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Adobe Photoshop Tutorial - How to Turn a Photograph into a Cartoon

Updated on October 6, 2015

Have you ever wanted to be in a cartoon? Now you can see what that is like with this Adobe Photoshop tutorial. Really you can turn just about any photo into a cartoon, but for this tutorial, it is easiest to use a simple picture with a simple background.

Step 1

Create a copy of your original picture by duplicating the background layer. This will preserve your original picture so you can go back to it if needed. You will want to make all changes to the copied layer. (I click on the eye icon beside the original layer, so I can't see it unless I need to later.)

Make sure you are in the new layer you just created, and use the selection tool of your choice to remove the background of your image. I prefer to use the Polygonal Lasso Tool. Select this tool and carefully click around the subject of your picture until you have completely enclosed the portion of your picture you would like to cartoonize. Either right click and choose "Select Inverse" or go to Select-Inverse in the main menu bar. Press delete to remove the background and click anywhere on your picture to deselect it.

Step 2

Now we are going to add two artistic filters to this remaining picture. (Photoshop has several artistic filters you can play with the get just the effect you are looking for. You can experiment with these in the future.) Go to Filter-Artistic-Poster Edges. Play with the sliders until you get the effect that you want. On this image I used 2 for the Edge Thickness, 1 for the Edge Intensity, and 6 for Posterization. With this filter you are just creating some good thick outlines on your image. Click OK to apply your changes.

Step 3

Now go to Filter-Sketch-Torn Edges. Use the sliders again to get the look you want. You want to be able to see the important details, just minimize details you don't want to keep. On this pictures I used 15 for Image Balance, 12 for Smoothness, and 9 for the Contrast. You will notice that this step turns your image into a black and white picture. Click OK.

Step 4

Now we are going to do a little clean up on your picture. Select white as your foreground color. Select the Paint Brush Tool, and use this tool to paint over any details in your picture that you don't want in your final image. Remember that cartoons often simplify or even remove certain features.

You can see I removed freckles.  You can even remove the blanket pattern for example.
You can see I removed freckles. You can even remove the blanket pattern for example.

Step 5

Now we are going to use one more Artistic Filter. This filter will be used to soften the edges of your picture. Go to Filter-Blur-Gaussian Blur.

Choose a radius that slightly softens your edges, but does not make them blurry. In this image I used a radius of 1.1.

Step 6

Now you are going to adjust the levels on your image. This will further clean up your image by simplifying the black and white colors.

Go to Image-Adjustments-Levels.

Slide the arrow that is on the left, and the arrow that is on the right, both closer into the center. You can see how this changes your picture and simplifies it.

Step 7

Don't let this next step scare you. You are just separating the black in your picture from the white. This is a VERY useful skill. You can use it for many things including to make images you find on a Google search easier to use in Photoshop.

Use the Rectangular Marquee Tool to select your picture. Copy your image (Control+C on Windows. Command+C on Mac).

Look at your Layers Menu and click on the Channels tab. Click on the "Create new channel" button (it is the one that looks like a page being turned) to create a new Alpha 1 channel.

Paste your image into this channel. (Control+V on Windows. Command+V on Mac)

Go to Image-Adjustments-Invert. Control+click on the channel to select it.

Go back to the Layers tab. Create a new layer and fill the selection with black by choosing the paint bucket tool and clicking on the image. You will see that the selected area becomes black. Label this layer black. Create a layer underneath it and fill it with white. Label it white. Your layers are now separated!

Step 8

You can now create new layers to add colors to your picture. Add each color in a different layer. Put the new layers on top of the white layer, but underneath the black layer. You can use the paint brush to add color to your layers.

Here is your completed cartoon!
Here is your completed cartoon!

Here is another example of a cartoon I have created.

You can add text to make it more exciting. I used a talkies font thought bubble in this one.

You can rasterize the font to add white inside it. To do this, right click on the layer and select Rasterize.


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