How-To Geek

How to Create a Pumpkin Carving Stencil in Photoshop


Sick of the same boring Jack O’Lantern faces? For something different this year, fire up Photoshop and make your own custom stencils out of Photographs or nearly any kind of image.


Virtually any image can work with this technique, although higher quality is better. Fine details are also hard to carve, so keep in mind you want to stay simple as possible.


ctrl shift U will desaturate your image and turn it into grayscale.


Press ctrl L to open your levels. Adjust the sliders as shown or use these values (148, 1.91, 185).


You want to increase your contrast until your image looks roughly like this. You want heavy blacks, minimal grays, and stark whites.


Go to Image > Adjustments >  Threshold.


Adjust your threshold based on how your image looks. This value may not work perfectly for you, so experiment with it. You’ll gain and lose detail depending on your image.


Your image should lose all of its shades of gray. Grab your paintbrush and paint black over the parts of the image you don’t want.


The ghostly head of Bill is all that remains!


Look closely on your image and make sure that no parts of it are too thin are floating freely. You’ll have to paint these in with your mouse. Erase the small bits that you don’t want to have to carve, while you’re at it.


Ctrl i will invert the colors on your image. You can print the white on black image, but this saves ink, if you are so inclined.


Print your stencil and use transfer paper to copy it to your pumpkin or cut it out of your page with an X-acto knife, then stencil it on directly. Lifehacker has already done a fun article on tools to do just that.


Happy Halloween!

Original image of Bill Gates by Kees de Vos, available under Creative Commons license via Wikipedia. Pumpkin2600ppx by Fastily, available under Creative Commons license via Wikipedia.

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 10/26/10

Comments (17)

  1. John

    can you do it with gimp?

  2. Eric Z Goodnight

    Yes! Gimp will desaturate your image, adjust contrast and/or levels, and will let you do a threshold reduction to a two color image.

  3. jon_hill987

    Gimp can do a lot more than people give it credit for. I successfully followed the Photoshop vintage photo tutorial featured on this site a week or so ago using Gimp. Most of the dialogue boxes were nearly identical, though clearly the keyboard shortcuts would not work.

  4. Eric Z Goodnight

    That is true. GIMP is by far the most powerful free or open source photo editor available. I think it has some serious usability issues, but can do nearly anything many users would use Photoshop for.

  5. Sally

    I love your informational articles. I just wish I could print them out and store in my photoshop note book on “How To”. May you would think about putting them in a printable format. Thanks.

  6. JL

    What about Steve Jobs piture ???

  7. Eric Z Goodnight

    Started with ‘ol Steve… I didn’t want to deal with all the detail in that beard!

  8. skater-andy

    great tutorial but i have to say the guy on the pumpkin looks a bit more like einstein than bill gates :L

  9. lokimoco

    The posterize filter in photoshop will do a good job of this. You can use it to make the picture have a specified number of color levels. If you make it have three colors using black, white, and gray, then you can carve out the white parts completely, carve the gray parts by just removing the pumpkin skin (not cutting all the way through), and leave the black parts un-carved. Then you can provide a shading effect if you want, with 3 colors.

  10. Eric Z Goodnight

    I thought about doing it that way, but I figured people would have more use for a two color image. I know I would use a Dremel or something to shave off parts of the pumpkin to create multiple tones, but I don’t know if everybody would be interested in going to that trouble.

  11. Callum Booth

    Great! Gonna use this tutorial to try and enter DeviantART’s pumpkin carving contest, could anyone tell me if this would work: ?

  12. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Callum: I think your image has a little too much white in it! Your pumpkin is going to have almost no image on it. Just be careful you don’t cut away too much!

  13. Down under

    That picture youre using is pure evil…..
    Dopes this mean your an evil genious?

  14. Down under

    dopes << DOES THIS MEAN
    The touch of midnight halloween strikes again….

  15. Scott

    Muahahaha… SOMEbody used their photoshop skillz in faking the final product! Maybe the bevel would be thicker on a real pumpkin? But a great tutorial, I’m looking forward to trying it out!

  16. Mad Doctor


    Thank you for a most excellent tutorial. I was able to achieve some spooktacular results following your directions.

  17. Elsie

    I tried this and it was so slick! You would think it would take a lot of time but in actual fact it isn’t that hard at all! I have shared this with a bunch of friends and everyone is wanting to try it! Thanks so much for the step by step!

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