Turn your family photos into fun kids' coloring books for free! This simple tutorial will teach you how to turn any photograph into black and white outlines that you can print out at home. What better way to keep your kids entertained on a rainy day or a holiday weekend?

I used a free online image editing app called Pixlr to achieve this effect, but you can do much the same thing in other software, such as Photoshop or GIMP.

Of course, you don't need to use family photos. We'll even discuss how to insert your family members into exciting action scenes or far-flung landscapes. It's your coloring book, so you can choose the story! Even better, why not let the kids decide?

I'm going to talk through this process in a lot of detail, but that's only so that a complete beginner will feel comfortable. Don't be intimidated by the number of steps; you can actually complete the project in about 5 minutes!

Step 1: Choose a photo

The first thing you need to do is pick a photograph that you want to turn into a page in your coloring book. The best photos for this are ones that are in focus and have plenty of contrast between the different objects in the scene.

If you're planning to edit any of the people in your photo onto another background, it helps if the original photo is taken against a fairly plain background. For example, you could start by photographing your kids fiercely brandishing toy swords in front of a blank wall, then edit them onto a pirate ship background later!

Save whichever photos you want to use to an easy-to-find file on your computer.

Step 2: Open Pixlr

Now that you've taken your photo, the next step is to go to www.pixlr.com

Pixlr is a free online app that lets you edit photos without having to download any software or pay any fees. It's extremely easy to use, but also sophisticated enough to let you achieve some astonishing photo effects.

Click where it says "Open photo editor" then click on "Open image from computer" and select the photo you want to use.

Step 3: A quick overview of Pixlr's layout

You should see something that looks like this, with your own photo visible. Let's quickly look at what we've got.

On the right, you'll see a box labelled Navigator. This lets you zoom in and out of the photo and move around when you're zoomed in.

Below that is Layers. This is one of Pixlr's cleverest features. Pixlr lets you stack multiple images on top of each other, then edit them all individually, a bit like making a collage. In this collage, however, you can choose to make the different layers change size, become transparent, or even act as complex filters for the layers below them. Don't worry, we'll come back to that.

Under that is History, which just shows a list of all the recent actions you've performed in Pixlr. If you've made a mistake, you can skip back in your History to before you made it. Think of it as having multiple Undo buttons.

OK, you're now a Pixlr pro! We're all set to get editing!

Step 4: Make it black and white

The first change we'll make to our photo is to turn it into a black and white image. Do this by selecting Adjustment --> Desaturate.

Step 5: Duplicate the layer

Now we're going to make a second layer which is an identical copy of our black and white image. Right-click on Background in the Layers palette and select Duplicate layer.

You should now see a new layer called Background copy.

Step 6: Invert the new layer

Now we're going to turn the new layer into a negative of the original image. You can do this by selecting Adjustment --> Invert.

Step 7: Fancy trickery

Now it's time for some cleverness with layers. Click on the little box with two arrows in the bottom left corner of the layers palette. This should make the advanced layer settings (Opacity and Mode) visible.

At the moment, the layer called Background copy should by in Normal mode. Use the drop-down menu to change it to Add mode. Everything in your image should turn white. Don't panic! That's what we wanted.

Step 8: Blur the top layer

Select Filter --> Gaussian blur...

A slider called Amount should appear. Try dragging this back and forth to see what happens. The outline of your image should become visible, starting as a thin tracing when Amount is low and turning into softer, thicker strokes as you increase it.

Adjust the slider to a medium point at which you can clearly tell what the image is, but the lines appear neither pencil-thin nor extremely soft and blurry.

Step 9: Flatten the image

Now we're going to squash the image back down to a single layer. Right-click on the top layer (Background copy) and select Merge down. You should now see a single layer in the palette.

Step 10: Use Levels to adjust the softness

Your image probably still looks faint and a bit fuzzy, so we're going to turn all those shades of gray into crisp blacks and whites using the Levels tool.

Select Adjustment --> Levels. A graph like this should appear.

Step 11: Move the black slider

The graph should look like a steep hill with three sliders underneath it. Move the black slider most of the way to the right, so it sits just at the base of the hill, before it becomes very steep. You should see your image darken dramatically.

Step 12: Move the other sliders

Now drag the gray and the white sliders as far to the left as possible without moving the black slider. All of the gray tones should turn white, leaving a very clear outline in black and white. Play around with the sliders until you're happy with the outcome.

Congratulations! You've made your coloring book image!

Step 13: Save and print

Save your new image and print it out!

Tips on saving: Sometimes Pixlr will save an image without putting the .jpg extension at the end of it. When you save an image to your computer, quickly try opening it in another window. If you cannot open it, save it again but this time type .jpg at the end of the name.

Step 14: That wasn't so complicated!

I know that was a lot of steps, but in fact all we've done is perform six very simple changes to our photo. If you look at the History box, you'll be able to see exactly what you've done.

Step 15: Advanced lessons

Now for some real fun! Once you're comfortable with creating coloring book images from your photos, you can start to mix and match different elements to make fantastic or ridiculous images from multiple photos. I'll talk you through an example of my own.

I thought our volunteer enjoy having a thrilling adventure story to color in, so I decided to put him on a desert island with a treasure chest. A quick Google search for beach and treasure chest revealed some useful images, which I saved and opened in Pixlr.

Step 16: Turn your images into outlines

I performed exactly the same process as before to turn the new images into coloring book pages (see Step 14 for the list of what we did).

Step 17: Put everything into one image

I assembled all of my images into a single composite image by simply clicking on the layers I wanted in the Layers palette and then dragging them into the window containing my background beach image. This left me with a single image containing three layers: beach, treasure chest and child.

I then used Edit --> Free Transform to change the sizes and positions of each individual element.

Step 18: Trim the images

Next, I used the Eraser tool on each layer to trim away the unwanted rectangular borders and backgrounds from the treasure chest and the child. The Eraser will only act on whichever layer is currently selected, making it easy to alter one picture element at a time.

Step 19: Choose the final positions

Last of all, I re-adjusted the positions of my adventurous model and the treasure chest before saving the image and printing it out.

Step 20: Let your imagination run wild!

Voila! In about ten minutes, I'd made a personalized coloring page.

Try it out and let me know what your kids think!
<p>Can anyone tell me how to print these to a full size 8.5x11? I want to bind them together in a book but they are all printing small size. Thanks!</p>
<p>Thank you so much! In about ten minutes I was able to turn a picture of my library building into a coloring page for an election night . I made one misstep and had to go back and follow the directions more carefully, but I did it! Thanks for taking time to help us.</p>
<p>This is actually the best method, by far, that I've tried. Fantastic.</p>
<p>I tried it out and I love how some of my animal pictures came out</p>
<p>I love all the instructables you make--they're beautiful, practical and fun. I sense that you may have children, and that many of your instructables were made with them in mind. Well done, sir! </p>
<p>I love all the instructables you make--they're beautiful, practical and fun. I sense that you may have children, and that many of your instructables were made with them in mind. Well done, sir! </p>
<p>Thank you so much for this! It worked brilliantly.</p>
<p>this is cool</p>
<p>The first 16 steps went well, but I got lost on step 17. I was unable to drag one layer into the other. Can you give more detailed instructions for that step? Thanks!</p>
<p>Thank you so much for this step-by-step guide. I'm doing a project for work and you made it SO MUCH EASIER. I expected WEEKS to be spent trying to figure out how to do what I wanted to do. Instead, in 20 minutes, I had exactly what I wanted. </p>
I have two dogs. I have one cat.
<p>How do you do step 7 in Photoshop? Everything else is the same, but there is no 'mode' selection as such. Thanks.</p>
<p>It's called linear dodge in photoshop. So once you double click on the image Choose blend mode and select linear dodge.</p>
<p>How do you do step 7 in Photoshop? Everything else is the same, but there is no 'mode' selection as such. Thanks.</p>
<p>why can't i do this thing??????? ;( :( can anybody explain this to me?</p>
<p>how far r u getting before u run into trouble ??</p>
<p>how far r u getting before u run into trouble ??</p>
<p>At last i found the the steps to turn my daughters images into a drawing book :)</p><p>Thanks to you .. I will know make it more creative..</p><p>This is was the image i exercised on .. but i will add another images in a more creative way..</p>
<p>how did you do it? plz help me</p>
<p>why can't i do this thing??????? ;( :( can anybody explain this to me?</p>
<p>Here's Procyon smashing a frost giant!</p>
<p>and here's Corvidae riding her bike to war with Thor and his goat-driven chariot. </p>
<p> i loved this instructional steps. I couldn't done it by myself.</p><p>Annie Porter</p>
Very useful tutorial! The results are not as good as what I get from using Photoshop or <a href="http://www.matchwoodstudio.com/sketchpen" rel="nofollow">SketchPen</a>, but hey, it's free, definitely worth a try
thanks so much for tutorial...hope to make special nephew coloring book for Christmas :)
Wow I love this article. Thanks for posting this. I was looking for a project for my kindergarten students in <a href="http://larryfriend.com" rel="nofollow">Libertyville, and these childrens coloring books</a> are too perfect. They'll love coloring photos of themselves! Thanks again.
Hello and please help...on Step 5 when I ctl/click (MAC) on the Layers, I did not get a Background option....it gave me another line that says Layer 0 copy. Can you advise? thx <br>
If you only knew how wonderful this is for an artist painting from personal photo's. Combined with transferring techniques or a light box trace this has saved me hours. Thank you so much for your post. Perfect for my watercolor class...may I refer to this post and the steps you teach in my blog and class, giving credit where credit is due of course!
Thanks for the idea! I'll be making small coloring books for my daughter's birthday! Here's one I made using your i'ble.
thats so cute
Wow! Great work! I love it when people post examples like this.<br />I really hope she was wearing a Halloween costume when that photo was taken. If you can actually see her bones, you might have the flash on your camera set a bit too bright...
They're pajamas actually, they glow in the dark too. When I saw your i'ble I knew exactly what picture to try this out with. Thanks again.
that is so cool but dont u have to have a certain program for to do that?
I experimented with Gimp using the desaturate feature, then cartoon, and then experiment with the contrast and darkness sliders to get an effect.
omg that would be so cool to color
Thank you so much! <br>I sorted out the problem of finding colouring pages with different cartoon heroes. <br>My brother endlessly colours them in, but our cartoon and film tastes are unusual, and even popular heroes like Bob the Builder rarely have more than five colouring pages. (Try finding a picture of Judy Garland as Dorothy to colour). <br>Thanks!!!
I'm an elementary art teacher and was preparing to make individual books for my littlest &quot;Special&quot; students. THANKS so much for sharing. I will make a color book and board book for each one-they are going to love this!<br>
Soo amazing. Had to share it with my friends on facebook. Tx a million
IMO, raster art programs are probably not the best choice for this project. You'd get a better coloring book using Adobe Illustrator or the free Inkscape program. <br><br>Both of them have EXCELLENT &quot;trace&quot; tools for turning raster images into crisp and beautiful solid lines. For inkscape, see: <br>http://inkscape.org/doc/tracing/tutorial-tracing.html (tutorial)<br>http://wiki.inkscape.org/wiki/index.php/Tools#Vectorize.2Ftrace (alternatives)
Excellent! You took a potentially complicated and intimidating project and made it extremely do-able! Thanks! I'm eager to fire up GIMP and make a coloring book for my granddaughter!<br><br>Very readable instructable...I appreciated the way you broke it down into manageable steps, with screenshots.
Great job.<br>I was looking Paint or (color by numbers) kind of help , and somewhat this is right way.<br>Is there any way numbering to colors on screen then print out black &amp; white copy and use it just as paint by numbers picture on canvas or paper.?<br>thanks<br><br>
Great Instructable...very easy to use Editor...I am going to make an entire coloring book for my kids for Xmas using this and Shutterfly...thank you thank you!!
This is terriffic. I cannot wait to try it out. I went ahead and downloaded the program to my computer so I can use when internet isn't available. I am curious about something. Would it be possible to have left the separate pics in color and still place the kid and treasure chest on the island?
Oops looks like the program I downloaded is pixl o'matic for windows. Ah well. I probably will only be using it where I can access internet anyway. <br> <br> <br> <br>
A similar program is Gimp, I just tried it with the exact same steps. (www.gimp.org)
Very cool. I have Gimp but I haven't done much with it. Good to know it will do something similar. Thanks for the information.
Using this process, I got a beautiful CLEAN black and white image. This was in GIMP.

About This Instructable


261 favorites


Bio: Artist in Residence at Pier 9, currently exploring a vast array of new tools with which to injure myself.
More by PenfoldPlant: Candy Hearts (made with real heart) Haggis Pops Explosive Cocktail Foam
Add instructable to: