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Cartoon a Picture Using Illustrator and Photoshop


Turn A Profile Picture Into A Cartoon Using Photoshop And Illustrator

This tutorial will teach you how to make a cartoon style image out of a regular picture. I have tried to keep the tutorial as simple as possible. I used Adobe CS4 for this tutorial, but I used effects that should work for most versions of Adobe Creative Suite. The estimated time is 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on your experience using Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop.

1. Choose A Profile Picture of You or Anyone

Start by opening a photo of yourself, or any profile face shot in Adobe Illustrator.

2. Add a Layer For Tracing

Lock the layer by navigating to the layers pallet and clicking the box next to the eye icon. Now add a layer for tracing the image.

3. Begin Tracing the Profile Picture

Select the pencil tool from the left side toolbar. Begin drawing over the face. It doesn't have to be perfect, just get as close as you can. You can also use the pen tool if you feel more comfortable with it.
      NOTE: You can adjust the pencil tool setting to your likings by double clicking the pencil tool and changing the Tolerances’. You will see Fidelity, Smoothness both of these control the accuracy of the trace (increase the Smoothness and Fidelity for a more curved and forgiving line). I chose Fidelity 2.5 and Smoothness 3%. For the other options in the pencil tool I left the default settings of Keep Selected, and Edit Selected Paths within 12 pixels (deselect the Keep Selected option if you don't want to hold down the Shift + Ctrl + Alt buttons after each pencil stroke).

4. Trace The Eyes and Eyebrows

I started with the eyes and eyebrows. Try to drag the pencil tool completely around an eye before releasing the tool. You can always type Ctrl + Z to undo the previous trace if you don't like the result. Once you are happy with your traces, hold down Shift + Ctr + A to deselect the shape so you can move on to the next eye, or eyebrow. Continue until you have traced the eyes, eyebrows, and inner eyes. (you can add some small detail on the eyebrows and eyelashes).

5. Trace The Hair

Now trace the contour of the hair. Once again you don't have to be completely perfect, but add some detail so it isn't too plain. Once you have the contour of the hair, add some lines inside of the hair contour following the flow of the hair.

6. Trace The Remaining Face Features

Now Trace the mouth and any contours of the face that haven't been covered (After the above steps, I needed to trace the chin to complete the face contour. I didn't trace the nose). After you have finished drawing the mouth and other facial elements, hide the locked layer that contains the original photo to reveal only the tracing you made. Now you can add some shading and make adjustments to the trace.

7. Adding Shading or Line Width Variance

Add some shading as desired. To add shading I will use a brush. You can select the brush tool from the left side toolbar, then select a brush type by navigating to the top toolbar: Window> Brushes. To customize a brush, double click it in the brushes toolbar. I chose a brush with the settings: Angle: 90 Degrees, Roundness: 66%, Diameter 3pt.

8. Adding Color

Now let’s add some color. This is the most complicated of the steps. There are several ways to add color to your picture. Since there are users that have older versions of Illustrator, I am going to use techniques that are compatible. First select the Hair tracing and choose a fill color that is similar to your picture. Next add some color to the lips. To add color to the eyes, I selected the pupil outline and copied it (Ctrl + C), and pasted it in place (Ctrl + F). Now hover over the pasted pupil and hover over one of the corners. You should see a double headed arrow (the re-size cursor), left click and drag outward while holding shift to enlarge it proportionally until it is slightly larger than the original pupil. Now select the eye color of your choice as a stroke. With the new pupil selected, choose Object> Arrange> Send to Back, to place it behind the original pupil. Now select the original pupil and give it a white fill color. You should also give the outline of the eye shape a fill of white. Next I chose the eyelash details and selected a slightly darker color than the hair and changed it from a stroke color to a fill color (you can do this by selecting the object and navigating to the left side toolbar, click the curved double arrow next to the fill/stroke box to reverse the stroke to a fill).
      NOTE: If you start filling shapes and they aren't closed paths, you can close them by clicking one end with the direct selection tool, hold shift and select the other end of the path. Now hold down the Ctrl and the J key to join the ends and make a closed path.

Now give the face a fill and send the object to the back like described above. You may need to trace the shape of the face to make a closed path. This can be done by selecting the chin area, now with the direct selection tool click on one of the end anchor points. Now select the pen tool and click the selected end point. Click around the area of the face until you return to the other side of the chin, the last click should be on the end point opposite of the one you started with (you will see a circle when you hover over the anchor point) click the end anchor point to make a closed path.
      NOTE: When making the face shape closed selection path, you don't have to be totally accurate. Just draw a path that is outside of the face area (if you extend the path outside of the face and into the hair area it doesn't matter because you will send the face shape to the back of the document anyway). I also drew a neck and sent it to the back. I gave the neck a slightly darker fill than the face (it was freaking me out without a neck).

9. Begin Editing in Photoshop

Save your .ai file. Now open Photoshop and add a old paper like texture as the background (this will give the skin a little texture later in the tutorial). Now open or place the original profile image. Change the placed Layers Blending Mode to Multiply (from the layers palette). Select the marquee tool from the left toolbar and drag it over the area of the profile picture, now navigate to the Mask toolbar or choose Window>Mask and choose add Pixel Mask. Now in the layer options drop-down box choose new Layer Group and drag the profile pic layer into the Mask Layer Group. Add a new layer and drag it into the Mask Layer Group and position it below the profile picture. Fill the layer with the color: #00FFFF.

10. Place The Illustrator Tracing Artwork

Open your Illustrator Tracing. Hold the Ctrl + A keys to select all, now hold Ctl + C to copy the art. Go back to Photoshop and with the fill layer you just made selected use Ctr + V to place the artwork. Change the new pasted layers opacity to around 60 or 70% so you can align it with the original profile picture. Once you have it how you want, change the opacity back to 100%.

11. Preparing The Profile Pic For The Halftone Effect

Make sure the original profile image is above the traced layer. If the layer is a smart object, select the layer and go to the top toolbar and choose Layer>Rasterize. Now select the layer with the actual picture and go to Image>Adjustments>De-saturate. Change the blending mode to Normal and adjust the Levels (go to image>Adjustments>Levels in the top toolbar to adjust the levels to bring out the dark shades and enhance the light shades). I used 65 for the black, 1.00 for the gray, and 200 for the white in the levels adjustment box). These settings may vary depending on your image. Darker images with less highlights will need different adjustments than ones with several highlights and more lighting

12. Adding The Halftone Effect

Now with the original Profile image selected navigate to the top toolbar and choose Filter>Pixelate>Color Halftone (I chose Max Radius 10px, Channel 1-4 all to 199. Next change the layer blending mode to multiply and lower the fill to somewhere around 25-35% depending on your image. You can adjust the Max Radius of the Color Halftone to your liking (A higher setting adds larger dots, while a lower setting adds smaller dots).

13. Finishing Touches

Add some finishing touches by adding a Color Overlay to the Blue Mask Layer if you want to change the color. You might also want to delete some of the dots created by the halftone effect (just select the original profile image layer; now erase the dots that are outside of the face and hair using the eraser tool.
NOTE: For a better result you might want to spend a little more time during the tracing steps inside of Illustrator (I went back and changed all of my 1 px strokes to 2px, but I could have done a lot better on the eyes.

If you run into any problems, or the tutorial isn't clear to you please leave a message or a question and I will try to clarify or simplify my instructions.

Supporting Images and Files

1. Original Image


2. Step 1 Example

Lock and Create Layer

3. Step 3 Example

3 Pencil Tool Settings

4. Step 4 Example

4 eye area

5. Step 5 Example

Trace the hair

6. Step 6 Example

Add Additional Facial Elements

7. Step 7 Example

7 Trace Results

8. Step 8 Examples

8a Add Face Color Fills 8b Send Fill to Back

9. Step 9 Example

9 Profile with Background

10. Step 10 Example

10 Paste Illustrator Art into Photoshop

11. Step 11 Example

11 Adjust Black and White

12. Step 12 Example

12 Color Halftone Settings

The Finished Result


Background Image

You can download the background image I made if you want to use it in your picture. Background Image

Here Is The Photoshop File From The Tutorial

You can download the Photoshop file I used in the tutorial if you want to check the settings I used. Jim2.psd

Comments (6)


Brilliant. Worth a try.



Thanks grtraders for the vote as useful. Let me know if you have any problems, or it you complete the tutorial successfully. I would appreciate some feedback on the usage of this one. It is hard for me to evaluate, since I wrote it and I have several years experience with Illustrator.

Sorry, I haven't got Adobe illustrator installed and my skill of working with pictures is next to a novice.

But given the chances and time, I'll definitely give it a try. Believe me, I have searched the internet a couple of times without any success to create a cartoon like photo of myself and was unable to find a way. Or even if I hit somewhere, it was a paid service offering to do the work per photo. You put me looking in the right place.

Regarding feedback and evaluation, I am not in a position presently to comment in that direction. But I appreciate what you wrote from the bottom of my heart.


A small thing that comes to my mind that would definitely improve the readability of this article is --
Follow the pictures with the related section. It was the idea of DanRollins when he said

In the Defining Favorites section, you list a sequence of steps, and include "forward references" to the several figures that follow.  I found it somewhat hard to jump back and forth between the discussion and the figure.  
The suggestion:  Interleave the discussion into the sequence of images.  That is, show text, then image, then text, then image... etc.

He was working with me on this article --



Ok, thanks for letting me know. I tried this for the first time. On my other articles (Photoshop, Illustrator) I put the pictures with the steps, and I wanted to try this one a different way. I wasn't sure how people would follow the article. I have a 2 monitor set-up so I would open one in for the lower part with the images, and one for the tutorial. I also created a PDF of one of my tutorials that might help also, but I am not sure I have time to do that for them all.

On future tutorials I will switch back to placing them with the steps. I would like to eventually like to do the Screencast for the tutorials. I haven't been able to find a suitable program for free, and haven't had the spare $ to purchase one lately. I have used Jing for screencast, but they have a 5 minute limit for the free version. Maybe EE would spring for the fee (just joking). Thanks again for the input.

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