Introduction: Drawing Vector Portraits on Inkscape

Picture of Drawing Vector Portraits on Inkscape

This instructable should [hopefully] show you how to turn a photograph of someone into a smooth, vector graphic. It is a technique that i picked up from a tutorial walkthrough, and since i read it i have edited it to make it more my style. It takes al lot of time and effort, but it produces a great end result. Please read all of the captions, they will tell you what to do.

Step 1: What You Need

Picture of What You Need

-Inkscape. I don't expect for you to know much about inkscape, i will explain the tools etc. as we go. If you don't have inkscape, you can download it for free.
- A computer
-A photo of a person. Try to make it a face photo for your first picture. If you can, crop it so that    it is a bust, with only a small amount of clothing showing. This will make it far easier.
- Time (a fair amount)
- Patience. Lots and LOTS of patience

Step 2: Begin

Picture of Begin

First of all you need to open your picture in inkscape. Make sure that your photo is not blurry, not too small, and properly lit so that you can see the features. Inkscape is a vector graphics program, you can read more about it here. For more about vector graphics in general, you can see it here. It is important to know that inkscape doesn't work like Paint. For example, you can't just use a paintbrush tool and draw a line. It uses mathematical equations to create simple 'objects' which are geometric. Inkscape also uses paths. I will mention paths quite a lot here, as we use them for most of the picture. 

Step 3: Make the Face

Picture of Make the Face

Now that you have your photo open, we need to make a layer for the face. This layer doesn't include any features, it is just the base of the face. The eyes, nose and mouth etc. will come later. 

[P.S.- i apologize in advance that this step is so long, it is easy, but i am explaining everything. The other steps won't be so long :)]  

To create that layer, we first need to open the Layer editor. At the top, there is a horizontal toolbar. The icon that shows the sheets of paper stacked on top of each other is the Layer icon, click on it. The layer editor will come up on the right hand side of the screen. To create our new layer, click on the green + icon in the layer editor. A small window should pop up in the middle of the screen, asking what you want to name the layer and where the layer should be placed. We just need to worry about the name, so as the name type in 'Face'.

You now have a layer called face which is automatically placed above the photo. As long as we stick to this layer (frequently check the layer editor to make sure that you are on this layer. The layer that you are currently working on will be hi-lighted) then we will not create anything joined to the photo. It is important to make sure that it is in the right layer, as when we remove the photo, anything linked to it will also be moved, which we DO NOT WANT. 

Now we are going to make a path around the outline of the face. To do this, we will use the Bezier Curve tool. Select the Bezier Curve tool from the left side toolbar (see image below). This tool is really handy, and we will be using it A LOT in this instructable.

To use this tool, pick any spot around the outline of the face in your photo. We are going to trace around the outline of the face, then fill it with a gradient fill in the color of their flesh. Click on the spot. It makes this spot the beginning of the path. At the end, we will join it up to make an object. The bezier tool will draw a straight line connecting the current location of your mouse and the place which you just clicked. So move your mouse to another point near the starting point, about an inch away. If you have a steep curve, make it closer. We want to keep as much to the outline as possible. Keep doing this all around the outline of the face. When you get to the ear (if it is visible) just pretend that it isn't there, and imagine what the face will look like underneath the ear and continue. When you reach the hair, DO NOT just trace the hairline. make the face so that it goes about halfway over the hair (see images). Finally, connect the last line to the beginning to make the object.

You will notice that it is made entirely of straight lines. But we want the lines to curve, so we are going to do something called editing its nodes. Remember how we traced the face by clicking around it? Every click formed something called a node. These nodes let you edit the path you drew. You can drag them to edit the two lines on either side of them. But right now, we want to smooth them out so that we have a flowing shape. And with this tool, it is easy to do this. First,  we need to select all of the nodes that we want to smooth out. There probably won't be any that you don't want to smooth now, but if in the future there are any that you want to keep angular you can in this way. First, click on the second icon down on the left toolbar. Then, select the face. Press Ctrl-A to select all of the nodes. If there are any that you don't want to smooth right now, hold shift and click on the nodes to stay sharp. Now that you have the desired nodes selected, click on the tenth icon on the top toolbar. It shows a smooth curve. It will automatically smooth out the nodes. Now we have a smooth outline of the face, and all that is left is to fill it.

To fill it, you need to know about the Fill and Stroke icon. Each object that you create has a fill and a stroke. The stroke is the line around the outside of the object. You do not need a stroke for this face, but if you did you can edit its with, colour, and effect. The fill is the area inside the stroke. So we will click on the icon on the top toolbar with the brush painting. It will oped the fill and stroke tools in a box similar to the layer one. Pick a colour from the colour wheel that is as close to the persons face as possible in the fill area. Then on stroke, click the X up the top to select no stroke. And the face is done!

Step 4: The Eyes

Picture of The Eyes

Now we have to make a new layer to accommodate the facial features. So repeat the same process of making a new layer, except this time call it 'Facial Features'. Keeping the layer editor open, click on the eye icon next to the Face layer. The eye will now appear to be closed, and the layer is hidden. Make sure that you are working on the facial features layer, and get out your bezier curve tool that we were working on before. Now with the bezier curve tool, trace around the outline of the eye just like we did before with the face. Then go onto nodes again, select all, and smooth out the ones that need smoothing. The eye will have points that you don't need to smooth, and if you make any mistakes,
Ctrl-Z undoes anything. 

Next we have to fill in the eye with white. You may notice that eyes aren't always perfect white, so just pick a colour in the Fill and Stroke that resembles eye colour. Want eyelashes? Bezier some eyelash shapes, smooth them out and fill with black. Now, you don't see an eye with no iris and no pupul, do you? So we are going to use our circle/ellipse tool on the left toolbar. It is easy to find, it shows a picture of a circle.  Making sure that you are on the facial features layer, then click and drag the mouse over where you want to draw the circle. You can edit the circle too; go onto the pointer icon on the left toolbar, click on the circle, and drag the arrows. You can play around with the size a bit here, anything can be undone. Once you are happy, go onto the Fill and Stroke. While on the Fill,you will see a little icon at the top of the Fill and Stroke box showing a radial gradient. Click on it, and then click on edit. At the top, click on the box that says Stop _____. If you drag down, it has two 'stops'. One has the transparency (grey checkers) pattern on it; click on the one with the transparency. Change the opacity to 100%. It used to be on 0%. Change one of the stops to the colour of their eyes, and the other one to a slightly darker colour. Now you should have an iris which has a gradient. If you like, you can make it look more like the iris by adding a bit of detail. Grab your bezier curve tool, and draw a shape like the one below. Then, on Fill and Stroke, take away the stroke, make the fill black, and turn the opacity right down. Repeat the process for the other eye.  If you like, draw some eyelashes with the bezier tool and make them black. By now, you should be familiar with that tool, and if you want to add anything you should know how to. 

Step 5: The Eyebrows

Picture of The Eyebrows

On the layer Facial Features, get out your bezier tool if it isn't already there and trace over the eyebrows. Again (you will be used to it by now) select all of the nodes that you want to edit and smooth them out. Next, make the eyebrows the persons hair colour and decrease their opacity. If you like, put a bit of blur into the eyebrows.

Step 6: The Nose

Picture of The Nose

Everyone (with the possible exception of Voldemort) has a nose, and so will our picture. Get out the bezier tool if it isn't already out, and once again, trace around the outline of the nose. As the nose probably won't join, when you want the line to end, press Enter. Select all of the noses nodes (LOL) and smooth those things out. We want our nose to have a stroke, but one close to the colour of the face. So on the Layers panel, show the face layer by clicking on the icon of the closed eye next to the layer name. Then, click on the nose, open Fill and Stroke, and set the stroke to a colour a bit darker than the flesh colour. Then simply draw two nostrils with the bezier tool and fill them a dark colour, but NOT black.  Remember, we are making this as realistic as possible, and real nostrils aren't pure black. And now we have a nose!

Step 7: The Mouth

Picture of The Mouth

Now for the most important part of the face; the mouth. Making sure that we are on our facial feature layer, bezier around the top lip. Smooth out any unnecessary points. For the mouth we want to have a more 3D effect to make the lips stand out. If you like, you can simply fill the lip with the desired lip colour. But for the perfectionists of you (including me) we will put a gradient fill like we did for the eyes. Except this time, we will use a linear gradient. So on the Fill and Stroke panel set the stroke to none, and on the fill click on the linear gradient icon. If you have any doubts about what icon you are about to click on, hover the mouse over it and it will tell you what it is. The gradient will automatically make it a gradient from transparent to opaque, and from left to right. This is not what we want! We want to have a vertical gradient, and we want both of the gradient colours opaque, one a slightly different colour to the other. SO to acheive this, click on the Edit button. Again, a window will pop up with the gradient settings. Like we did with the iris, click on the stop button and change the transparent stop to opaque. Change the colours to the colour of their lip for the first, and a darker colour. That solves the first problem. To solve the second problem, go onto the nodes editor. You will notice that now there is a straight line going from left to right with a little circle at each end. This edits our gradient. Drag the circles so that the one that controls the paler stop is at the top, and that the other one is at the bottom. Now repeat the process for the bottom lip. If you have teeth, do these with the bezier tool and fill them with an off white colour. If you want to add a gradient, feel free to. Just make sure that the teeth are all below the lips. You can do this by clicking the button on the top toolbar (see below). Now your portrait has a mouth! If only it could talk...

Step 8: The Hair

Picture of The Hair

For the hair, we want a new layer. So, we want that layer panel open so that we can make that new layer. Lets be original and call that layer Hair. Wow. Back onto topic, everyone needs hair. So using our well loved bezier curve tool, we will draw a simple outline of the hair. The thing about hair is that it has lots of hilights and lowlights, so it is NOT about to be depicted as a flat, single coloured BLOB. We are going to begin by drawing a flat, single coloured blob and then add some hi lights and lowlights until we have gorgeous, stylized hair. This step will change depending on what your subjects hair looks like. But in theory, bezier around the general outline of the hair. You can make it more elaborate than the persons actual hair if you like; use your imagination. Ever wondered what you would look like with pink hair? As this is going to be stylized, do lots of curves and points. Once you are happy with the hair and have coloured it with fill and stroke, we will add hilights and lowlights by making bezier streaks (like below), colouring them either black or white (white for hilights, black for lowlights) and severely decreasiong their opacity. Draw a few until you like the result.

Step 9: The Neck

Picture of The Neck

This is probably the easiest step. Make a layer underneath the Face layer and name it Neck. Bezier around the persons neck and smooth it out. Fill it with roughly the same colour as the face and set the stroke to none. We have a neck!

Step 10: The Clothes

Picture of The Clothes

I don't know what your persons clothes look like. Really, i can't read minds. So i will just give you a basic rundown of the concepts of doing the clothes. After making a new layer called Clothes, try to imagine the clothes as layers. Break it up in your head. For instance, on the bottom there is shirt background. On top of that there is logo. On top of that there is jacket. On top of that is zip etc. Then bezier around each shape, doing them in order. Fill them with appropriate colours, changing them as you wish. And now, all we need are shadows! 

Step 11: Shadows

Picture of Shadows

This is relatively easy to do. Create a layer that is below face and above neck and clothes called Shadows. We will just do a simple shadow with our bezier tool under the head on the neck. Fill this with a black and lower the opacity and...SHADOW COMPLETE!

Step 12: Note

When you save this, be careful of what you save it as! If you want to be able to edit it, save it as an .svg, if you want to make it unchangeable (and also a bitmap) save it as a .png (thanks AlternateLives).  I would also strongly suggest that you save as you go, i have learnt from experience that it is depressing when you lose half an hours hard work all because of failing to save.

Step 13: Background

Picture of Background

To finish off your picture, make a layer called Background, then make a simple background. In my photo, i am at the beach, so i did a beach landscape. This really gives effect. And now you are done!

These are some more that i have done in this style.


gravityisweak (author)2013-12-26

I think it's important to note that when vectorizing a photo you should consider a face that is looking directly at the camera. Since you are taking away all the shading and detail it makes it difficult to tell that the face in your example is turned. As a result it looks like one side of the face is quite a bit larger than the other. Its easy to tell why in the photo version, but to me it looks awkward when vectorized.

unables (author)2013-08-19

Excellent instructions.

aduy (author)2013-05-13

I did this a while back, same Technic, lots of fun haha. i hate paul watson so i did him in my own eyes

aduy (author)aduy2013-05-13

I also did peter

nejo0017 (author)2011-01-23

really nice instructable. I've just followed your steps and it looks great within minutes. thanks for this technique.

AlternateLives (author)2011-01-10

Interesting. I'll have to try my "Animenize a photo" instructable this program. I like it!

I disagree about the file format to export in, however. .jpg is a lossy format, meaning that you lose some quality in the export. this is fine for desktop or web applications, however.

.png is a better format, because it is lossless. you retain all of your quality, making it perfect for photo and video production. It also saves an alpha channel, allowing you to make the background transparent.

If you want an example of this, create a small picture in paint. save two copies, one as a .jpg, one as a .bmp. I guarantee you will get some artifacting (blended pixels) in the .jpg file.

Cool, thanks for the advice

CrLz (author)2011-01-07

Nice transforms.

spectacular (author)CrLz2011-01-08


About This Instructable




Bio: Hi, I'm Olivia, or you may say I'm spectacular. I love music, I play guitar and sing as well as playing a little ... More »
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