Photoshop sketch effect – ‘natural’ technique. Part I.

The goal of this tutorial is to create a digital sketch effect that would be as close to real sketch look as possible. That’s why I call it a ‘natural sketch technique’. We will try to do a little research into several possible Photoshop techniques to find out the most effective ones.

Before continuing with this tutorial look at the Introduction to find out the basic sketch features we are going to reproduce digitally.

You may also want to read the “Classical” Photoshop sketch effect tutorial to learn easy and effective way to turn your photo into a ‘sketch’ in few steps.

The workflow described below will allow you to control effectively your ‘digital sketch’ appearance. It is close to creating a ‘natural’ sketch, but the difference is that you don’t have to be skilled at drawing. In fact even if you cannot remember when you have drawn something with a pencil, this technique will make you feel like a real artist.

All keyboard shortcuts are for PC. I don’t have a Mac, but as far as I know the main difference is use of the COMMAND key and OPTION key on a Mac instead of the CTRL key and the ALT key on a PC.


Click to see
the original image
Here’s the original photo.It is not something great. In fact, it’s a very common photo taken by a Canon compact digital camera. If you have a large photo taken by a good camera it will give you additional detail and will result in the better quality.

We will do the following steps convert it into a natural-looking sketch:

  • Create a ‘paper ‘ using 3 layers
  • Create a ‘pencil’ outline (we will try 4 different methods to do that)
  • Create a ‘sketch’ itself by using a layer with mask and ‘directional’ strokes

Below these steps are explained in detail.

Click on the image to see the
Increase image size.The original photo was optimized for the web. Its size is only 700×933 pixels.

We have to enlarge our photo. It will not give us additional details, but will make many Photoshop filters work better (for example, adding noise to a small image will result in bad-looking, too grainy noise; the large image will be Ok).

The rule is – the larger your image, the better the result will be.

Select Image – Image size and set the size to 2000×2666 pixels.

The ‘background’. Click on the
image to see the screenshot
Prepare the background.The background may look like a special artistic paper; it should not necessarily be completely white. The texture may also vary.

We will use 3 layers to control the appearance of our ‘digital paper’:

  • Solid color fill layer to control the basic color
  • Pattern fill layer to control texture
  • Additional layer to control slight color variation.

Color Fill. Click on the image to see
the screenshot
Create solid color fill layer.Select Layer – New Fill Layer – Solid Color. Type in the name ‘Basic Color’. It is a good practice always to give meaningful names to all layers.

After pressing OK in the layer name dialog choose the basic color for your background. Try several different colors wtih very low saturation (typically less than 10). Later you can always change basic color by double clicking the ‘Basic Color’ layer thumbnail.

Texture. Click on the image to see
the screenshot
Create pattern fill layer. Select Layer – New Fill Layer – Pattern. Type in the name ‘Basic Texture’.

After pressing OK you will probably see the default pattern set. It is not what we want. We have to change the pattern set to ‘Grayscale Paper’ (see the screenshot).

You may try different ‘Grayscale paper’ patterns and choose what you like most. I chose ‘Fibers 2’ pattern scaled to 700%.

Set blending mode for the ‘Basic Texture’ layer to ‘Multiply’ and lower its opacity to 20%.


‘Slight Adjustments’ with 100%
opacity. Click to see 6% opacity.
Create ‘Slight adjustments’ layer.I prefer to add the third layer to control slight color variations over the paper sheet.

Select Layer – New – Layer and type in a name ‘Slight adjustments’. Select a big brush and paint over the layer (see the screenshot). Use your imagination to choose colors (shades of gray, cool or warm brown etc.).

Set the layer opacity to 5-15%.

Use of this layer is not compulsory of course, but I think that it will make the image more natural.

Click on the image to see the
Group ‘paper’ layers Now we have 3 layers over the original image: ‘Basic Color ‘, ‘Basic Texture’ and ‘Slight Adjustments’. Create a new group and type in a name ‘Paper’. Select these 3 layers and move them to the ‘Paper’ group.
  1. Ahmed Headrick says:

    Thank you for the advice! I’ll try it out.

  2. lol,Why don’t we just use my camera? offered that it’s much more convenient to use.

  3. admin says:

    Kimberely Lubahn, look at your price tag. I can buy camera, Photoshop, create this web site, hire graphic designer to use this tutorial to make infrared photo and would still have something like 10K in my pocket 🙂

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