The photo-to-cartoon effect is one of our favourite Photoshop effects, and it’s surprisingly easy to achieve. In this tutorial we’ll show you how to turn photos to cartoons using an assortment of filters and simple brushwork.
Filters that turn your photos into drawings or paintings have been around in Photoshop for years. However, there have always been two problems with them: first, they’ve been used to death, and second, most of them aren’t all that convincing.
To get a good result requires more than just slapping a filter over an image – instead you’ll need to combine filters with hand-painted brushwork and other Photoshop skills.
In this tutorial you’ll learn how to turn a portrait into a cartoon caricature with the help of a few Photoshop filters and some painting with the Brush tool.
We’ll begin by creating a sketch of our tattooed man here, which involves an unusual use for the Gaussian Blur filter. From here we’ll use the brush to colour in the skin, hair and clothes.
We’ll also save ourselves some time by blending the original tattoos with our cartoon. And to finish it off, we’ll add a striking line vortex effect to the background.
Step by step how to make the photo-to-cartoon effect
01 Convert to sketch
Open your start image. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+J to duplicate the background layer, then Cmd/Ctrl+ Shift+U to remove colour. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+J again, then Cmd/Ctrl+I to invert the tones. Change the Blend Mode to Color Dodge. Go to Filter>Blur> Gaussian Blur. Set Radius to 8px and hit OK.
02 Make lines stronger
Hit Cmd/Ctrl+Shift+Alt+E to merge a new layer, then Cmd/Ctrl+J to copy it. Set the Blend Mode to Multiply, then copy the layer three times to make the lines stronger. Highlight the top layer, Shift+click the layer above the background and hit Cmd/Ctrl+E to merge. Rename the layer Sketch.
03 Clean it up
Make a new layer, drag it below the sketch layer, then go to Edit>Fill Layer. Set Use: White and hit OK. Next highlight the sketch layer and click the Add Layer Mask icon in the Layers Panel. Grab the Brush tool and set colour to black, then paint to tidy up the skin, clothes and hair.
04 Paint in colours
Change the Blend Mode of the sketch layer to Multiply, then make a new layer and drag it below. Grab the Brush tool and choose a colour for the skin, then begin painting. Make more new layers and paint different colours for the hair, eyes, mouth and jeans.
05 Reveal the tattoos
Duplicate the background layer. Drag it to below the sketch layer. Go to Filter>Brush Strokes>Ink Outlines. Leave the default settings and hit OK. Alt-click the Add Layer Mask icon to add a mask that hides the layer, then paint with white to reveal the tattoos. Next highlight the white layer.
06 Add background effects
Go to Filter>Texturiser>Grain. Set Grain Type: Vertical, Intensity 100, Contrast 0. Go to Filter> Blur>Gaussian Blur. Set Radius 4px. Go to Filter> Distort> Polar Coordinates and pick Rectangular to Polar. Hit Cmd/Ctrl+U, check Colorize, set Hue 211. Paint white over any lines that show through.
When colouring in different parts of an image, always use a separate layer for each colour so you can erase, tone down or change the shade at any time.
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