How To Make Line Tone Art (Like on Money) With Photoshop and No Filters

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Printers have been using line tones to create rich looking images long before there was any digital art. Today we’ll be using Photoshop tricks (with no filters) to turn an ordinary photograph into old-timey line tone style piece of art.

Creating a Line Tone Image from A Photo

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There are a lot of filters and for-pay Photoshop plugins that will create a line tone effect out of your image, but we’re going to sidestep that today and use some built in functions in lieu of them.

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The image looks grayscale but is in fact an RGB image. In order to convert our image to line tone art, we have to first navigate to Image > Mode > Grayscale.

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If you started with a color image, you should now have a black and white one.

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The next step is to return to Image > Mode and then find the Bitmap selection. This reduces your grayscale image (8-bit) into a 1-bit color. Select it and proceed to the options on the next dialog.

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These next two dialog boxes can be tricky, so be prepared to undo and redo your selections here. This first option is the output resolution of your file once you convert it to 1 bit color. Since moving from 8 bit to 1 bit color loses quite a lot of image data, Photoshop can easily upscale the pixel resolution without making a mess of the file. We’ve used 600 ppi in our example. When working with 1 bit images, a good rule of thumb is to use a pixel resolution twice as high as you might normally use (300 ppi for a 8 bit grayscale image is quite common).

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Most importantly, change the “Method” to “Halftone Screen.” This part is critical to convert your image to a line tone.

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The number of lines per inch is sort of like pixel resolution for the print world. 35 lines per inch is pretty low resolution, but can look pretty neat. Depending on how big your file is (both in pixels and in inches) this lines per inch might affect the image differently. Don’t worry about all of that unless you’re an aspiring graphic artist. If you’re just tooling around with images, just try a lot of settings and undo them if you don’t like the result.

Make sure your angle is set to 180 or 0 degrees and the halftone shape is set to “Line.” It’s critical to use the line setting to get the line tone look here.

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And once you click OK, that’s all there is to it. This is a fairly high line per inch version of this picture of Steve. Note the detail compared to the original and to the image below with fewer lines per inch. Higher lines per inch tend to look bad on monitors but print very well.

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For the sake of demonstration, we’ve created a very low line per inch version of this image. Detail is lost, but it very accurately shows the technique. Experiment with your own settings and images to get the proper mix.

And For Those Interested In the Dollar Graphic Above…

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It was simple to put Steve Jobs on this fake 1000 dollar bill. Download an image (just Google “1 Dollar Bill” or “100 Dollar Bill,” etc.), then create a masked out group (shown above) to place your line tone portrait inside. In order to move your line tone portrait, you may have to convert it back to grayscale or RGB color mode. You can then match the color of the portrait with a layer set to Blending Mode “Darken” and one set to “Lighten,” as shown above in the layers panel.


Thoughts or questions on our method? Have a better method, or some simpler techniques? Want to see more techniques like this? Tell us about them in the comments, or send us your thoughts at ericgoodnight@howtogeek.com, and we may include them in an upcoming graphics article.

Image Credit: 100 Dollar Bill public domain in United States, Photomanipulation by NoTech4U via Deviantart.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Stetson-wearing wild man. During the day, he manages IT and product development for screenprinted apparel manufacturing; by night he creates geek art posters, writes JavaScript, and records weekly podcasts about comics.