Extracting Lines from an Image in Photoshop - Digital Photography School

Extracting Lines from an Image in Photoshop

Step 1

extracting-lines_step1.jpg

Open a new image and duplicate the background layer by right clicking it and choose Duplicate Layer. Click this new top layer and choose Filter > Noise > Median and set the radius to around 4 – 5 pixels. You want to see a general softening of the image with the beginnings of loss of detail. Click Ok.

Step 2

extracting-lines_step2.jpg

Duplicate this layer you’ve been working on. Set the blend mode of this new top layer to Color Dodge.

Step 3

extracting-lines_step3.jpg

Now invert the top layer by selecting it and choose Image > Adjustments > Invert. The image should now be white.

Step 4

extracting-lines_step4.jpg

With the topmost layer still selected choose Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur. Adjust the blur radius until the lines begin to appear in the image. What you’re looking for is a balance between the lines that you want and the image detail that you don’t want. Click Ok when you have an acceptable balance.

Step 5

extracting-lines_step5.jpg

Create a composite of the current image by clicking on the topmost layer and press Ctrl + Alt + Shift + E (Command + Option + Shift + E on the Mac) to create a new layer which is a composite of the layers below. This command is handy because it does this but without destroying them which would happen if you chose to flatten the image.

Step 6

extracting-lines_step6.jpg

If you want black lines, desaturate this top layer by choosing Image > Adjustments > Desaturate. You can now duplicate this layer a number of times and each time set the Blend Mode of the duplicate layer to Multiply. This will give you increasingly thicker and darker lines in the image. Merge these layers down to a single layer when you’re done.

Step 7

extracting-lines_step7.jpg

As an alternative to Step 6 you can use the Apply Image command to thicken up the lines by selecting the layer that you created in Step 5 and choose Image > Apply Image, set the blending to Multiply and click Ok. Repeat this step a number of times and you will repeatedly apply the image to itself in multiply mode each time thickening up the lines but without creating a new layer each time.

Step 8

To color the image, duplicate the background layer and drag it to the top of the layer stack. Set its blend mode to Linear Light (or Linear Burn, or something similar), and reduce the opacity to color the line drawing.

extracting-lines_step8.jpg

Tip: If desired, at the end of Step 5, place a new white filled layer below the new composite layer and you can remove unwanted lines or shading from the composite layer using the Eraser tool. Merge the top two layers before continuing. It’s often easier to remove unwanted lines earlier in the process than later on.

Read more from our Post Production category.

Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

  • Jeffrey

    Hello,

    What are the practical applications of this technique? I’m a little confused about the result. What do you do with it?

  • Georg

    That looks great! I will have to adapt it for Gimp, though… it’s been a while, but all the better an excuse :-)

    (@jeffrey:
    > What are the practical applications of this technique?)

    illustrating a children’s book or story instantly popped into my head :-)
    You wouldn’t need to be good at drawing and could still destill the essentials from your scene with (if you want to and tweak it to your liking) enough loose ends for your readers to imagine their own world. I feel that a sharp photograph would hinder in that it connects too harshly with the “real world” and “how things are” and here you can provide a softer, unfinished general picture to guide the imagination (plus, you don’t have to be a crafty illustrator :-D)

  • Tim

    I use Photoshop to create designs for screen prints. The steps through step 6 are one way of producing the outlines for the things you want printed. Thanks for posting.

  • Dick Katz

    Very cool, Helen – Thanks!

  • nina_s

    love it! i love all this coversion from photo to hand-painting results!

    i’ve read somewhere in the forum post production to create canvas painting from photo, the results were awesome! i’ve tried to follow the steps described but i can’t seem to follow (http://digital-photography-school.com/forum/showthread.php?t=44246)

    can anyone please direct me to the relevant tutorial? or if this has not been posted, Darren, can you please…..?

    Thanks a lot!

  • Doug

    this inclusion of a photoshop post process section in every email update is a great idea. keep them coming!

  • PRH

    that’s an interesting effect. thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.scottsravings.com Scott

    I love this tutorial. I adapted it pretty easily for Gimp, and it works great! Thank you!

  • http://www.daveconrey.com daveconrey

    I’ve never seen the appeal of this effect. There’s nothing about this that is natural or elegant. It always ends up looking like heavy handed post-production work. To answer Jeffrey’s question, there is no practical application. Nobody wants a photo that looks like it’s been Photoshopped.

  • cindasl

    Love this technique. I think the last step…reducing opacity…really allows you to get a broad range of effects. I got a very nice enhancement on a macro seashore shot with lots of rocks and sea foam…I love the result.

    thanks.

  • Jeannot56

    Thanks for this tutorial. With a minor adaption it also works in Photoshop Elements 6, which I use. It gives a much better effect than the ‘posterize’ filter.
    To the sceptic people, I say: it’s okay if you don’t like it, don’t use it. I think it can be quite nice for some pictures.

    Thanks.

  • Beth Phillips

    i really like this and I’m just learning photo shop and
    the step by step really helps me learn faster !

    Thank you so much!!!!
    Beth

  • Vernon Girling

    I shall try this technique to turn .JPEG’s into line drawings to incorporate into instructional manuals.
    Kind regards, Vernon.

  • http://pixatography.com Ken

    I just now finally tried this and the results were WOW! Thanks for sharing. This works WAY better than any of the built-in filters. I actually need this technique for a design I’m working on now.

    Ken

  • leo

    This is the cheesiest. I applaud the effort, but man…who would want to do this to a photo?

  • Jeff

    The extracted lines are also very useful for messing around with designs on photoshop, or creating photoshop brushes from pictures.

  • http://www.lookforuu.com/ Linda

    Nice tutorial, quite useful, thanks for the article! :)

Some older comments

  • Linda

    September 22, 2013 05:02 am

    Nice tutorial, quite useful, thanks for the article! :)

  • Jeff

    March 18, 2009 11:01 pm

    The extracted lines are also very useful for messing around with designs on photoshop, or creating photoshop brushes from pictures.

  • leo

    March 14, 2009 12:30 pm

    This is the cheesiest. I applaud the effort, but man...who would want to do this to a photo?

  • Ken

    February 14, 2009 10:55 am

    I just now finally tried this and the results were WOW! Thanks for sharing. This works WAY better than any of the built-in filters. I actually need this technique for a design I'm working on now.

    Ken

  • Vernon Girling

    February 13, 2009 10:54 pm

    I shall try this technique to turn .JPEG's into line drawings to incorporate into instructional manuals.
    Kind regards, Vernon.

  • Beth Phillips

    February 13, 2009 02:47 am

    i really like this and I'm just learning photo shop and
    the step by step really helps me learn faster !

    Thank you so much!!!!
    Beth

  • Jeannot56

    February 11, 2009 08:15 am

    Thanks for this tutorial. With a minor adaption it also works in Photoshop Elements 6, which I use. It gives a much better effect than the 'posterize' filter.
    To the sceptic people, I say: it's okay if you don't like it, don't use it. I think it can be quite nice for some pictures.

    Thanks.

  • cindasl

    February 9, 2009 02:32 pm

    Love this technique. I think the last step...reducing opacity...really allows you to get a broad range of effects. I got a very nice enhancement on a macro seashore shot with lots of rocks and sea foam...I love the result.

    thanks.

  • daveconrey

    February 7, 2009 01:14 pm

    I've never seen the appeal of this effect. There's nothing about this that is natural or elegant. It always ends up looking like heavy handed post-production work. To answer Jeffrey's question, there is no practical application. Nobody wants a photo that looks like it's been Photoshopped.

  • Scott

    February 7, 2009 03:12 am

    I love this tutorial. I adapted it pretty easily for Gimp, and it works great! Thank you!

  • PRH

    February 6, 2009 02:47 pm

    that's an interesting effect. thanks for sharing.

  • Doug

    February 6, 2009 02:11 pm

    this inclusion of a photoshop post process section in every email update is a great idea. keep them coming!

  • nina_s

    February 5, 2009 07:35 pm

    love it! i love all this coversion from photo to hand-painting results!

    i've read somewhere in the forum post production to create canvas painting from photo, the results were awesome! i've tried to follow the steps described but i can't seem to follow (http://digital-photography-school.com/forum/showthread.php?t=44246)

    can anyone please direct me to the relevant tutorial? or if this has not been posted, Darren, can you please.....?

    Thanks a lot!

  • Dick Katz

    February 5, 2009 05:26 pm

    Very cool, Helen - Thanks!

  • Tim

    February 5, 2009 11:14 am

    I use Photoshop to create designs for screen prints. The steps through step 6 are one way of producing the outlines for the things you want printed. Thanks for posting.

  • Georg

    February 5, 2009 09:49 am

    That looks great! I will have to adapt it for Gimp, though... it's been a while, but all the better an excuse :-)

    (@jeffrey:
    > What are the practical applications of this technique?)

    illustrating a children's book or story instantly popped into my head :-)
    You wouldn't need to be good at drawing and could still destill the essentials from your scene with (if you want to and tweak it to your liking) enough loose ends for your readers to imagine their own world. I feel that a sharp photograph would hinder in that it connects too harshly with the "real world" and "how things are" and here you can provide a softer, unfinished general picture to guide the imagination (plus, you don't have to be a crafty illustrator :-D)

  • Jeffrey

    February 5, 2009 08:26 am

    Hello,

    What are the practical applications of this technique? I'm a little confused about the result. What do you do with it?

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