How to take a photo-style image in Photoshop and make it look like a professional vector drawing
So, welcome to this wanna-be tracing tutorial for Photoshop.
A couple of notes up front:
- If you’re a Photoshop veteran, some explainations in this tutorial might seem a bit unnesessary. But I added these to make sure even people who have never used photoshop before should be able to make a trace. (I hope)
- I realize Photoshop isn’t a true vector-based program. That’s why this is called a tracing tutorial and not a vectortrace tutorial. Photoshop DOES have vector tools though, contrary to what some people might say. It’s just that PS rasterizes images when you save them, effectively making the vector tools pretty useless.
The end result is still nice though, if done properly.
- I apologize up front for any grammar and/or spelling mistakes I might make. I’m not a native english speaker, but I’ll do my best to make as little mistakes as possible.
- Also, sorry for the immense size of the screenshots. But I think it’s better to show you everything, so it’s easier to find what I’m talking about and what exactly I’m doing. If I would only show a small part of the window, some people might not be able to find it, or only after hours of searching (like myself >.>) Just ignore stuff like my winamp running please, thank you ^^:
- Lastly, if you’re new to tracing, or the pen tool in general, it’s best to read this tutorial from begin to end, since I will explain most of the important stuff in the beginning but I will leave them out in the later parts because I’m going to assume that you’ve already read it or know about it. (And I’m lazy.)
Now, let’s get started…
For this tutorial I chose a pretty simple image to trace. It’s Coco from The Melody of Oblivion. The image is a bit dark, but that only makes things more interesting =)
Note that I resized the image. The original was much smaller, and thus harder to trace. Also, making images huge (2000+ pixels) will also eliminate the need of a true vector trace. After all, who is going to resize already huge images? I used a height of 1600 so I can use it to make a wallpaper later.
Now, there are two ways to trace an image:
1) The lazy people’s way (using “paths” for the outlines), and
2) The not-so-lazy people’s way. (Everyone’s lazy after all, some just a bit more than others. This method uses “shape layers” for the outlines instead.)
What’s the difference?
I’ll explain in detail in just a sec. But basically, method 1 is faster and easier, but the end result will look worse than method 2. Also, it’s a bit more time consuming to correct mistakes. Method 2 will take a bit more skill, time and patience but it’s worth it.
But if this is your first time using the pen tool, I suggest you use method 1 for now. If you are a bit more familiar with the pen tool, you can skip method 1 if you want. But I’d still read it, just so you don’t miss any important notes I might have written.
(Somewhat) important notes are written in italics and are also underlined.
This tutorial consists of 6 sections: (press ctrl+f to look for a specific section)
Section zero – Introduction (You’re here, OMG)
Section one - Method number one: Paths.
Section two - Method number two: Shapes.
Section three - The easy part: Coloring.
Section four - The not-so-easy part: The face and “advanced” options.
Section five – Final notes, hints and updates.
A last note before we begin: You yourself might not want to start with an image that has a lot of really dark colors, since it’s really hard to tell where the outlines begin and end, thus making it REALLY hard to trace. Using an image with bright colors is usually the best way to begin.
Section one - Method number one: Paths.
With that out of the way, let’s begin with the outlines.
Press p to select the pen tool (or you could use the drop-down button in the tool window, but this is easier.) and then in the upper left corner, select the “paths” option.
First, select a color for the outlines. Plain black will do in nearly 99,9% of all traces.
Then place a couple of anchor points on one of the outlines. I myself usually start at the bottom and work my way up, but it doesn’t really matter where you begin. It’s just a matter of preference.
Be sure not to put the anchor points too close to each other, since the lines will be much more fluent if you place the points far apart from each other. But don’t overdo it either, because it’s extremely hard (if not impossible) to trace the outlines properly if you place too little anchor points.
But this is something nobody can explain precisely to you, you need to get the feeling for it yourself. And you will Wink
Don’t worry about the lines being straight just yet, we’ll get to that soon enough.
It should look something like this right now:
Now select the “convert point tool” from the pen tool’s drop down menu, located here:
(If anyone knows a hotkey for this guy, please let me know)
Now click on one of the anchor points, and try to drag it.
The anchor point itself won’t change position (unless you press and hold ctrl while dragging, which is the only way to move it without deleting and re-placing it) but instead two smaller dots will appear, and you’ll notice that the line (or two lines) will bend.
If you click on the anchor point again, the lines will reset.
You can now drag the smaller dots independently from each other, and shape the line the way you want to. Note that every line has two anchor points, and you’ll need both. Just do what you just did to the other anchor point on the other side of the line as well(in case this wasn’t obvious already <.<)
If you notice you have either too many or not enough anchor points, you can add new ones by right-clicking on the line and then select “Add new anchor point” and delete unneceserry ones by right-clicking on a anchor point and then select “Delete anchor point” How do they come up with this stuff? :O
It should look something like this now:
This whole placing and dragging anchor points stuff might look difficult at first, but once you get used to it, it’ll be really easy to place the anchor points exactly where they need to be and to shape the lines exactly how you want them. It just takes a little practise. Don’t give up! Razz Don’t rush anything and you’ll be fine.
Now you need to select a proper brush size, that matches the width of the original lines. Usually, a size 3 or 4 brush will be just right.
Create a new layer, place it BELOW the original picture and select it.
Then select the convert point tool again. Select the line (or lines) you just placed and then right-click. Select the “stroke line” option and press ok.
If you then make the first layer invisible you’ll see the first line of your trace =) If you are not satisfied, go back to before you stroked the line, and simply adjust the lines and stroke again.
When you think the line fits the original outline good enough, right-click on the line and select the “delete path” option.
It should now look something like this:
All you need to do now is repeat, untill you have traced all the outlines.
Note that you can use the eraser for smaller mistakes, if you happen to need it. You don’t have to redraw the entire line.
When you’re done with the outlines, you can start coloring in… but first I’m going to explain the second method of tracing.
Section two - Method number two: Shapes.
This is basically the same as option number one, but you’ll be using the “shape layers” option now, instead of the “paths” option. Shape layers is the button left of the paths button.
Select it, and place an achor point somewhere on one of the outlines. The first thing you should notice is that it’ll automatically create a vector layer. I will explain how it works later.
Now, place dots along the outlines like you would do with the paths option, except that you need to encircle the outline now, instead of just follow it. (zoom in to 200 or 300%, it’ll make things easier) When you placed the last dot, click on the first one again, so it closes. Everything inside of the lines will be colored in the color of the layer, more on this in the coloring section.
And don’t forget to place the new layer under the original image.
Now shape the lines so they follow the outlines of the outlines.
This is where the advantages of this method of tracing come into play:
- First of all, because you now have two lines for one outline, you can make some variations in the thickness of the outlines. This is a good thing, not only because sometimes the outlines aren’t just single-thickness lines but also vary in thickness and normal lines wouldn’t be sufficient to properly trace the image. But variations in the outlines’ thickness also make the trace look better.
- Secondly, this method makes the outlines look many times sharper than the first method would ever be able to, which gives the trace a cleaner look.
- And finally, since the lines in this method of tracing are permanent, it’s MUCH easier to correct any mistakes later on.
When you’re done, you can hide the original layer and look at your new shiney outline with thickness variations.
It should look something like this:
Now something important…
With the first method, when you were done with a line, you could just keep placing new lines in the same layer till your pc crashes.
This method works a bit different.
Normally, when you would try making the next outline PS will make a new layer. This isn’t too bad, but you’ll eventually end up with hundreds of layers and it’ll be hard to find back layers you need to change later. (Unless you name every single layer, like I used to do. I don’t recommend it though Razz)
But there’s a way you can keep adding more shapes to the same layer.
Unfortunately PS is a bit buggy, so you might have to repeat this a couple of times, because PS resets back to its original settings from time to time and thus will make new layers again, instead of add stuff to the existing layer.
Anyway, with the pen tool selected, either press the + key, or press the “Add to shape area” button on the top of the screen. But make sure your previous lines are visible. If not, simply press enter to select them.
When you add a new piece of outline now, PS will add it to the already existing layer.
All you need to do now is repeat till you have done all the outlines. Make sure the pen tool is still in add-mode. Like I said, it sometimes resets. Sad
Also, don’t be afraid to mess with your monitor’s brightness and/or contrast when you are having trouble seeing the lines.
If you happen to need to change a line you made previously, all you need to do is click on that line and simply reshape it. No need for erasing or anything similar.
And most importantly… DON’T BE AFRAID TO GUESS!!11ONEONE if you can’t see the lines. Since it’s easy to correct mistakes, you can keep playing around with the outlines untill you’re satisfied with the way they are.
When you are done we can start with the coloring, which is actually the easiest part of the tracing process. Except for the face… More on that later XD
Section three - The easy part: Coloring
When you are done with the outlines, they should look something like this:
Note that I didn’t trace the eyes yet. I prefer to do those after I’m done coloring in everything else. But it’s not needed to wait or anything. It’s just a matter of preference/habit.
Don’t worry if your trace doesn’t look flawless. With a little practise you’ll be pumping out great traces in no time. Besides, you can always do a little tweaking on the outlines when you feel like it.
As you can see, I used method number two. If you are using method one: Don’t worry. Coloring will be exactly the same for both methods.
Save your work, and make sure you only see your outlines.
Select the pen tool again, but this time select the “create new shape layer” option instead.
Now place a single anchor point on one of your outlines. You then need to go back to the original image for a sec. Double-click on the layer thumbnail. You should be seeing a color picker now. Then click on the area you are about to color in, the color picker should take over the area’s color. If you’re not satisfied with the color, you can always manually change the color a bit, or just click on another point of the area.
First make sure the outlines layer is at the top (under the original image of course). Then you can switch back to the outlines layer and continue tracing around the area you’re coloring. You can hide the edges under the outlines, so you don’t have to be precise. Nobody will notice it =) Zooming in to 200-300% will make this a lot easier.
This is how it should look like:
If there is more than one area with the same color, you can use the “add to shape layer” option again. If you need a new color, just make a new layer again.
Easy isn’t it? Now all you need to do is repeat this for the rest of the trace.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE SHADOWS!?!!11oneone?
Easy, create a new layer, trace the shadow and select the color of the shadow. Be sure it is above the “original color” layer though.
That should be enough explanation for the coloring. Just play around a bit and find out for yourself what works, and what doesn’t.
After you’re done coloring, there’s one thing left to do… The face.
Section four - The not-so-easy part: The face and “advanced” options.
At this point, your trace should look somewhat like this:
We’re almost done, but the most important part still needs work: The face.
Almost every part of the face is tricky. Even the smallest change can completely change the character’s facial expressions.
The mouth and eyebrows aren’t that hard to trace, the eyes though… are a different story.
I’ve done quite a number of traces so far, and the face has always been the point where I want to pick up the monitor and throw it out of the window. (Unless the characters had their eyes shut >.>)
The reason why eyes are (nearly) always the most difficult part, is because the eyes are (nearly) always extremely detailed. And the tiniest change can change the character’s facial expression immensly. This is why I usually do the eyes last. If you have finished everything except the eyes, it’s harder to give up and throw away everything you’ve done than when you only did the outlines.
In other words: TAKE. YOUR. TIME. >.>
Actually, the eyes are traced just like any other part of the image, but you really have to make sure you trace as closely as possible. Don’t rush anything and you should be fine.
Also, the elipse tool is your friend (“U” or the button right next to the pen tool) since almost all eyes are oval-shaped.
Now, for some “advanced” options. These is basically some stuff I find pretty useful to use during tracing.
First of all there is the “subtract from shape area” option.
It works exactly the same as the add option, but as the name implies, it removes stuff instead of add it.
It’s really simple. Select the pen tool and the subtract option, and then select an area within an already existing shape layer. This is probably the best way to trace eyes.
Use the ellipse tool to make a solid black oval. Then use the ellipse tool again, but this time in subtract mode, and place a smaller oval inside the bigger one. And voilá: a perfectly shaped eye.
You’ll probably need to manually make it fit the trace though, but using this method gives much better results than doing eyes by hand.
Behold the power of subtraction:
Another vital tool you need to “master”, is ctrl+t =) (or “free transform path” in the edit drop-down button at the top of the screen)
This makes you do all kinds of really nice manipulating of a shape without touching the anchor points (like rotating and resizing); I mainly use this for the eyes.
Take for example an oval. Use the ellipse tool to make one, then select it and press ctrl+t.
You’ll now see a box around it. Try messing around with it for a bit. This is the best way to learn its abilities.
One thing you might want to know though: To exit the free transform mode, you need to press enter.
Note: If you get a box around all your shapes in your current layer if you press ctrl+t, you need to use the convert point tool to select a single shape first.
Lastly, you can also add certain effects to layers. You do this by double-clicking on the layer in the layers window, and then mess around with the options Razz You can make stuff glow, give it outlines and stuff like that. I’ll leave it up to you to discover what everything does.
Keep in mind that effects increase the file size quite a bit.
That’s about it for “advanced” options.
(I should really think of a better word than advanced, it sounds so… bleh)
Final notes, hints and updates.
Well, now you should be done with tracing your first image.
Mine ended up like this:
Since I didn’t really like the dark colors (this screenshot was taken in a dark scene) I made another screenshot with Coco in normal daylight, and used the colors from that image for my trace.
I also made some minor adjustments here and there, especially to the nose/mouth/chin. And I’m still not satisfied with the eyes, but I don’t think I ever have…
Anyway, once you’re done it’s time to save your image. Make sure your original image doesn’t show and then save it as a .png file. Why .png and not .jpg? Don’t worry about that, just save it as .png Razz
Then also save it as a .psd (photoshop) file somewhere, in case you need/want to change a couple of minor things later.
Congratulations on your first trace.Now go upload it somewhere and show it off to your friends.
Here are a couple of the more important things summed up:
1 – Don’t rush anything. Tracing takes time if you want to do it properly. No matter how good you are, you will always be busy for at least an hour or two.
2 – Resize your images to something like 2000+ pixels. This’ll make tracing a lot easier. Don’t overdo it though, because it will make the image too blurry. (Not to mention the file size will be huge)
3 – Don’t be afraid to mess around with your monitor’s brightness and contrast settings if you cannot see the outlines properly.
4 – Don’t be afraid to guess and try stuff out. If you can’t see the outlines, go be creative. It won’t hurt you. Also, trying out something new once in a while isn’t a bad thing either, you never know what might happen.
5 – And most importantly… STAY AWAY FROM SUNFLOWERS AT ALL COSTS!
Here’s a bit of background for those very few people interested in me:
I started tracing early 2004. I had never used photoshop before and had absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing. I had read a simple tutorial, but it didn’t really contain a lot of information, so I had to figure out a lot of stuff on my own.
I think I probably tried nearly a dozen different ways of tracing before I wrote this tutorial, and I will probably keep trying new methods for as long as I trace.
You can view some of my older stuff here:
[ LINK ]
In case it wasn’t obvious, the images under “by Unmei” are mine. <.< And while you’re there, hug Sako for me.
I hope this tutorial isn’t too vague (I suck at explaining stuff) and that it’ll make people enjoy tracing as much as I do.
Lastly, please don’t use this tutorial anywhere except Virtual Infusion or Ferricorp without giving me credit for it. Thank you and have fun <.<
Well, that's it folks.