Photoshop Illustration Effect: Transforming a Photo

Photoshop can help you make any photo look like an illustration. The Photoshop illustration process is definitely much simpler than drawing the illustration yourself. In a matter of minutes, you can use an existing image and some quick manipulations to fool the viewer. However, understand that this is not simulating a pencil or marker illustration, but a graphic illustration. So, the results will look minimally chromatic with crisp edges.

Step 1: Consider Your Photo

No matter what, this effect is going to make the colors in your photo more vibrant. Thankfully, this is in line with our objective to simulate an illustration. It would be difficult for someone creating an illustration to blend many different color tones, or muddle the contrast. So even though the effect will get you there, you do not want to give away the trick by choosing a photo that would never be illustrated. For example, a gloomy landscape would not read well as a graphic illustration. Find something with more contrast potential, and you will enjoy the results.

Step 2: Blur Your Photo

Open the photo you have chosen in Photoshop. Luckily, you will not need to create tons of layers and meld them in several different ways. This can be done merely with your background layer. In order to reduce the number of shades that make up your photo, we are going to blur it quite a bit. "Smart Blur" works well because it will blur similar pixels in proximity of each other without losing sharp edges between extremely dis-similar colors. To access this filter, go to the "Filter" drop-down, choose "Blur", and select "Smart Blur".  The window that pops up provides you with a preview to observe what you are doing. Slide both the "Radius" and "Threshold" bars all the way to 100. If you are looking at a person, then all the blemishes will suddenly disappear into a highly diffuse skin tone. Keep the "Quality" high and set the "Mode" to normal. Hit OK.

Step 3: Sharpen the Edges

The previous step made the whole image very soft.  This is important as an intermediate step. It may seem contradictory, but now we are going to sharpen the whole thing. However, since we have already softened it, the sharpening will come out even cleaner. Go to "Filter", select "Sharpen", and choose "Unsharp Mask". What this will do is remove any "unsharp" pixels from your image. Play with the "Amount" slider to find something that works for you. Note that if you go higher than 100%, you start to lose way too much, so keep an eye on that preview screen. The "Radius" can be pretty high; try something around 80. Leave the Threshold at 0. When you finish, you should have a pretty well simulated illustration.

As with many effects, the source material needs to come through the process with the final product in mind. Though this is simple, strong results can only be reached with due consideration.

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