How to use Adobe Photoshop to create hand-drawn looking sketches from your photos

By Lisa Hanard,

With a little more time on our hands now is a perfect time to go through some of our old photos and have some fun with them. You can quickly turn some of your favorite photos into hand-drawn looking sketches in Adobe Photoshop. These can make nice personalized gifts for friends and family.

The first step is to select the photo you wish to work with. In general, photos without a cluttered looking background work the best. Photos that have a decent amount of contrast are also good ones to work with.

The first step is to open your selected photo in Photoshop. I am using the latest Creative Cloud version. Previous versions of Photoshop should let you perform the same tasks though certain tools may be in a slightly different spot than shown here.

In the Layers panel, highlight your original photo layer by clicking on it.

With it highlighted hold down CMD J (for Mac) or CTRL J (for PC) to duplicate the layer. Your original photo layer will say Background and the duplicated layer will say Layer 1

Create a new adjustment layer

Select hue/saturation and move the saturation slider to decrease it to MINUS -100 %

Your image will now be a black and white photo.

In the Layers panel – highlight Layer 1 and change the Blend Mode to Color Dodge

Hold down CMD I (Or CTRL I for PC) to invert. Your image will look mostly white.

With IMAGE-1 still highlighted in the layers panel – Go to Filter – Blur – and select Gaussian Blur. Slide radius until it looks like a good sketch.

Then create a new adjustment layer. Select Levels – Slide the black slider to the right to darken it to your desired look.

From here you are finished, but there are a couple additional things you can do if you have areas that are too light or things you wish to brush away. If you have areas that are too washed out and want more detail back, follow these steps. Click on the Layer 1 layer to highlight it. Open a soft brush – Set your hardness to zero and your opacity to 10%. You can experiment with the opacity levels depending on your image. Brush areas that are too light. Be careful not to brush too much or your image will stop looking like a sketch. If you go too far and want to go back a step or 2 hold down Command Z for Mac and CTRL Z for PC to undo your last action/s.

In order to clean up stray or unwanted items in your image you can make a composite snapshot by holding CMD SHIFT OPT E – or CTRL ALT SHIFT E. Highlight that new layer. Select a small brush with opacity changed back to 100%. Invert the foreground and background colors of your brush by clicking here. Then paint away any unwanted blemishes or unwanted areas.

Lisa Hanard is a Photo Guide with Arizona Highways PhotoScapes.