Image > Adjustments and choose Invert or press Ctrl I / Apple I.

Invert Image
Invert Image

Step 6.

With the top layer still selected (the inverted layer) choose ‘Colour Dodge’ from the layers pallete drop down menu. (This will make most of the image turn white)

change the layer mode to colour dodge
change the layer mode to colour dodge
the canvas will turn white at this satge
the canvas will turn white at this satge

Step 7.

We now need to apply a guassian blur to the newly white layer to allow parts of the layer underneath to show through. Select the top layer and choose Filter > Blur > Guassian Blur.

Choose Filter > Blur > Guassian Blur
Choose Filter > Blur > Guassian Blur

Step 8.

Move the slider up and down to find what level suits your picture. The setting for this is often somewhere between 1 and 3 but will depend on how complex your original image is.

Guassian blur settings to create a line drawing
Guassian blur settings to create a line drawing

Step 9.

To tidy up the image use the Dodge and Burn tools to clean up the image. The Dodge tool will lighten the pencil marks, the burn tool darken them.

Dodge and burn tools
Dodge and burn tools

I am going to use the dodge tool on the Coke can image to tidy up the background around the can.

Neaten up the image using the dodge and burn tools
Neaten up the image using the dodge and burn tools

Original photo

original photo
original photo

Pencil line drawing made from the above photo

Line drawing made from a photo using Photoshop
Line drawing made from a photo using Photoshop

Quick Key commands to change a photo into a line drawing:

Mac: With the original picture selected in the layers palette; Apple J, Apple Shift U, Apple J, Apple I, with the top layer selcted choose ‘colour dodge’, Guassian Blur setting between 1 & 3.

PC: With the original picture selected in the layers palette; Ctrl J, Ctrl Shift U, Ctrl J, Ctrl I, with the top layer selcted choose ‘colour dodge’, Guassian Blur setting between 1 & 3.


I have just created a new tutorial which follows on from this one and shows how to add colour to the finished line drawing to create a coloured pencil effect:

You can also find a free action to help create this effect:


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Comments (93)

  1. Thank you so much. I am trying to laser etch an image into stainless steel and it must be an outline. You just saved me so much time.

  2. Your a life saver!! Is this adobe ps?

  3. Yes adobe photoshop. I have created a downloadable action for Photoshop to create this effect if you are interested:

  4. This was working brilliantly until the end when I got to the part Filter> Blur> Guassian Blur. I was able to do all that but the picture remained white. I set it to 1.5 but nothing seemed to happen. Am I missing a step? Would love to be able to do this. Thanks

  5. Hi Jill, if there isn’t a lot of contrast in your original picture, it may be that you need to set the Guassian Blur to a higher setting than 1.5, so you could try that. It is also important that you duplicate the layers in the early stages and have the different layers underneath as the top layer actually masks the layer behind it to create the picture, so also check that you have the correct sequence of layers in the layers palette before adding the guassian blur on the top layer. I hope that that helps.

  6. oh wow this was so easy to do following your quick key command steps. Thanks so much!

  7. thanks for your comment 🙂

  8. Brilliant! Is there any way to change to colour of the drawing, to say for example, give the effect of using a coloured pencil? thank u…

  9. Hi there! I love this post!! I can’t wait to give this a try!!! I hope you don’t mind, but I have included this tutorial in a blog post: Top 10 photoshop tutorials, on my blog, “Cookies with Cronkite.” I have included a link to this post, a picture and a link to your blog homepage. Check it out.. please leave comments, I would LOVE your feed back!!

  10. Hi Lauren, You are welcome to share the tutorial so long as you provide a link back to my post. Thanks for letting me know 🙂

  11. Can i do this with Photoshop Elements? Thanks…

  12. Hi Liz, the tutorial was written for regular Photoshop, but please try the steps in Elements and let us know how you get on. If anyone else has tried this in elements please let us know.

  13. It was very easy, thank you very much.

  14. Thanks for your comment, glad you found it useful 🙂

  15. This is fabulous! Now if I want to copy a portion of the original photo, do I need to flatten the layers?

  16. Hi Beth, thanks for comment. The original photo will still be in place at the bottom of the layers so you can select that layer and copy and paste from it, or just duplicate that layer and bring it to the top and erase a section to reveal the line drawing.. hope that helps. Thanks Hannah

  17. I’m using Photoshop Elements 8 and Step 6, “color dodge” doesn’t make my image mostly white, it does, however, invert the tones so what was once dark is now light and vice versa. The gaussian blur also does nothing but blur the color-dodged image. Any help for Elements 8 here?

  18. great tutorial, i like it 🙂

  19. If anyone uses Photoshop Elements and can help with the questions please use the comments below.

  20. Thanks…for great tutorial…..

  21. Just tried this in Elements 9 and it worked perfectly. Not sure why PE8 doesn’t work.

  22. Thanks for the feedback Malcolm 🙂

  23. hanna n co
    thanks for the tutorials especially for us beginner. and if there are more tips please help us

  24. Hi Arome, Thanks for your comment. Let me know in the comments if there is anything in particular you would like a tutorial about. Thanks.

  25. Brilliant! Thanks for helping, I am a beginner too, used this on a pretty complex photo, had to ramp up the blur but I love it!
    Thanks again!

  26. Thanks for your comments Michell 🙂

  27. Thanks so much. Made my life easier.

  28. thanks so much, greetings from Spain

  29. Thanks bro 🙂 It worked really well 🙂 🙂

  30. Very simple and helpful. Thank you very much ^.^

  31. The best step-by-step Photoshop instruction I have ever used – thank you so much.

  32. Thank you so much. it is so easy to follow. i ended making a huge poster for my wife.Please as helen asked above, Is there any way to change to colour of the drawing, to say for example, give the effect of using a coloured pencil? thank u…

  33. Thanks a lot. This was great 🙂

  34. I’m using PS Elements 8. I’m trying to make a photo of a building look like a drawing. The result I have does not look like a pencil drawing at all. Rather it looks like a photo with color and some shadows removed. Increasing the Blur makes it look like a more grayscale picture. Is it me or the software?

  35. Can you tell us how to convert JPEG into watercolor painting

  36. Never used photoshop before and I managed it. All apart from the dodge and burn tools as Im using laptop with limited mouse manoeuvrability.


  37. Thanks for the feedback Alex, I’m glad you found it easy to follow since you’ve not used Photoshop before. Welcome to Photoshop 🙂

  38. many thanks!!! you help me a lot, from spain

  39. Thanks for your comment aat 🙂

  40. Hi there, thanks for this great tutorial and the follow-up to add colors. You can also colorize the image with a hue/saturation layer, anyway I think that a great thing to do before to add colors would be to modify the line drawing so that it shows the typical hatching of pencil and inks, you know those fine lines you use to fill-in dark areas or add shading… I’m gonna see if I can find out how to do that…

  41. Great hannah, though there are a few online photo conversions to sketch available, they never have the full image conversion, meaning the image result that they give is of either much less image size or does not give the required effect.

    Any body seeking to do the ‘pencil work’ manually, just follow hannah’s guidance.

    Thanks again, dear hannah.

  42. Thanks so much for making this so simple!!! Any other fun tips you want to share? 🙂

  43. Hi Lalith, thanks for your lovely comments, much appreciated 🙂

  44. Hannah, what an amazing job. You’ve put this challenging task into simple steps that defines “user friendly” to a different level. Your awesome for your techniques you’ve created in teaching the rest of us. You are the “instructor” in this categor.

    Merci a vous!


  45. Thank you Majeur 🙂

  46. Which of the several versions of Photoshop has this feature? I do not want to buy a program, install it, and find I need something else.

    Thank You,


  47. Hi Jeff, I can’t see any reason why this wouldn’t work in all main CS versions of Photoshop as all have layers, filters and layer properties used in the tutorial. You can always download a free Photoshop trial to test it in the version you are thinking of buying. (It won’t work in Photoshop lightroom).

  48. woooooow,,thank u

  49. Tutorial is good. But the image doesn’t looks like pencil sketch effect. Hope to see such more wonderful tutorials.

  50. 🙂 really helpfull…

  51. How amazing… thanks.

  52. awesome bro thanq. (y)

  53. awesome tutorial.. thanks a lot

  54. It was a great experience! Loved doing it. Will appreciate such more tutorials. Pl provide links. It will certainly help me add value to our mag.

  55. Thanks alot hannah. Amazing tutorial. Very easy to follow the steps. U r rocking….

  56. Brilliant – just what I needed.
    My sincere thanks for this. Great job 🙂

  57. Thanks for the tips. I just made a fabulous line drawing from a photo of my house!

  58. Thank you, this was a great help!!

  59. Thanks for your great tutorial. I am a first time user of Photoshop, I never had any contact with it until 2 hours ago and had to do a vector drawing turned out pretty good with practice I am sure I will get better.. one photo had a lot of reflection on glass and when I inverted it it didn’t all turn white and of course you could still make out the person who took the photo. is there a way of getting rid or lessening it?

  60. I’m using the following editor think it is photo shop 8 everthing worked until photo dodge and I can’t find where to find photo dodge.

  61. Step 6 I mean about photo dodge hannah can you look and find it for me please….

  62. Very helpful. I will be exploring the site for more PS help and tricks.

  63. thank you so much this has really helped me!!!! 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  64. This is awesome!!!

  65. you are awsome, wonderful, great , thank you so much

  66. BOOM! Thank you for the killer tutorial! Nailed it, was exactly what I needed. 🙂

  67. tnx…. i have done it..

  68. Thank you for the comments 🙂

  69. Great, glad it helped 🙂

  70. Do you at some point recombine the layers?
    I have seen similar directions that had me merge down at some point.

  71. No you don’t have to combine the layers to create this effect although I have a tutorial that follows on from this where you do combine the layers to then colourize the line drawing. Please see:

  72. Excellent tutorial. Thanks very much!

  73. Just the tutorial I needed – thank you!

  74. This is fantastic! I’d been trying to get good results for days before stumbling across this tutorial. 2 minutes and it’s all done.

  75. You’re welcome, glad you found it useful 🙂

  76. Thanks for your comments, it’s always nice to hear that my tutorials have helped 🙂

  77. Really great tutorial Hannah, thank you!

  78. could you make a tutorial like this only with gifs?

  79. good description, keep it up

  80. It depends what you are trying to make but a simple way of making an animated gif with this effect would be to use this process on each frame. If you have many frames you could try using this action that I created, that will help to speed up the process:

  81. This is brilliant! Thank you so much. I’ve really been struggling! Now I have exactly the ‘drawing’ that I want – and it only took me a couple of minutes.

  82. Thanks hannah! Great job explaining – it was pretty easy even for an inexperienced user (love PS but just don’t dedicate the time to it).

  83. Wow its a simple and easy way to change the photos into sketches thanks for ur details.. Keep continue.. Thank you you

  84. How do I save the edited picture itself as a image in my computer?

  85. You can save the image as it is as a layered .psd file. Or you can choose to flatten the image into 1 layer and save as a .jpg. Hope that helps.

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