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Create a splendid colorized sketch in three easy steps

Added on Wednesday 2nd of November 2011 03:25 am EST

by Amy Palermo
Adobe Photoshop CS2/CS3/CS4/CS5
Operating Systems:
Macintosh, Microsoft Windows

If you’re unable to create a drawing from scratch, using filters in Photoshop is a great way to transform your image. However, the predefined sketch filters alone produce monochromatic renditions of your original. Combining filters and layer styles together can often yield much better results as we’ll show you in this simple, yet effective, technique.


To achieve a colorized sketch from your photos we’ll:

  • Show you how to set up your layers so you can follow along with this technique.
  • Detail the process of creating the sketched layers so your image takes on a hand-drawn look.
  • Explain how to colorize your sketch for added impact.
  • Suggest some variations on this technique to spark your creativity.


You don’t have to labor with a pencil to incorporate sketched drawings in your piece. Instead, you can use Photoshop’s Sketch filter to produce a similar effect in seconds. However, applying a single sketch filter often isn’t enough, especially if you desire full color. We’ll show how to transform any photo into a full-color sketch, as shown in Figure A. All you need to achieve this look are an image of your choice, a few filters, and some blending modes.


Step 1: Prepare your layers
To get started, you’ll need a flattened RGB image to work with. If you want to follow along with our example, download the file from the URL listed at the beginning of this article and extract the file sketch.psd.


Note: Throughout this tutorial we suggest settings for different filters which were selected based on of the image we used. You might want to adjust these depending on the size and resolution of your image, or to achieve a look that better suits your image.




To set up the layers for this technique:

  1. Launch Photoshop and open a flattened RGB image to work with.
  2. Duplicate the Background Layer and name the new layer Color.
  3. Duplicate the Background layer again and name this new layer Sketch.
  4. Rename the Background layer Sketch1.
  5. Turn off the visibility for the Color and Sketch layers for now. Your Layers panel should look similar to ours in Figure B.



Step 2: Lay the foundation
The next step is to create sketched layers from our image. For this technique, the specific color you choose for the foreground isn’t as important as the tonal value of that color. A darker value yields a denser sketch. For our example, we’ll use black since we’ll colorize our image outside of the sketched layers later.

Note: Later in this article we’ll show you some variations to try where the color you choose at this point will play a greater roll in tinting your image, so if you prefer choosing a color other than black, that will work as well. We do suggest sticking to dark colors, such as navy blue or dark green.

To create the first sketched layer:

  1. Press D to set the foreground color to the default of black.
  2. Select the Sketch1 layer.
  3. Choose Filter > Sketch > Charcoal.
  4. Enter 1 in the Charcoal Thickness text box, 3 in the Detail text box, and 50 in the Light/Dark Balance text box.
  5. Click OK. The result is a lightly sketched rendition of our image, as illustrated in Figure C.

Tip: If you want to see your entire image preview while you’re working in the Charcoal dialog box, simply press [command]0 ([Ctrl]0 in Windows) to fit the full preview in the window. You can also choose a magnification from the bottom left corner of the Charcoal dialog box; just click on the current magnification amount and select a new amount from the resulting pop-up menu.


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