How to Turn a Photo into Pencil Line Drawing in Photoshop

Many of you probably already asked Google if knowing how to draw is a must for becoming a graphic designer. The answer is NO! What if one day you have to make a hand-drawn style design? The answer is still NO! 

That’s right, you don’t have to sketch! You can turn a photo into a drawing in Photoshop and trust me, it looks real! 

I’ve been working as a graphic designer for nine years, and I’ve clients that asked for chalkboard drawing, or simple illustration style designs. And my solution was, Photoshop! Honestly, I could draw, but Photoshop “draws” faster and better. If I could save myself some time, why not? 

In this article, you will learn how to turn a photo into a realistic pencil drawing easily along with some useful tips. 

Keep reading! 

8 Steps to Turn a Photo into a Pencil Drawing in Photoshop

Whether you are making chalkboard art or a simple sketch from a photo, following the steps below will turn your photo into a realistic sketch. 

Note: Screenshots are taken from Adobe Photoshop CC 2021 Mac version. Windows and other versions might look slightly different. 

Step 1: Open the image you wish to change into a drawing in Photoshop. File > Open. For example, I’m going to make this Coca-Cola image a pencil sketch. 

Step 2: Right-click on the image layer in the Layers panel, and select Duplicate Layer to make a copy of the image. Or use select the layer and use the keyboard shortcut Command (Ctrl for Windows) + J to duplicate the layer. 

Step 3: With the new layer selected, go to the overhead menu Image > Adjustments > Desaturate or use the keyboard shortcuts Shift + Command (Ctrl for Windows) + U to desaturate the photo (Layer 1).

Step 4: Make a copy of the desaturated image. Use any methods you prefer to duplicate the layer

Step 5: Select the top duplicated layer and go to the overhead menu Image > Adjustments > Invert or hit Command / Ctrl + I to invert the image. 

Step 6: On the same layer (the inverted layer) choose the blend mode Color Dodge from the Layers panel drop-down menu. You’ll see most of the image turn white. 

Step 7: With the top layer selected, go to the overhead menu Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

You will see this window pop up. 

Step 8: Move the Radius slider to find the pencil effect that you want to create and click OK

Tips: Check the Preview box to see how the effect looks as you adjust.

Additional Tips

Missing something? Or too much noise in the background? You can clean up the image using the Dodge and Burn tools. The Dodge tool lightens the pencil marks, and the burn tool darkens them. 

You can also add an adjustment layer to create a more sophisticated and realistic pencil mark effect.  For example, you can adjust the Levels. Click on the Create new fill or adjustment layer icon and choose Levels

Now you can move the slider to get the result that suits your photo (pencil drawing). 

Select Multiply blend mode. You can see the pencil mark is heavier than before.    

If you want to make other adjustments, simply find the Adjustments panel and make any adjustments you need. 

For example, you want to make the pencil drawing look more like a sketch style, you can adjust the curves to achieve this result. 

Conclusion

The good news is, you don’t have to know how to draw to make a sketch! You can simply manipulate the image to make a realistic pencil drawing in Photoshop following the eight steps above. Hope you find my tutorials tips helpful 🙂 

About hannah
Hannah works as a website designer for a digital agency based in the UK. She has over 15 years of experience using Photoshop and has been using it daily since 2005.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Miles

    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.

  • Sarah

    Your a life saver!! Is this adobe ps?

  • Jill

    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

  • hannah

    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.

  • deborah

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

  • hannah

    thanks for your comment 🙂

  • helen

    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…

  • Lauren Cioffi

    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!!

  • hannah

    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 🙂

  • Liz Czerewaty

    Can i do this with Photoshop Elements? Thanks…

  • hannah

    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.

  • Uttam Manna

    It was very easy, thank you very much.

  • hannah

    Thanks for your comment, glad you found it useful 🙂

  • Beth

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

  • hannah

    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

  • Jacki

    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?

  • Asad

    great tutorial, i like it 🙂

  • hannah

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

  • malcolm

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

  • hannah

    Thanks for the feedback Malcolm 🙂

  • arome

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

  • hannah

    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.

  • Michell

    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!

  • Alfie

    Thanks so much. Made my life easier.

  • Joe

    thanks so much, greetings from Spain

  • kanagu

    Thanks bro 🙂 It worked really well 🙂 🙂

  • Snap

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

  • Louise

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

  • Raphael Mensah

    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…

  • Chris

    Thanks a lot. This was great 🙂

  • Noelle

    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?

  • Name *Shoaib

    Can you tell us how to convert JPEG into watercolor painting

  • Alex

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

    Thanks!

  • hannah

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

  • aat

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

  • hannah

    Thanks for your comment aat 🙂

  • kileytoo

    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…

  • Lalith

    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.

  • Annette Payne

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

  • hannah

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

  • Majeur

    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!

    Majeur

  • Jefff

    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,

    Jeff

  • hannah

    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).

  • Anuraag

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

  • jackzon

    awesome tutorial.. thanks a lot

  • Sinha

    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.

  • Vaasu

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

  • Taff Lovesey

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

  • Rheneas

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

  • Genifer

    Thank you, this was a great help!!

  • Sue R

    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?

  • Art lover

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

  • Art Lover

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

  • Stewart

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

  • joe balfour

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

  • Diana S. Zimmerman

    This is awesome!!!

  • danyel

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

  • Leon

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

  • Bishop

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

  • Mike

    Excellent tutorial. Thanks very much!

  • Hope

    Just the tutorial I needed – thank you!

  • Séamus

    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.

  • hannah

    You’re welcome, glad you found it useful 🙂

  • hannah

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

  • Mike S

    Really great tutorial Hannah, thank you!

  • robin

    could you make a tutorial like this only with gifs?

  • Hammed Kola

    good description, keep it up

  • hannah

    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: https://photoshopbuzz.com/free-photoshop-action/

  • Ruth

    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.

  • Corinne

    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).

  • Thamizh

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

  • Edil

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

  • hannah

    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.

  • Gail Daley

    I have a MAC and I realize tutorials don’t always work on it the way they are supposed to, but I followed your directions exactly, and they worked up to a certain point, but I didn’t end up with a pencil drawing. Can you clarify exactly what you do with Color dodge and color burn when you combine them? The image never converted to black and white even though my controls said I was working with the inverted copy. Should I invert the inverted copy?