Introduction: Turn a Photo Into a Stencil!

Picture of Turn a Photo Into a Stencil!

Using just Photoshop, we're going to turn an ordinary photograph into a stencil worthy image in just a few minutes!

I was bored today and decided I wanted to make a stencil. Looking through my old profile pictures on facebook, I found a particular one that I thought might make a good stencil. After playing around for a bit, I discovered this process for turning it into a two-color image on photoshop.

Keep in mind, you can also use this for silk screening, or any other process that requires a smooth edged image.

Step 1: Rough Shapes

Picture of Rough Shapes
First we make it into a rough two-tone shape:

  • Load the image
  • Image>Adjustments>Posterize - You don't want it to look too different. I posterized it to 10 levels.
  • Image>Adjustments>Threshold - Slide the bar around until you see something that looks like a stencil. You have to keep it as simple as possible, for ease of cutting it out, and also watch out for islands that wouldn't be connected to the main stencil i.e. floating blobs. I set my threshold level to 100.

Step 2: Cleaning It Up

Picture of Cleaning It Up
Right now we have a very rough, jagged stencil. It won't work well for cutting out with a knife at all. This step is what took me some time to figure out.

  • Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur - Set the radius to a level that still leaves a distict image, but with evenly blurred edges. 4 pixels was perfect for me.
  • Posterize it again, this time at 2 levels, and you should be all set!

Step 3: What to Do With It?

Picture of What to Do With It?
I printed my stencil out, and then used a cardboard cutter to cut the stencil out from a shoe box. So far i've only spray painted it onto newspaper, but it definitely turned out well!

A few tips:

  • When you print it out, change the color from black to a light gray. It'll save you some ink.
  • This instructable gives some help on making stencils with islands.
  • A light layer of spray on adhesive can help give you cleaner edges when you're spray painting. Make sure to remove the stencil immediately after painting, or it may get stuck!

Have fun with your new stencil!

UPDATE: I ended up putting it onto a T-Shirt. Acetate sheets (over head transparencies) work well for reusable stencils, so I printed it onto one of them and cut the images out with scissors, and voila! It's drying as I speak.


ShwedishFish made it! (author)2016-09-22

thanks for posting this!

ميدوم (author)2016-08-03

Something interesting

LindseyOwn made it! (author)2016-06-18

Thanks for this tutorial!!! My vinyl sticker on my laptop didn't turn out awesome, but decent for a first try. :-) I copied into Illustrator and image-traced to cut the sticker.

SzczekS (author)2016-06-15

thank you for this idea!

I was making a stencil like this one, but a more bigger then you...Firts of all i was doing all steps like you. Then thx to poster softwere I've printed it on my a4 printer.

Now it's looks realy good :)

DejonieL (author)2015-09-19

vcsekhar (author)2015-09-08

Sorry, but what software is used here? Please share a link for info.

Itsmewil18 (author)2015-07-12

AnwarK1 (author)2015-06-01

mee-mee (author)2010-10-08

these are mine...yeah I love cookie monster, and Edward cullen also...
I did these with photo studio months ago...but didn't find you 'ible

dreadshed (author)mee-mee2015-01-24

Hi mee-mee, I know this is a really old post but if you're still around would you mind telling me if you used the photo studio app for this?

If you did, would you mind telling me how?

Thanks, Sam :)

Hollabaloo (author)2009-07-20

This is awesome, and much better than most similar tutorials! Except.... My photoshop (elements 4.0) doesn't have the image>adjustments option. Is there an alternative solution? Or, failing that, would anyone be willing to do this process on an image for me?

borogoves (author)Hollabaloo2014-06-29

Now there's a super-simple way to convert any image into a stencil:

Some recent examples below

Try Filter>Adjustments

 Or just keep photocopying an image until it is just a stencil. I got that tip from photojojo

ahmed545 (author)2013-09-26


firehawk23 (author)2012-08-29

Just an addition to this if in the last step you do smart blur>edge only and play around with the radius and threshold levels. It finds the edge for you. do ctrl+i to invert it and you have a cleaner stencil that won't waste as much ink when printing.

Discojess (author)2008-11-26

How did you handle the forehead island? Looks good!

Discojess (author)Discojess2008-11-26

nevermind, I read the linked instructable :D

While the linked instructable is an option, I opted to just place the forehead in manually after spraying it with adhesive.

Regarding islands:
If you're silk screening the stencil, you can make a small loop with blue painters tape and gently tape it in place. After your first pull it will adhere to the screen & last as long as the rest of the stencil. Freezer paper works well for most short run water based projects :)

TYSM for the very basic & practical introduction to stenciling!

cornflaker (author)Discojess2008-12-07

lol I thought you were saying that he had a massive forehead when i first read that

jbeyssac (author)cornflaker2011-06-06

Same here, haha.

mjagitsch (author)2011-09-13

I tried using Photoshop and had better luck just tracing a photo with a Sharpie. Maybe if I could figure photoshop out, it would better for me.

burnerjack01 (author)2011-06-26

Did you know that "Coyote" sell a program specificaly for this? Various levels of
shading, edge manipulation and island handling? Scan and run. Transfer to final medium and bingo. Done. I've used it for scrollsaw work and it does work.

Mr.Phil (author)2011-02-03

Very Good technique for creating scroll saw portraits as well.

joel383 (author)2011-01-31

lines are a bit thin but I think it will work.

Gage987 (author)2009-11-17

a shirt of your face?  WHY?!

Foaly7 (author)Gage9872011-01-24

Why not?

superMacaroni (author)2010-11-16

You could use the pen tool instead. OH YEAH VECTORS!

MrL33TPenguin (author)2010-05-02

These are mine :D

z3ro_infinite (author)2008-11-26

hey any one kno where i can buy the spray thing tho?

The paint? I bought mine from Joann's. Any craft store should carry something like it.

Mine doesn't. Our craft stores suck!!!!!

cornflaker (author)mg0930mg2009-01-15

Haha gotta love Monty Python XD

mg0930mg (author)cornflaker2009-01-15

Doersn't everyone? Our math teacher last year, could talk to us for at least two hours, about python.

cornflaker (author)mg0930mg2009-01-16

Haha sounds like an awesome teacher

mg0930mg (author)cornflaker2009-01-16

She was!

M4industries (author)mg0930mg2009-12-11

 My friends did this sketch for drama last year. There werent any missing limbs, but their dialogue was enough to make everyone laugh.

volquete (author)mg0930mg2009-06-11

my teacher loves it and played there sketches in class

Bright Shadow (author)mg0930mg2009-01-28

aahhh, I love that part...

They don't have any fabric paints?

Nope. Going to philly next weekend. Hopefully they have something. My test today didn't work well.

LILhazY (author)Weissensteinburg2009-06-13

did u use abdobe photoshop

does michaels have it?

I got mine from Joann's, but i'm sure Michael's would as well. Just to be safe, I'd call them before hand and make sure.


M4industries (author)2009-12-08

 here are mine

They turned out pretty well!

gir-.- (author)2009-06-07

what software did you use?

Weissensteinburg (author)gir-.-2009-06-07


About This Instructable




Bio: I enjoy photography, horticulture and carpentry, and am almost always doing something relating to of those things.
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