Introduction: Phot-o-lantern

Picture of Phot-o-lantern

Here is a relatively easy way to to take a photo of yourself, a friend, or a random celebrity and carve them into a jack-o-lantern.

The first half of this Instructable will show you how to create a carvable pattern while the second half will give tips on how to carve it into your pumpkin.

**Be sure to come back closer to Halloween to check out some more of my projects for this year.**

Step 1: Phase 1: Create Your Pattern

To carve a photo, first you have to find your photo. A good place to start is with photos of yourself, a friend, a boss, or a celebrity. If there is a good amount of contrast or shadow on the face in the photo, the carving process will be much easier.

You will also need photo editing software with some basic layer and brightness/contrast controls. I will be using a trusty old version of Adobe Photoshop. Gimp and other software should work just as well.

Step 2: Brightness and Contrast

Picture of Brightness and Contrast

Since I already have a pattern and pumpkin with myself, I decided to pick a random celebrity to be this year's guinea pig.

Open up your image in your photo software and copy and paste the part of the photo you want to use into a new file. Make multiple layers of this image on top of each other. You will want a minimum of 3 layers, but 5 layers will give you more choice in how your final pattern will look. Convert these layers to greyscale.

Once you have created all your layers, hide them all except for the bottom layer, and select this layer to work with. Open up the Image>Adjust>Brightness Control panel.

Turn contrast to the max of +100. Now, play around with the Brightness setting. You are looking for a basic outline of what you want to carve. Don't worry too much about details at this point. Try to get a feel for what the outside of the head, the hairline, the eyes, nose, and lips are like. Remember to keep enough black for structure. Try not to have any islands of black surrounded by white.

Repeat this step for the next layer. Try a little more or a little less brightness to see how it affects the outlines. One of these layers will become your base layer.

Step 3: Add Shadows

Picture of Add Shadows

Now, with one of your base layers visible, select a higher level to work with, and make it visible as well.

Turn this layer's opacity down to 40% in the layer's panel. Play around with this layer's brightness and contrast as you did before. This should give you some more refined details by blending with the lower layer and creating shaded grey areas.

After doing a couple layers of these, try to find your best combination of 2 layers. Details around the face are important for being able to recognize the face in the pumpkin, but try not to make the details so small that carving will be difficult. Large areas of gray help add detail to the final work, but it is also the most cumbersome to carve.

Step 4: Clean Up, Structure and Details

Picture of Clean Up, Structure and Details

Now that you have your basic shading done, it's time to work on some details.

Create a new layer on top of all of your other layers. In this layer you will clean up any patches that didn't look right in the earlier versions of the pattern. Try to connect parts of the pattern that might require extra structure. A connection from the nose to lips is an example of one that often needs to be added.

If there are any other details that were missed in the first few steps, now is a good time to add them. In my case, the eye glasses did not come through from the initial layers so I had to go back and manually add them. From one of your remaining greyscale layers, copy out the area or areas of detail that need to be added, and paste them into more new layers on top of your other layers. I used a separate layer for each half of the glasses. Adjust the contrast on the layer up to 100+ and once again, play with the brightness to get the desired outline. Use the eraser tool to take away everything that you don't need so that the layers underneath show through.

Step 5: Make a Border and Finish It Up.

Picture of Make a Border and Finish It Up.

Now we need to make a border. Use the selection tools to make a selection around your images. I used the magnetic lasso to get a selection following the shape of of the head. Then I increased the size of the selected region by 6 pixels by using the expand option (Select>Modify>Expand). I also used the smooth option (Select>Modify>Smooth) to round out some of my selection.

Inverse your selection, so that you are working with the area outside of the head only. In either a new layer, or the layer you used for detail cleanup before, use the paint bucket to black it all out. Now that you have the basic outline, go back and remove it where it isn't necessary. Remember to leave enough black and grey so that there will be a firm structure.

Step 6: Pattern Complete

Picture of Pattern Complete

Your now have a completed pattern ready to carve.

Print out 2 copies: one will be used to trace the pattern, and the other will remain your trusty guide during the carving process.

Step 7: Phase 2: Carve It Out

Picture of Phase 2: Carve It Out

Here is your time to decide the type of pumpkin you want to carve. Both will be treated in similar ways, but they each have their own advantages and challenges.

If you decide to go with a real pumpkin, your first step is going to be to cut open the top and clean out the insides. Get all of the seeds and guts out, and scrape the walls down from the inside a bit. Feel free to take up to a third of the wall out on the side you will be carving. This will help more of the light shine through when you stick a candle or light on the inside later on. Real pumpkins have the advantage of being more authentic and to some people, more impressive. You can use regular knives to carve them, but the cheap little carving sets for jack-o-lanterns are actually a decent investment. Real pumpkins tend to dry out and shrink though, so any fine details will disappear in a day or two.

Because I like to be able to display my pumpkins for more than a couple days, and reuse some of them year after year, I have made the transition to craft pumpkins. I get mine at Michaels, but they should be available at most large craft stores during the fall season. While you are there you may also want to grab a heated knife. The hot knife will make carving much easier, and it would be almost impossible to do large areas of shading without this type of tool.

For the rest of this Instructable, I will use a craft pumpkin, but all steps should also apply in a similar manner to carving a real pumpkin.

Step 8: Get Tracing

Picture of Get Tracing

Tape your pattern securely onto your pumpkin. Remember to leave enough space on top for the hole. Also try to leave enough space at the bottom so that the light source is not directly visible. This is a little less of a concern if you have good amount of shaded area around the neck. You may have to fold or tear the pattern to get it to be reasonably flat.

Once it is taped down, it is time to start tracing your pattern. Using a knife or toothpick, poke holes through the paper into the surface of the pumpkin. The closer the holes, the easier it will be to stay on the right cutting path later on. Trace both the grey and the black outlines.

Once you are sure that you have traced all of the details of the pumpkin, remove the pattern.

Step 9: Cut Out the White

Picture of Cut Out the White

Time to start carving. Generally, it is best to start out with the smaller white sections. This with help prevent fragile pieces from breaking off while you carve. If a piece is a large, long or awkward shape, feel free to cut that part out in sections.

Remember to use your spare pattern you printed out as a guide. It should help clear up confusion where black and grey lines run close together.

Step 10: Shaving and Shading

Picture of Shaving and Shading

Here comes the tricky part, but this is also the part that get's the most "Wow" out of people.

There are 2 ways to trim out the grey regions. If the grey is along the border of what you have already cut out, you are in luck. Just make a shallow cut along the traced line, and then stick the knife in perpendicular to that cut through the hole. You can quickly remove large strips in this manner For larger areas of grey (such as my neck section.) you will need to slowly take the top layer off bit by bit. Make shallow cuts into the surface, and then at an angle, stick the knife into the pumpkin connecting with the first cut.. Don't worry too much about it being smooth just yet, just try to get all of the grey area off.

Step 11: Cleaning It Up

Picture of Cleaning It Up

Now that you have all of the pattern cut and shaved out, you can go back and add some finishing touches. If needed, smooth out some of the shaded regions. Add a light to inside to see what your pumpkin really looks like. It will give you a better idea of what, if anything, needs to be thinned or cut. Depending on how bright your light source is, you may need to shave a little more off of the shaded regions. Areas on the bottom near the light, don't have to be shaded quite as much.

Step 12: Light It Up

Picture of Light It Up

Put a light in your pumpkin and dim the lights. It's amazing how different it looks when it is actually illuminated.

If you did this with a real pumpkin, using 2-3 candles at once with help light up your pattern better. If you are using a fake pumpkin, candles are not an option.

There are a wide variety of pumpkin lights available. Many have options to flicker to mimic a real candle, or have colored lights for added effect. I've found that some of my favorite lights are actually little taplights that I found at a dollar store. Just remove the top cover, and press the little button to turn them on. These tend to be much brighter, so the shaded regions show up much better even with ambient light.

Hope this gives everyone a good idea on how to make there own personalize pumpkins.


Postal1 made it! (author)2015-10-31

I found an easier way to make a pattern. In Photoshop, once you have your picture converted to grey scale, I do tweak the contrast, highlights and shadows. There is a filter in artistic called Cutout. I set it to three colors and play with the other two setting to get the pattern I want.

ssimmons11 (author)Postal12015-11-04

That looks awesome.

uberEpic53 (author)2015-11-02

could you remove the photoshop part of this by converting your photo to a 8- or 4-bit image? Or changed the image type to a .gif? (I know they have less colour resolution).

I don't know if this would work or anything but maybe it would be easier for us without any photo editing skill or programs.

cainunable (author)uberEpic532015-11-02

You might be able to get some basic pattern by converting it down, but you aren't going to have nearly as much fine control over detailed areas (such as the eyes) that you will need in most images. You could always try with an image and see if it works.

CaitlinR9 (author)2015-10-14

When I increase the contrast all the way it still looks similar to the greyscale, I don't get a completely black and white image to work with. What could I be doing wrong? I put the contrast up to 100% but it still doesn't give me the outline I was expecting.

CaitlinR9 (author)CaitlinR92015-10-14

I am trying to do this photo:

barkingdogbraclets (author)2015-09-28

could you use corel draw for the editing

I'm sure you could, but I'm not familiar enough with it to know the exact comparable commands.

darman12 (author)2013-08-16


darman12 (author)darman122013-08-16

It's insane how well these turn out!

SBWillman (author)2011-11-02

Here ya go!

darman12 (author)SBWillman2013-08-16


phenoptix (author)2011-11-10

These are my pumpkins using this technique from 2009 and 2011

darman12 (author)phenoptix2013-08-16

Those are fantastic! Especially the one on the right.

susanchen2011 (author)2012-06-27


friendship12396 (author)2011-09-26,r:10,s:0&tx=74&ty=90

would anyone be able to convert this correctly? im not great with photoshop, and id like a professional to help me. It would be great if someone could help me edit this the way he explains, since im only 14 and im new to editing. Thanks in advance!

Doctor Freeman (author)2010-10-07

could someone edit these the way he discribes (professionally mind you meaning not by someone who is new to photoshop) i cant download it (my mom wont let me)
plus could you make them bigger ,like to fit a pumpkin of these Dimensions 
Height 17 IN 
Width 14.5 IN 
(aka this one to scale please
thank you

OK don't say us old people never do anything for you youngsters! :-)

Bear in mind you don't own these images (the originals) but for your own use it should be OK.

These are Jpegs - The back to the future is very complicated I don't see anyone carving that out. But good luck.

timnitro (author)Doctor Freeman2010-10-29

well he gave you the instructable its not that hard just download gimp to your flashdrive

Doctor Freeman (author)timnitro2010-10-29

ok 1 im 11. 2 my mom wont let me (learn to read) seriously you can read my mom wont let me good day

It's free.

joeman1210 (author)2010-11-01

Great 'ible!! Thanks to cainunable, it was sunny this Halloween.

cainunable (author)joeman12102010-11-02

Nicely done.

timnitro (author)2010-10-28

well hears my template

conrad141 (author)timnitro2010-10-30

make sure you don't carve the shadow.

cainunable (author)timnitro2010-10-29

Looks great. Be sure to post the pumpkin once you get it carved.

CrLz (author)2010-09-28

Great Instructable. Thanks for the steps on making the templates, particularly the image editing.

rebeljedi (author)2009-10-19

This is one I was able to do last year, took me a bit longer having to scrape off so much.  In the end when I removed the lightsaber portion as I had previously done with the eyes, the glow form the candle made it all worth it!

CrLz (author)rebeljedi2010-09-28

Awesome light saber!

philthyanimal (author)rebeljedi2009-10-25

 can you send the image that you used?  i'd love to recreate it.  

rebeljedi (author)philthyanimal2010-09-26

The image I cropped from the Clone Wars poster can be downloaded here.

kjbrasda (author)rebeljedi2009-10-30

freakin awesome! good job!

MadBricoleur (author)rebeljedi2009-10-26

Bloomin splendid!!! that's crazy :)

The force with you, may it be. :D

cainunable (author)rebeljedi2009-10-20

That one looks amazing.  Thanks for sharing.

mayday295 (author)2010-06-01

I had a friend take a professional picture of my pumpkin, so here it is again:

cainunable (author)mayday2952010-06-01

That turned out awesome.

revelae (author)2009-11-01


cainunable (author)2009-10-26

Not sure how many of you are fans, but for those of you who watch the Food Network, I hope you can recognize the face on my pumpkin from this year.

ryugatana (author)cainunable2009-10-31

AB IS MY IDOL... btw

mayday295 (author)cainunable2009-10-29

Alton brown.... was that his name? IRON CHEF!

Mig Welder (author)2009-10-30

COOL! I wish I had seen this before lol

guymark (author)2009-10-30


You are one seriously skilled / talented person.

mayday295 (author)2009-10-29

Well its halloween again, so time for more carvings! Here are my results thanks again to your awesome guide, helped me a lot!!!

mayday295 (author)mayday2952009-10-29

Sorry that picture i just posted didn't turn out well (10mp camera) here is the link for image shack:

Tell me what you thinK!

REDandroid (author)2009-10-24

This was fun! Thanks for the instructable!

REDandroid (author)REDandroid2009-10-27

Guynamedthomas281 (author)2009-10-26

freakin awesome job man, ill send you some pics of mine when im done

Sunny124613 (author)2009-10-21

 Great Idea
also, i think dwight was 
a good choice to be on a pumpkin...

i love the office

blazinmt (author)2009-10-19
Excellent write up!! I did one of my son and it turned out perfect!! I am no artist either, I just followed the steps and an hour later:
cainunable (author)blazinmt2009-10-20

Looks great.  What did he think of his face on a pumpkin?

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