Creating Smooth Line Art Without a Graphics Tablet - Photoshop CS

Introduction: Creating Smooth Line Art Without a Graphics Tablet - Photoshop CS

For digital artists, a graphics tablet is essential to creating clean, smooth line art. But when art programs like Photoshop Creative Suite (CS) cost so much on their own, it can be hard to find the money for a high-quality tablet or Cintiq monitor right away. This Instructable will teach new digital artists who to create smooth line art without using a graphics tablet.


Don't Own Photoshop?: If you don't own Photoshop CS, consider signing up for Photoshop Creative Cloud (CC). Photoshop CC is a cloud-based service that allows you to stream Photoshop to your computer for a monthly fee. The fee is cheaper for students, and it's a good way of testing out the program before you invest your money into a permanent version.

You Need the Pen Tool: This technique will not work on Photoshop Elements. You'll need a version of Photoshop that includes the pen tool. Any version of Photoshop CS or CC has this tool.

Step 1: Learn Your Required Knowledge & Materials



  • Any version of Photoshop CS or CC (Elements, unfortunately, will not work for this tutorial)
  • A scanned drawing or a Photoshop sketch created with your mouse (PSD, JPEG, PNG, GIF, or any other file type that works with your version of Photoshop)
  • A mouse
  • A keyboard

Step 2: Open Your Scanned Drawing

Start by selecting your scanned drawing and bringing it into Photoshop.

Step 3: Modify, Resize, Lighten, and Create New Layers for Your Drawing

To prepare for the line art phase of this Instructable, follow these four micro-steps in any order you choose. These steps are optional, but highly encouraged.

  • Modify: If you know how to use any other tools in Photoshop, and you want to make some adjustments to your sketch, do so now. It will be harder to edit the sketch once you start creating the line art.
  • Resize: Use the Image Size function of Photoshop to increase your image's size by 200%. By doing this, you'll be able to create finer details. When you are completely finished with your drawing (including coloring, shading, and adding effects), you can shrink your drawing back down to its original size. Doing this will hide minor blemishes in your work and create a smoother drawing.
  • Create New Layers: Create two new layers above your sketch. Call one "Outline" and the other "Line art."
  • Lighten:
    1. Double-click on your "Background." This will bring up a menu where you can unlock the layer and change its name.
    2. Unlock the layer and call it "Sketch."
    3. Set the transparency of your sketch layer to 75%. This will lighten your image and make it easier to see what you're doing as you apply the line art.

Step 4: Set Your Brush Tool's Diameter to 4px

  1. Before you start working on your line art, select your Brush Tool (shortcut: press B on your keyboard).
  2. Set the Brush Tool's master diameter to 4 pixels (px). Set the Brush Tool's hardness to 100%.

Step 5: Create a Pen Tool Path Around the Outline of Your Drawing

  1. Before you start, make sure you're on the "Outline" layer.
  2. Select the Pen Tool (shortcut: press P on your keyboard).
  3. Begin creating a path along the outer edges of your drawing.

Step 6: Use the Stroke Path Function

  1. Make sure you have the Pen Tool selected during this step.
  2. Right-click anywhere on your canvas to bring up the Pen Tool's options.
  3. Select "Stroke Path..." to bring up the overlay window shown in the image above. You should see a drop-down menu that has a list of various Photoshop tools. Select the Brush from that list of options.
  4. Leave the "Simulate Pressure" box unchecked for this step.
  5. Click "OK."

Step 7: Delete Your Pen Tool Path

Step 6 should have given you a clean 4px-width line along the Pen path you had created (similar to the image above).

  1. With the Pen Tool still selected, right-click anywhere on your canvas to bring up the Pen Tool's options.
  2. Select "Delete Path" to erase the path you had created.
  3. Repeat Steps 5 & 6 until your entire drawing has been outlined similar to the image above.

Step 8: Create Smaller Pen Tool Paths for Your Line Art

  1. Before you start, make sure that you have now selected the "Line Art" layer.
  2. Select the Pen Tool and begin making smaller paths for the lines within your drawing. Until you've gotten a grasp on this technique, limit your paths to single lines.

Step 9: Use the Stroke Path Simulate Pressure Function

  1. As you did in Step 6, bring up the Stroke Path window.
  2. This time, check the box for "Simulate Pressure."
  3. Click "OK."

Step 10: Repeat Steps 7, 8, and 9 Until Finished

You should have a line that's thick in the middle and thin on both ends. This style of line art isn't for everyone, and so you're welcome to leave "Simulate Pressure" unchecked and decrease the brush pen size if you don't like it.

  1. If you want to use this technique for your entire drawing, repeat Step 7 to delete your path.
  2. Repeat Step 8 to create a new path on a different line of your drawing. Repeat Step 9 to stroke the path.
  3. All that's left to do is repeat these three steps until you have successfully finished your line art.

Step 11: Pat Yourself on the Back and Move on to Base Colors

If all went well, you should have a new line art technique under your belt.

You can either stop here and work on a new drawing, or you can start adding base colors to this one. You can use this Pen Tool technique to lay down your base colors, but simply using your mouse will work, too.

Thank you for reading my Instructable. If you have any questions, problems, or concerns, please leave a comment and I will do my best to help you.

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    2 years ago

    there are some nice little low budget graphics tablets on the market that offer most of the benefits higher end ones do, albeit with less functionality. Definitely worth looking at by those not needing many features.
    I use the XP-Pen Deco 02 Graphic tablet . For any sort of drawing/brushing-based task it is superior compared to a mouse. You get smoother, more natural, brush movements, but the most important thing is the pressure sensitivity. It makes a huge difference.


    7 years ago

    thanks tom


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the tutorial! This is really helpful and your drawing turned out great!