Introduction: Digital Portraits Made Easy

Picture of Digital Portraits Made Easy

A portrait of a loved one created by you is something truly special.
It's also something quite easy to achieve with a little practice and a couple of tricks to help you through it.

In this Instructable I will take you step-by step through the process I use to make these great pictures.

Step 1: What You Need

Picture of What You Need

All you need is...

  • The photo you want to work from
  • Your favourite art-making program/app
  • Some optional but time-saving graphic assets from Creative Market

As far as the program/app goes, anything capable of using multiple layers is good for this project.
It depends on the style you want and what you're comfortable with.

For smooth vector art you would want something like Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Draw, otherwise there are raster based programs like Photoshop, Corel Painter and Procreate to name a few.
If you need something free, there's always Gimp.

Note: an input other than a regular mouse (like a Wacom tablet or touch screen) is highly recommended.

Step 2: Setting Up the Photo

Picture of Setting Up the Photo

Open your program of choice, in my case it will be Adobe Draw.

Insert the photo you want to work from and lower the opacity to around 50%.
This is so we can clearly see the lines as we trace them.

Step 3: Tracing Time!

Picture of Tracing Time!

Create a new layer above the photo and grab your favourite brush.
Start tracing the main outlines in.

Choosing the right lines is the trick here and you will get a feel for it rather quickly with some practice.
In my experience, choosing the right lines to leave out speaks louder than choosing which ones to put in.

Step 4: Colour

Picture of Colour

Time to spice things up a bit with some colour!

Create another layer, placing it underneath the outlines you just drew

Pick a good mid-tone colour, this will be for the base skin tone.
If you want help finding a colour scheme to use, check out Colour Lovers for some awesome suggestions.

Throw in your skin tone.

Step 5: Shadows

Picture of Shadows

Create another layer or two depending on how many shades you want to use in your shadows.
In this case, I used three different colours for my darks.

Place the layers above your base skin tone but still under the outlines layer.

Trace in the contours for the shadows and then fill them in.

Step 6: Highlights

Picture of Highlights

Create yet another layer, above every layer except the outlines.
This is where we will put in the highlights which will really bring your picture to life

I used white for my colour and lowered its opacity a bit.

Be sparing with the highlights and choose your lines carefully, a little goes a long way.

Step 7: Background

Picture of Background

Let's add in a background.

Perhaps you need the picture done in a hurry, the receiver of this gift has a birthday tomorrow.
Save yourself some time and effort and check out Creative Market for some pre-made graphic assets to use.
The freebies can be found here.

I chose to use this picture as a background, it works really well with my subject.

Step 8: Finished!

Picture of Finished!

All that's left to do is sit back and revel in your artistry!
But not before ruining your work by signing with your horrible pen name.

Thanks for reading, I hope this Instructable got your creative juices flowing.
If you have any questions leave a comment, I'd love to help and if I can't I'm sure someone else in there will.
Peace out.


Pooknuckle (author)2015-07-23

This won a good place in the competition.

Humongous thanks to everyone who viewed, liked and voted.

Pooknuckle (author)2015-06-28

I'm unable to reply to every comment, but please be assured that I'm thankful for every kind word you people have given me.

New life mission: To prove to everyone who says "I can't draw" that they can.

More Instructables coming soon.

jayeff (author)2015-06-25

Great instructable! Did you use a graphics tablet and pen or just a mouse to do the tracing?

Pooknuckle (author)jayeff2015-06-25

Thanks for the kind words!

Thanks for the question, too. Can't believe I forgot to mention this.

For this one I used Adobe Draw on my iPad. Touch screens give good control and make things much easier. I also use an old Wacom tablet on my PC which is almost as natural to use with a little practice.

I do suggest using an input other than mouse, which can be really difficult.

pachytrance (author)2015-12-29

you're the man

jerorc made it! (author)2015-07-23

Thx for your instructable. It makes me want to try it with my mouse, Photoshop CS2 and a lot of spare time... (I don't draw and I'm self-taught with Photoshop)

First I used the cutout artistic filter to give me "master lines" and then I used the brush to smooth and massively improve the result. The most difficult was hair as you say.

You was right, working with a family portrait is special and help me a lot to forget the time it takes ! Good instructable !

Here my job result :

computurwizard (author)2015-07-17

Another really good full-featured FREE program that supports vector layers and tablets is "Paint Tool Sai". If you are looking for a program that is decently priced and has more bells and whistles than you'll ever use, Manga Studio 5 is pretty darn sweet. It's about $40 (there is an EX version you won't need unless you are publishing graphic novels for a few hundred).

Actually, last time I checked, SAI was not free (unless you count the 31 day free trial). Maybe you're thinking about inkscape or gimp?

Yup, you're right. Sorry for any misinformation, I should've checked first. I use MS5 myself.

It's okay. I do wish it was free, though! ;)

aartcritique made it! (author)2015-07-21

Hi! First off, wonderful instructable and congrats on making it
to the finals!

For those of you wondering about tracing and if it helps, I
started out tracing photos as well. It can definitely be hard for a budding digital artist to do anything much on a computer or
tablet, but just tracing the outlines of photographs can improve
your control over the stylus, finger, or mouse. I recommend
reading books on digital art and the program of your choice to
help you get an idea of what it is capable of.

I use GIMP and a mouse for all of my digital art. Due to my extra spending money mostly going to traditional art supplies like pencils, I
never did get a graphics tablet or a hardcore art program, though I now also have Photoshop. It was hard at first to use the mouse
as an art tool, but steadying exercises, such as this one, are a
great help.

To use it, open this image in your program of choice and make a
new layer. On the new layer, draw a white line over the thickest
line, trying to keep it as steady and centered as possible. Do this
a few times a day, gradually working your way down to the
thinnest line. It won't happen overnight, so don't get discouraged
if it's all over the place on your first try. Keep on keeping on and
you will eventually get the hang of it. If you get aggravated,
take a break and come back after you've cooled off - your art
will likely never look good if you draw it while in a bad mood.

Here are three images showing a sort of timeline. The first one I drew some time around 2009. The second one was finished around 2011-2012 (I traced a little for it). The last one is something that I completed today.

The point of this super-long comment? To say that, if you really set your mind to it and practice a lot, you CAN do it, even if you only have a mouse and a free art program!

redscrubsin made it! (author)2015-07-02

So, i feel super shy about showing this here, but i read some comments that said this is too difficult and i just want to show that it's not the case at all. This did take me some time, because i don't have a touchscreen anywhere else but my phone. So, i downloaded the PhotoSuite Pro app and did it on my phone! This is the first time i've ever used a graphics type of program, so it took about a day to learn it and then a day to make this picture of my friend. She's an Archer fan, and she looks kind of Archer-ized to me, so... Here she is. Thanks again for this Instructable! You definitely have my vote. I hope you win!7

bwilliam213 (author)redscrubsin2015-07-14

Oh my gosh! I love the Archer type style! That was the first thing I thought of when I saw your picture. Great job!

Pooknuckle (author)redscrubsin2015-07-03

That's great, especially for a first time!

Thanks for sharing!

atul ahire (author)2015-07-09

good work !..........Thanks for sharing!

mhummelt (author)2015-06-28

As a great open source alternative to illustrator I would add inkscape rather then trying this style with raster based programs like gimp or even photoshop.

greasy fingers (author)mhummelt2015-07-08

I second this I've seen some amazing vectors come out of inkscape

Pooknuckle (author)mhummelt2015-06-28

I'll add inkscape to the list later of if I'm able to edit my post.

Thanks for the heads up, slipped my mind.

Digital Flame (author)2015-07-03

Wow that's incredible, the hair is brilliant! I would try with Photoshop but that make take a long time with the pen tool and I don't have a steady hand! You said you used an iPad, its amazing how you got the lines so flowing and smooth!

Pooknuckle (author)Digital Flame2015-07-03

Thanks. I've seen your stuff around, you do nice work.

I never used to stray from my raster programs like photoshop but it's worth getting into the world of vector for the smoothness. My hand isn't as steady as my lines are.

kasperfish (author)2015-07-02

wow very nice! I will try this but I think it will not be easy. I voted!

Pooknuckle (author)kasperfish2015-07-03

The method is easy, the rest comes with practice. Good luck.

Thanks for the comment and vote!

EvolvedAwesome (author)2015-07-02

You make it look easy! Good Job :)

Thanks. Its a nice, simple process.

Victor Does (author)2015-07-02

Really nice work! :)

Pooknuckle (author)Victor Does2015-07-03

*tips hat*

Keshav24 (author)2015-07-02

great just voted !!!

Pooknuckle (author)Keshav242015-07-03


azharz (author)2015-07-01

One of the best instructable I've seen after a long time.

Pooknuckle (author)azharz2015-07-03

I really appreciate that, thank you.

ecsaul23 (author)2015-06-30

Awesome work! Looks great! voted, good luck!

Pooknuckle (author)ecsaul232015-07-01

More votes! You're awesome, thank you.

Raphango (author)2015-06-30

Great work! Next time you could make a portrait of him smiling =D

Pooknuckle (author)Raphango2015-07-01

Thank you.

He was very quietly concentrating on something, wanted to remember that silence.

Drfranke (author)2015-06-29


Pooknuckle (author)Drfranke2015-07-01

Thanks, thanks, thanks!

Drfranke (author)2015-06-29


Drfranke (author)2015-06-29


Isfaaq (author)2015-06-29

which software did you use?

Pooknuckle (author)Isfaaq2015-06-29

Step 2, bro. Adobe Draw.

Robert_Hatalla (author)2015-06-29

Great job. Such good work on the hair, My hair never looks realistic. Very Talented you are.

Thank you.

A trick that boosted my hair-drawing skills was to treat the hair as a large shape to be filled in. Starting out "low-poly", leaving details like loose hairs until the end. Sounds obvious and too simple, but to actively remind myself of it pays off.

Don't know if that helps you or not, but I wanted to share anyway.

redscrubsin (author)2015-06-28

Just gorgeous! I don't even know how long I've been enjoying this site, but this is the tutorial that finally made me go pro, so I can save it forever.

Amazing work.

Pooknuckle (author)redscrubsin2015-06-29

Thanks so much! People like you have me wanting to make more.

ckallab (author)2015-06-28

nice tips ! I always struggle when it comes to shading. You made things clear for me thx!

also what time of stylus are you using ?

Pooknuckle (author)ckallab2015-06-28

I'm glad I helped!

As for the stylus, I used my finger for this one, on an iPad.

I have an Adonit Jot which is better for writing and a Nomad brush more suited for digital painting, neither of which were better than a finger for this type of thing.

For the PC nothing much beats a Wacom.

ckallab (author)Pooknuckle2015-06-28

your finger ?! impressive ! I always blame my cheap bic stylus lol.

Pooknuckle (author)ckallab2015-06-28

I have trouble with the black foam tipped styluses (stylii?), maybe you're right to blame it :)

40wolvesadancing (author)2015-06-28

I'm not trying to dash anyone's hopes here but this is something that takes a lot of practice to do.. let alone do well. I am a graphic designer and I can do this but this is not a quick process by any means. and using a pen tool or the tracing tool is something that I sent as obvious as it would seem.. its deffinitly nothing like tracing on paper.

I suggest that if you plan on attempting this you should first start off by practicing the pen tool first on some simpler shapes.. just to get a feel and an understanding of how it functions.

Good recommendation! Anyone who wants to draw (especially digital drawing) should practice and get comfortable with the tools they'll use.

...same goes for any worthwhile endeavour in life.

This pic took me about 2 hours, writing the instructable was a much lengthier process.

About This Instructable




Bio: Artist/Illustrator/Cartoonist
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