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Give your photos an illustrated look with this technique

Added on Thursday 22nd of May 2008 07:13 am EST
Adobe Photoshop CS/CS2/CS3
Operating Systems:
Microsoft Windows, Macintosh

If you want to incorporate an illustrative look to your designs, you have a few options. You could hand draw something, you could hire an illustrator, or you can follow this technique and push those pixels around until your photo looks like an illustration! We’ll show you how—by using a series of Photoshop filters and commands—you can easily transform photo reality into an ideal illustration.


Reality is terrific, and there’s no better way to capture it for a publication than with a photograph. But what if you want a more illustrative look, as shown in Figure A? You could use the Pen tool to create paths using the photo as a reference and then fill in all the paths. That would be fine for a simple photo. However, unless you’re willing to spend hours and hours drawing, filling, and painting, it’s impractical—especially if you’re up against a tight deadline. So, why not let a few of Photoshop’s filters give you a hand? By using the Find Edges filter and a few other handy commands and filters, you can fast-forward your production time and stay on schedule.


Select the right image
As you’re trying to select just the right image for this technique, think back to Illustration 101. The cardinal rules of illustration class were focus and simplicity—focus in on the point you want to illustrate and keep it simple! These rules still apply. Although you can use any photo, apply the focus and simplicity rules when choosing a photo for this technique. Your selected photo’s visual focus should be obvious and its lines should be simple.
              To follow along using our example, download the file from the URL given at the beginning of this article. Then, extract the file tiger_lily.jpg, launch Photoshop and open the file shown in Figure B.


Limit image colors
The first step is to reduce the number of colors in the image. This makes it look less like a photo and more like an illustration. The Posterize command is the perfect adjustment for this purpose.

To apply the Posterize adjustment:

  1. Duplicate the Background layer and rename the Background copy layer Lily. Then, click the Eye icon next to the Background layer to hide the layer. Make sure the Lily layer is selected.
  2. Choose Image > Adjustments > Posterize to open the Posterize dialog box.
  3. Enter 4 in the Levels text box, as shown in Figure C, and click OK for results shown in Figure D.


Note: The Posterize command reduces the color range of an image to 256 and then generalizes the color image areas into levels. The greater the number of levels, the greater the number of color areas.


Cut out the subject
The next step is to isolate the photo’s main object, which is the tiger lily. You can use whichever selection method works best for you. We’ll use the Magic Wand tool because it works quickly for this example.

To isolate the tiger lily:
  1. Choose the Magic Wand tool from the Tools palette
  2. On the tool options bar, set the Tolerance to a value of about 60 and select the Anti-aliased and Contiguous check boxes.
  3. Select the background image areas, holding down the [shift] ...