How-To Geek

How to Make Photos Look Like Pencil Drawings in About One Minute


Ever seen a mall photobooth create a “pencil drawing” from a photo? Give us about one minute, and see how you can create an easy grayscale image effect that looks like a tonal pencil drawing. Check it out!

Automated software and Photoshop filters just try to awkwardly add pencil textures to your images. With some smart adjustments and an easy technique appropriate for beginners, you can turn some of your favorite photos into handsome, tonal, pencil art style images. Keep reading!


Starting With The Right Photograph


Open Photoshop and an image of your choice. Choosing the right image is not critical, but can give you a better result.

Edit: Commenter LT has tried this technique in Photoshop Elements, and says that it works! Other readers running Elements give it a shot and tell us about your success in the comments!


Any image can work, although it’s best to use images with good contrast, and sharp details. This image has great shadows and really nice highlights that lend itself to this technique. You may find that some of your photos will be more successful than others. Try it out on several to see which ones look the best!


The Tonal Pencil Art Effect


We’ll begin by making a copy of our background layer.


Right click your Background layer and select “Duplicate Layer.” Then make sure that this Background Copy layer is selected, as shown on the right.


With the background layer selected, press ctrl shift U to Desaturate your layer, reducing it to black and white.


Make a second copy of your black and white layer, and then set this layer to blending mode “Color Dodge,” shown highlighted in blue, on the right. We’ll be referring to this layer as our “Color Dodge” layer from here on out.


Your image should become harsh and lose some detail. Press Ctrl i to invert your Color Dodge layer.


This is going to make your photograph look like either a blank page or a weird abstract, like this one. No worries, we’ll soon bring a great image out of this.


This next step can be done at least two different ways. By blurring the Color Dodge layer, we can create grayscale shadow tones and control them with the slider as shown. This one is done with the Gaussian Blur, which you can find by navigating to Filters > Blur > Gaussian Blur.


This effect above was achieved by applying the “Motion Blur” filter on the Color Dodge Layer. Find this filter under Filters > Blur > Motion Blur.  This method gives similar results, but allows you to control the angle of the blur, which can give you a naturalistic angled stroke for your “pencil drawing.”

(Author’s note: Pick one of the blurs above and use it. One or the other will give you a good result, but you do not have to use both!)


This is a decent look on its own, but let’s go one step further, and add some linework to our “pencil drawing.”

sshot-165 sshot-166

Create another copy of your original black and white Background copy layer. Move it to the top of your layers panel, as shown above right.


With your third copy selected, navigate to Filters > Stylize > Glowing Edges.


Glowing Edges can create a sort of Photoshop filter version of lineart from a photograph.


These are the settings used in this example, although you will likely have to play around with them yourself to find ones that you like. In other words, these settings may not work with every image.


The “Glowing Edges” filter can give a pretty fun effect all by itself. But we have to transform it one final time before we’re finished.


Press Ctrl i to invert the colors.


Set this layer to blending mode “Multiply” to overlay the dark lines over the “pencil drawing.”


This is our result!


Optional: For some extra oomph, we can adjust our levels on our lines, and make them more dramatic. Navigate to Image > Adjustments > Levels to bring up this tool and adjust it as shown above to make your lines even more prominent.


While our final result would probably not fool Da Vinci, it does make a nice image, and a fun project to try on a pile of photos. Enjoy!

Have questions or comments concerning Graphics, Photos, Filetypes, or Photoshop? Send your questions to, and they may be featured in a future How-To Geek Graphics article.

This is Valeria by Trey Ratcliff. Yes, the Trey Ratcliff, available under Creative Commons.

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.

  • Published 07/25/11

Comments (43)

  1. Tim

    cool tip. thx

  2. Kevin

    Can this be done without Photoshop?

  3. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Kevin: GIMP has all the bare bones for this. The Layer Mode “Dodge” seems to be the GIMP version of Photoshop’s “Color Dodge,” although I’ve not tested it. It might give a very different effect.

    But in general, you should be able to recreate this in GIMP. GIMP has Gaussian Blur, Invert, and a filter very similar to the “Glowing Edges” filter.

  4. subin

    thanku, was searching for this..:)

  5. cozsi

    Do you have her phone number?

  6. DavidQ

    One might first try the pencil shading (and other) effects at

  7. LT

    I used photoshop elements 8 (PSE 8) and it worked fine! Thank you for the great instructions. It was fun to mess around and learn this.

  8. sarim

    can some one give me complete tutrial of photoshop i will be very very thankful thanks please

  9. Mein Klein

    can this be done in COREL DRAW X3, X4 or X5? just wanna know how!

  10. Chamberly

    Good tutorial. I’ve took photoshop class but o well lol. I also edit around a bit, decreasing the opacity for the background #2 and made the image looks like a colored pencil work. ;)

  11. rita

    I’ve done this with paint shop pro X2, and X3 .. I’m sure that it can be done with any version of PSP.

  12. jthelw

    Thanks for detailed instructions! The steps look easy to follow

  13. celly

    Reminds me of an Ah Ha video. Nice tut though.

  14. Eric

    Now show us how to do it in Paint.NET.

  15. Bryan

    The ‘glowing edges’ filter seems to be sobel type of filter (I think).

  16. joe

    the Paint.NET approach is to just use the feature labeled Effects/Artistic/Pencil Sketch. But it never comes out as well as the longer more detailed approach outlined above. Use Paint.NET if you are in a big hurry to get that mall t-shirt printed with your favorite girl’s photo on it.

  17. Ish

    Thanks it works:)

  18. Agus

    It was so dificult to me xD

  19. Gideon

    Wow!!! Thank you Trey and Howtogeek!!! I have been trying to do this for so long I gave up, because I just couldnt get it right. Been reading another article on HTG and came across this article by accident! Can’t wait to get home because I want to play. By the by, did it with Photoshop 8 easily!

    Thank you again guys!


  20. Yaarik

    Thanks. But it took me 10 minutes to read your email..

  21. Yaarik

    Um.. “post” not “email” *bowshisheadinshame*

  22. marley

    dumpr requires signup

  23. Gary

    Thx for the tip, works great :)

    Well done Geeks!


  24. rohan

    thanks for tis lovely tip …. :)

  25. Ivydapple

    This reminds me of, when I was younger, I used to take a picture on the computer, tape a piece of tracing paper onto the screen, and sketch away. LOL, random?

  26. jory

    thanks! my son and i had fun using this with our dog’s pictures!

  27. Alex

    @Kevin Also, The GIMP version of the filter “glowing edges” is called “neon glow” or something similar. Good tutorial, creates a better effect than the standard filter and uses many more important PS skills.

  28. dennis

    here’s a great freeware…fotosketcher, it will do this and alot more…buy him a cup of coffee…its free

  29. Keith Iding

    This is fun, but it did involve multiple geeky steps. If you are slightly less geeky stepwise, give Irfanview freeware a try. Open the image, convert to negative, convert to grayscale, select “Find Edges” under Effects, then apply Negative to finish. You can play with controls on any of the steps to vary the result, like gamma and contrast. Another route is to just select Edge Detection and change to Negative for a sort of colored pencil look. The result of these methods often produces suprising quality, and Irfanview now has paint, pencil and clone for touchup. Great free program.

  30. DDD

    Thanks! This is a very good and practice…

  31. dee

    good stuff, thanks
    it also helps that you used a good looking model :) hawt

  32. picasso

    you might want to first photoshop out that nasty mole!!!!

  33. CHOKSI

    very good trick.

  34. josh


  35. Tony

    I love these tips.

  36. ratatouli

    really disgusting effect

  37. Akhy

    Where do u find firefox 4 mobile browser lg

  38. juan

    What is “photoshop”?

  39. rajesh

    info’ provided is very useful surely i’d like to try but i’m unable to install photoshop in windows 7 also confirm which version?????

  40. ouman

    Have just tried it with Photoshop Elements ver.2 ! ~ and it works just fine.
    I tried it with both Motion Blur and Gaussian Blur and the results are indistinguishable.
    Am about to embark on experimenting with Corel PhotoPaint X5.
    If it DOESN’T work, I will report back. (If it does work – you won’t “hear” from me.)

  41. dianne gordon

    I just have a ball reading and trying some of the ideas here.I am so glad I found the how to geeks.I learn a lot from the comments as well. Being of the older generation age 62 I find this fasinating.Anyone tried this on maybe a memory quilt, for a family memory gift? I love the idea of the pictures of the dogs too! Thanks everyone,keep sharing ideas.Dianne

  42. Wade

    Doing this with Gimp 2.6.11, Windows 7…
    Duplicating background and “Layer > Mode… ” is a drop down arrow located towards the top right of the “Layers, Channels, Paths…” window that opens when Gimp starts… The rest are standard menu items.

    Duplicate Background
    Colors > Desaturate
    Duplicate layer
    Layer > Mode > Dodge
    Colors > Invert
    Filters > Blur > Gaussian blur (or motion blur)
    Duplicate layer
    Filters > Edge-Detect > Edge )
    Colors > Invert
    Layer > Mode > Multiply

  43. C.Sethu

    It was a nice piece of trick.
    Now, can anyone tell me how to use my snazzy Dazzle Digital video creator model dm 4001. I am unable to instal the same onmy windows xp sp 3 version.
    please advise. Thanks. Sethu.

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