Introduction: Cross-stitch Pattern in Photoshop (with Symbols!)

Picture of Cross-stitch Pattern in Photoshop (with Symbols!)

This is how to make a cross-stitch pattern with symbols representing colors in photoshop!

First we will prepare your original image by lowering the resolution, so that one pixel represents one cross, and lower the number of colors so that you can use a limited number of yarns.

Next we apply the grid.

After that I will show you how to replace individual colors with symbols.

This is good because you can print the pattern in black and white, and also because you can see the difference between similar colors.

This technique can of course be used to make decorations and gifts for the holidays, and other occasions!

Update: Here are two examples. The mario image has 5x5px square size and my complete bird montage pattern has 20x20px square size ( full size color, full size symbols)

Step 1: Resize the Image

Picture of Resize the Image

First, of course, you crop the image so that you have an original that you want to use. Auto-levels and auto-contrast is always nice as well, and best to do before downsampling.

One way to lower the resolution is to use the filter "Mosaic". This is fine, but I don't really like it because it limits my control over the size of the final pattern. A much better way is to just resize the image to the desired number of stiches you want the final result to be (that way you also limit the number of total resizes to the image).

Measure the fabric and count the number of stitches you want the result to be.
Resize the image to that number of pixels
Then, resize it up again with 500% (I use 5px per square). Remember to use the "Nearest Neighbour" setting to preserve the edges. We want those!

Update: When resizing down the image, the only thing you are interested in is how many stiches wide and high your final product should be. Just insert those numbers in the "Pixel dimensions" (if it's greyed out, check the "Resample image" box). The resolution and document size makes no difference here.

Step 2: Index Colors

Picture of Index Colors

Now you want to reduce the number of colors. There are two main ways to do that, and the different techniques have different results depending on the original image.

The first way is to change the image mode to "Indexed Color" and limit the number of colors. Play with the number of colors and the dither settings to see what results you get with the different values. The key is to get the highest quality possible with the lowest number of colors.

Update: When you are satisfied with the result, you'll have to change back to RGB color mode to be able to do the last steps. The colors have already been discarded so now you can work in RGB mode.

The other way is to use the Posterize filter. Same here, try different numbers and see what you get.

You could also start by making a custom palette with the yarn colors you have availiable and choose that palette in the "Indexed Color" dialog... Maybe more applicable if you are using beads

(The mario image already had the perfect number of colors so no need to change anything there)

Step 3: Make the Grid

Picture of Make the Grid

The first thing to do here is to define a grid pattern. I used 5px squares, and I want every five lines to be heavier, so I made a new document with 25x25px, and drew four gray lines and one black in both planes. Remember to use a transparent background. Then define it as a pattern.

Now make a new layer above the original and fill it with your new grid pattern. Choose the Paint Bucket Fill Tool and select "Pattern" in the drop down, and use your new pattern. Then just click in the new empty layer to fill it with the pattern!

Next, you want to merge the grid layer and the original image layer.

Nice huh?

You could be satisfied here, but I am not. I once wanted to make a pattern out of a grayscale image using black, white and two shades of grey, but the greys were to hard to tell apart, so next I will explain how to replace colors with representing symbols. (also I have no color printer)

Step 4: Replacing Colors With Symbols

Picture of Replacing Colors With Symbols

Here is a good place to make a copy of your result. You will need it to identify the colors after they are replaced!

The first thing to do now is to define a few patterns to replace the colors with. They should be 5x5px and use only the top left 4x4 pixels, if you made the grid pattern the same as mine.

Next, make a new layer and place it behind the original image.

Fill this layer with one of your patterns.

Now, using the magic wand, select the color you want to replace (without Anti-alias, and with Tolerance 0 and non-Contiguous).

Clear the contents of the selection (delete/backspace) to let the pattern shine through.

Last but not least, you need to merge the two layers.

Now, repeat this with all the colors you need to replace and you are set!

If you want it to look better you could easily use bigger squares from start, and make a wider grid and symbols, but this is good enough for me.

That's all for now! Post your home made patterns in the comments so we can se what you do!

Get more of my ideas at my "craft, DIY and other ideas" blog!

Update: Here are two examples. The mario image has 5x5px square size and my complete bird montage pattern has 20x20px square size ( full size color, full size symbols)

Update 2: Here is a blog post with some finished embroideries I've made with these patterns.


GeekMonkey73 (author)2017-03-23

When I make a pattern using this tutorial, the colors don't always end up using solid squares of a grid. Is there a way to correct this short of going in and manually correcting each grid square?


If I understand you correctly, the grid pattern is not aligning correctly with the squares of the upscaled image. This could be for two reasons (that I can think of).. Either the size of the grid does not exactly match the scale of the image. If the grid has 5 pixel squares (icluding the grid line: 1px gridline and 4px transparent), the subject should be resized with 500% etc. Another option is that the grid pattern should have the gridlines top and left, or bottom and right, so that it covers change between colors.

If you have a grid pattern in a separate layer that does not align, you can move the whole pattern by pressing ctrl + arrow keys until it aligns.

Shinister made it! (author)2016-10-14

Great Tutorial, However!

If you want to save your self a HUGE load of time, you can go here and it will convert any image you choose into cross stitch patterns, for free. Complete with symbols for colours, You'll get a nice pdf download after that you can use on your tablet or ipad complete with everything you need to make awesome custom Stitch Work. Enjoy!

johanronstrom (author)Shinister2016-10-17

Interesting. I have also used "8-bit Photo Lab" for Android. I almost always have to do cropping and edits in photoshop anyway, so that site has much to little control for me (also annoying ads), but it definitely might help some!

EveK6 (author)2016-07-14

Could you add more detailed instructions for how to apply the grid pattern to the picture? I created the grid with no problem, saved it as a pattern as well. I just can't figure out how to add the pattern to the layer. There's no option for doing that when making the layer, and I tried applying it via the effects, pattern overlay, and could find the pattern, clicked on it, but it didn't show up anywhere accept in the effects box.

johanronstrom (author)EveK62016-07-15

This is done with the fill tool. I have updated the instructions with some details!

EveK6 (author)johanronstrom2016-07-16

Thank you! I did it! :-)

MollyK4 (author)2016-02-28

In the interest of calculating how much thread to buy: is there any way of counting how many there are of each symbol?

johanronstrom (author)MollyK42016-02-29

It should be possible! If you keep a copy of the image in the original size (where one pixel is one square), you can use the magic wand tool to select all pixels of a single color. Then I found this instruction for the number of pixels selected:

"Go to Image > Histogram. It will tell you at the bottom the number of pixels in the current selection, or the whole picture if none are selected."

You could also do this in the resized version of the image, and divide by 100 (for a 10x10 grid).

MollyK4 (author)johanronstrom2016-06-09

Thanks. I think I tried this early on, but I kept getting wrong answers (not that it won't work, I'm just new to photoshop and probably missed a setting somewhere). I ended up finding a count tool. I was just really confused because I kept getting the same number of pixels for nerely every color. It turns out photoshop runs out of fingers to count on at a fairly low number. I ended up dividing my pattern up into several smaller chunks and using the count tool on each of them. It was tedious, but doable. The count tool is under image -> analysis -> select data points -> uncheck everything but count -> wand select the color -> image -> analysis -> record measurements.

scout2moms (author)2016-06-06

Do you have to buy the premium first to do anything. I have clicked download a couple times and a popup comes up asking me to buy premium when I say no thanks it doesn't do anything else. I don't mind buying if it does what Im hoping it does. and I can figure it out.

johanronstrom (author)scout2moms2016-06-07

Hi! I think you can read the thing without premium, but they (instructables) seems too have PDF download as a Premium feature..

KarenR125 (author)2016-05-17

Wondering if there is analog to this process in Corel PaintShop Pro Photo X2. Can anyone help?

MollyK4 (author)2016-02-26

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! My sister had her eye on a cross-stitch kit that was $150. I bought the thread for $15 and then made my own pattern.

Tip for the person with the big pattern: I just made a 10x10 grid - with wider lines on the very top and very left lines - then filled a layer with the grid design the same way you do for the symbols (but on the front this time).

Also, I was getting kind of symbol blind by the time I was done. At the end, I added a new layer with the original color blocks, set it to black and white, and set it to 50% transparency. You could merge the two layers, but I kept it separate in case I wanted to turn them on and off separately.

The custom shape tool has some nice presets on patterns, too.

SharonG49 (author)2016-01-21

I'm STUCK on the last step. I get to the part of selecting the color I want to replace, and select it, and then from there I don't know what to do. The next step reads to merge the two layers. I do that and things don't look any different. My color is still there and I don't know where the pattern goes. Please help (I need step by step and where to find the buttons). My Photoshop is CS4

johanronstrom (author)SharonG492016-01-22

Hi! Have you created a layer behind it filled with the pattern? In that case the only thing you need to do is to select the color using the magic wand, and then press delete to remove that color, letting the pattern shine through instead. After that you merge.

I see now that this is missing from the instructions. Adding it now! Thanks! :-)

avaughn7 (author)2015-09-19

Thank you for this! I did want to add something as it did take some playing around to fully understand this tutorial (for me.) After I completed the grid part, I couldn't understand why some of my squares had pixels within the square of different color. I didn't have solid color squares in my grid.

One step to fix this, is when you change your index colors, make sure your "Options" has NONE, rather than dither. For some reason the "dither" was automatically set at 75%. When you change it to NONE, you will get complete and solid colors. That fixed THAT issue. (I didn't see that mentioned).

On another note, my ADD brain cannot wrap around doing the math needed to make the 5pixels/inch pattern to work for a latch hook pattern (usually 3.75 squares an inch). Anyone know how to do this? (To create the grid pattern, as well as how large would we have to magnify the image? 375%?)

DaisyJ1 (author)2015-03-07

Hello, I do not understand how did you do the steps of grid pattern. it seems somewhat absensce process.

johanronstrom (author)DaisyJ12015-03-09

Hi! You can define any new document as a pattern, and then overlay it by filling a new layer in the original document with that pattern.

So the steps are:
* Create a new document with the size of the pattern (I use 25x25px)
* Draw the grid lines in that document
* "Define as pattern" on the menu
* Go back to original document
* Create new layer
* Fill the new layer with the pattern you just defined

Hope this helps!
/ JohanR

Hi there,

Sorry, I still don't understand.
How do you 'draw the grid lines in that document'?
With the pen tool? With the guide lines? What do you actually do?

Love the rest of the instructions til here, easy and awesome, thanks :) x

Squallina (author)SamanthaDoll12015-05-13

I think I've fixed the ambiguity of the grid instructions.

- Make a new image that is 25x25px (should end up being 0.88cmx0.88cm)

- In the top menu, go to View and New Guide...

- Insert Vertical guides at 0 cm, 0.176cm, 0.352cm, 0.528cm, and 0.704cm

- Do the same for Horizontal guides

- If your guides are not showing up, click View and click Guides to put a tick next to it

- Go to View, Snap To, Guides

- Pick paintbrush at 1px

- Pick a dark grey color

- Draw the vertical lines by painting downwards in one stroke very close to the right side of the vertical guides

- Do the same for the horizontal lines by painting across in one stroke very close to the under side of the horizontal guides.

- Do the black lines by choosing black and painting down the right side of the first vertical guide, and painting across under the first horizontal guide.

- If you make a mistake, just hit Edit, Undo and try again.

- On the top menu, click Image, Rotate, Flip Vertical

- Click Image, Rotate, Flip Horizontal

- Click Edit, Define Pattern, and save the pattern.

That should do the job.

johanronstrom (author)Squallina2015-05-15

Hi! Yes, you could do it like this, or freehand like I did, witch is way faster for me. You can always hold the SHIFT key to draw exact straight lines.

I would advice though, that you change the unit from cm to pixels (right click the rulers, and change in document settings), and that you use the pencil or the line tool without antialiasing to get more exact lines.

Yes, with the pen, what you want is an image that looks something
like the document in the first picture in this step, 5x5 lines on a
transparent background. Just try something and you'll see how it behaves when you make it into a pattern!

joujayi (author)2015-03-23

zuzu72 (author)2015-03-13

twinklesocks (author)2014-05-06

Awesome Instructable, much more informative and customizable than other tutorials I've seen. I'm a little confused about the grid bit, and I'd like some advice. I plan on doing my chart on 16"x16" aida cloth with 14 stitches per inch, so my image size looks like 16 inches for height, 16 inches for width, and 14 pixels per inch. Working the resolution and colors down to a satisfactory image was fine, I'm just not sure what to do about the grid, because I think I'm working on a different scale than you are. What do you recommend for this? Because you used 25x25 for your 5 pixel grid, I used 196x196 for my 14 pixel grid, and drew on that. It did not work out. Any thoughts?

Kjata1013 made it! (author)2014-02-18

I just wanted to thank you. Because of this Instructable, I was able to make this tote for my Mom. My grandpa made a rug hooking for her in 1976 and she's cherished it. He passed away a couple of years ago, and she's been taking it hard. I wanted to duplicate his work on something portable to take with her while she's at chemo. Your structable helped me do just that. Thank you so, SO much!

Anykey (author)2011-06-16

Thank you for this instructable

But i've got one question : how do you convert RGB to thread color ?

johanronstrom (author)Anykey2011-07-10

There are a few different types of thread color codes.. here are some ways:

When doing 8-bit stuff (often 8-16-32 colors) I just write down "bright red, dark blue" etc. and go to the store and select one that I like. Or print on color printer and ask at the store.

Nimlet (author)johanronstrom2011-08-20

I created a color swatch with the DMC thread colors:

Hope it's helpful :-)

nita797 (author)2011-07-18

when you are resizing your photo before adding the grid what resolution should it be set to? right now I have my resolution set to 100pixels per inch is this correct?

johanronstrom (author)nita7972011-08-14

I just updated the instructuble to clear that out. Basicly, the resolution does not matter.

Fafnir956 (author)2011-04-18

How do you make one of these patterns? What tools do you have to use? I'm a bit of a novice, but am determined to make this cross-stitch pattern for my friend's wedding gift!

johanronstrom (author)Fafnir9562011-08-14

First I use photoshop, as in the steps provided, then I use thread and a needle on cross stitch fabric :-)

Good luck with your gift!

victimssun (author)2009-01-08

After I change it to Indexed Color, I can not do any more to it (such as add layers). I have to change it back to RGB to go to the next step, but then I loss my 100% indexed image. How do you do this?

johanronstrom (author)victimssun2009-01-08

You'll have to change back to RGB color to do the next changes. That is no problem though, since the "unwanted" extra colors have already been discarded. I will add that to the step!

Dev5994 (author)2008-12-21

you have a very nice typo there at the start of this step... you forgot to erase "Give a general description of the Step"

johanronstrom (author)Dev59942008-12-22

Thx! That's what happens when you're too fast to copy-paste.

iPodGuy (author)2008-12-21

My wife loves cross-stitch. Sometimes I make patterns for her, so this will help! Fav'd

marc.cryan (author)2008-12-21

that's really neat. Very clever. I love it when technology and old time crafts come together. I want to see a finished cross-stitch picture. This would work well for quilting patterns, knitting, crochet, etc.

8bit (author)2008-12-21


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