Pencil Sketch Effect in Photoshop

Start scribbling and unleash your inner artist.

Photoshop and all its photo editing counterparts offer various artistic filters that can turn your image into a watercolour or an oil painting. Some of them can be quite effective. However, the pencil sketch filter offered by Photoshop does not really capture the essence of a hand-drawn image. However, there is an approach in Photoshop that may take you a step closer to being able to create a more realistic pencil sketch effect.

It requires your favourite image, a few Photoshop layers and a little patience. You don’t need to be Leonardo Da Vinci to create a masterpiece – just the ability to scribble!

Step 1 – First things first. Open your image in Photoshop and label that layer ‘base’. This is just a bit of housekeeping as we will be creating multiple copies of the base image as we progress.

Step 2 – We need to create all the materials that will give us our pencil sketch look. First is a grey layer that will be our paper colour. Click on Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color.

Step 3 – Name this new layer ‘paper colour’ and click OK. Use the colour picker to choose a colour for your paper. Choose a light grey and click OK. A new layer will appear named ‘paper colour’.

Step 4 – A small amount of texture will add greatly to our sketch. Click on Layer > New Fill Layer > Pattern. Once again, a new dialog box will appear to let you name this new layer. Call it ‘paper texture’ and click OK.

Step 5 – A small amount of texture will add greatly to our sketch. Click on Layer > New Fill Layer > Pattern. Once again, a new dialog box will appear to let you name this new layer. Call it ‘paper texture’ and click OK.

Step 6 – Making sure the texture layer is still selected, set its opacity to 50% and click on the Blend Modes button and set the blend mode to Multiply. The texture layer will now blend into the grey paper layer beneath.

Step 7 – Both texture and colour layers are kept separate so you can go back to each at any time and modify their values if you want to.

Step 8 – Click on your base layer it to make it active and go to the top menu and select Layer > New Layer. You can use the shortcut Cmd + J if you prefer. Name this layer ‘outline’. Make sure that this new layer is at the top of your layer stack.

Step 9 – We need an outline reference for when you start your drawing. Go to Layer > Filter Gallery and select Glowing Edges from the Stylize option panel. The settings you use will be dependent on the resolution of your image.

Step 10 – What you are looking for is a mostly black image with just the basic features of the face showing. When you are happy with the result, click OK.

Step 11 – At the moment, this outline image is no good to us in its current state of white detail on black. Make sure your ‘outline’ layer is active and select Image > Adjustments > Invert (Cmd + I).

Step 12 – Now your image will have dark facial detail on a white background. Go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate (Shift+Cmd+U) to remove any colour from the image.

Step 13 – From the Layers menu, make the opacity 50% and set the Blend Mode to Multiply. The outline will now be blended into the grey textured paper layer below it in the stack.

Step 14 – As you did in step 8, click your ‘base’ layer to make it active, duplicate it, name it ‘sketch’ and drag this new layer to the very top of the stack. We now need to convert this image to black and white.

Step 15 – Go to Image > Adjustments > Black & White (Alt + Shift + Cmd + B). How you convert to black and white is down to personal taste, but it is a good idea to make the image quite contrasty to help with the sketch effect later.

Step 16 – Now make sure your black and white ‘sketch’ layer is active and select Add Layer Mask from the bottom of your layers panel. If your layer mask is white, just hit Cmd + I to invert it so it is black.

Step 17 – When you do this, it will be hidden from view because the mask is now black and preventing the image from showing through, and all you will see is the outline and paper layers below. Now we need something to sketch with.

Step 18 – Make sure you have the brush tool selected from your toolbox on the left side or just press B. You can either select a brush from the top left options menu or click on the Brush Presets tab pinned to your layer panel on the right.

Step 19 – Rather than a pencil, it is actually better to choose a bristle-type brush. The bristles act like multiple pencils and will save you time. The Flat Curve Thin Stiff Bristles brush with its default settings is a good option.

Step 20 – The brush size is 300 pixels. Make sure your Foreground Color is white. Pressing D will make sure foreground and background default to black and white. Now you can start your sketch.

Step 21 – With your ‘sketch’ layer active, click on your layer mask thumbnail to select it. You are going to use your brush on this layer mask, not the image. You have the outline on the layer below as a reference.

Step 22 – Click and hold the left mouse button and drag your brush across the layer mask with broad strokes as if you are brushing paint with a real brush. As you are painting white onto the mask, each stroke gradually starts to reveal more of the black and white image.

Step 23 – Because the image is being revealed through the strokes of the brush, the image appears to have been sketched by a series of cross-hatched pencil strokes.

pencil sketch effect 2

Step 24 – Using a mouse to draw in this fashion can be a bit odd, but as you progress you’ll find it becomes quite easy. Draw the mouse across the image at opposing angles, building the density of the strokes as you do so.

Step 25 – It is down to your artistic vision to sketch in a way that pleases you. If at any time you make a mistake, simply press X to toggle your brush to black and paint any brush strokes out. Then press X again and resume drawing with your white brush.

Step 26 – If you were to Alt + left click on the layer mask thumbnail you’ve been working on, you can view the mask on its own. This shows you how all the brush strokes have built up to create the pencil sketch effect.

Step 27 – The idea now is to reveal as little or as much of the black and white image as you prefer. Bear in mind that as you build the number of white brush strokes on the mask, they will eventually merge and disappear.

Step 28 – The texture of those brush strokes will gradually disappear and you could be left with your original black and white image looking like nothing has been done to it. Just paint away until you have something pleasing to your eye.

Step 29 – At this point you can change the opacity of the ‘outline’ layer to about 20%. This reduces the impact of the hard outlines, enhances the artistic effect and sells the sketched feel. Your sketch is completed.

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Mark Frost

Mark started work as a commercial artist during the good old days of Letraset, spray mount and having to process your photos at a local chemist. Having discovered his passion for photography, Photoshop and the wonders of digital image manipulation, he has not looked back. He is well on his way to owning more cameras than he’s had hot dinners.

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