Sketching Photographs in Adobe Illustrator (Secrets Revealed!)

Have you ever wanted to create an hand drawn image on your computer without a table pad?

Have you ever wanted to turn a photograph into a sketch?

If so, this Instructable is for you!

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Step 1: Starting in Illustrator

Open a new document in Illustrator and drag the image or photo you want to sketch on a new layer.

Adjust the size of the photo on your workspace to your liking.

Here we have a strapping young lad with his banjo.

Rename the picture "Original"

Note: This type of sketching is great when you have a picture that may be slightly blurry or out of focus, but you still want to use.

Step 2: Preparing Your Layers in Illustrator

Now that you have the original photo in Illustrator you need to prepare the layers, to allow you to easily sketch the photo.

Create a new layer and situate it on top of "Original".

Name this new layer "Sketch".

Select "Original" and change the opacity (found under the "transparency" tab) from 100% to approximelty 45%.

Lastly, lock the "Original" layer.

Step 3: Starting to Sketch

Now you are setup to begin sketching.

Be sure to click on the "Sketch" layer to select it, to ensure you're drawing in that layer.

Next select the pencil tool and the colour that you want to trace (in this case, black)

Then, directly above your workspace, there is a bar with options that will allow you to adjust and experiment with the stroke, brush and style of your pencil tool.

Depending on the look you are trying to achieve, you can increase the thickness of your stroke, along with the grainy-ness or pattern of the brush.

Note: If you are not given an option of different brushes, you may have to import them from your brushes library, by clicking on the small folder icon at the bottom left hand corner of the brushes menu (indicated in picture).

Step 4: Keep on Sketching!

Now, using your selected brush and stroke size, you can start tracing your photo!

Try varying the size of the stroke, finer in areas that require more details.

Tip: when you want to start a new vector, do not randomly click in an area of your photo to de-select the pencil tool. This will cause you to have tiny one-pixel dots all over your photo.
Rather, hit ctrl-click to de-select.

Step 5: Double Checking

Continue to sketch until you fill in the details/areas you desire.

To check how the sketch is coming along, click on the eyeball for the "Original" layer, making it invisible. This will allow the sketch to stand out, and you can see any areas that need improvement.

Tip: To zoom in quickly, to fix problem areas, hold down ctrl and use the + or - keys (located next to the backspace)

Step 6: Finishing Up

Once you're done sketching, turn off the eyeball on the "original" layer so only the sketch shows.

Under the "File" menu hit Export as .jpeg and you're done!

Tip: For added empahasises, you can choose to add strokes of colour, or select various paths and change the brush styles manually!

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    20 Discussions


    11 years ago on Introduction

    i have tried this before in different ways in both illustrator and photoshop, but without the wacom the lines always end up being rather jagged because i am only using a mouse. anyone know a way around that?? (p) so what i ended up doing is using a raster to vector conversion program (does illustrator do this? it should) which gave me line in .dxf format, which i cleaned up in autocad THEN brought into illustrator/PS to colorize etc.

    3 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Abnor is right; you're just not used to drawing with a mouse. I ran into this problem too with Photoshop and Illustrator before I had a tablet, but there are some things you can do to help with your mouse-eye coordination. For example, if you hold Shift+left click, you'll draw a straight vertical or horizontal line. If you click a point and hold shift, move the mouse, and then click another paint point, you'll get a straight line. Look at the tool settings in the upper left corner (or wherever you stashed them), and make sure the brush runs continuously. The faster you can sketch, the less jagged the line usually becomes. Short wrist circles and rectangles can help build up your skills. Shading boxes also helped me. Hope that helps!


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    it comes out jagged cause you're not used to drawing with your mouse :P just keep practicing and using the mouse slowly, and keep going until you JUST CAN'T STAND your mistakes anymore.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Very sound advice, abnor. It just takes a LOT of patience, Pepsi. You'll get it if you don't give up. I must say, interesting solution you came up with, though.

    Karel Jansens

    11 years ago on Introduction

    Unless you're offering to buy me a copy of Illustrator, I'm sticking with ArtRage2 ( and my tablet.

    8 replies

    Why bother? ArtRage2 does everything I need, without the constant nagging feeling of guilt for warez-ing a piece of software I'm not going to use properly.

    Ah it was just one of those jokes... I actually have uses for the software I have, it's not stolen either, just know someone with extra rights to give out... but have been there done that, doesnt make you feel guilty, but it's not the best idea in the world...

    There you go then. Another perfectly good internet flameout spoiled by reason. Dagnaggit! if I wanted reasonable discussions, I wouldn't be on them thar Intartubes.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I miss my tablet (can't find the pen), but I like the use of tools here. Nicely done.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    This instructable is SO cool!!!!! Please post are SO wicked!

    I did this on GIMP ubt traced every line and colored it. The pic is my user pic on this site.


    Nice one mate... It's handy that you can now move between illustrator and PS aswell to make raster graphics from smart objects created in AI


    11 years ago on Introduction

    Tool Tip? How's it a Tool Tip? But anyways, wow, really cool job. I've been wondering how to make these kind of pictures, might use them for Instructables, really cool job. Thanks for the great Instructable, it's awesome! +1 rating.

    2 replies