Using the power of layer blend modes, you can quickly turn a portrait into a colored pencil sketch. By shooting your subject on a white or other light-colored background, the technique takes minutes and gives you yet another product you can offer in your photography business. Read on!


If the soon-to-be-sketched image consists of a single layer, press Command-J (PC: Ctrl-J) to duplicate it. If the image consists of many layers (say, if you used adjustment layers to correct the image, as we’ve done here), press Command-Option-Shift-E (PC: Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E) to create a new “stamped” layer that contains the content of all the other layers. Alternatively, you could convert all of your layers into a single smart object and then duplicate that; however, for this particular technique, a stamped layer is more efficient for your document file size. Double-click the duplicated layer’s name in the Layer’s panel and give it a meaningful name.



Near the top of the Layers panel, change the blend mode of the duplicate or stamped layer to Divide. New in Photoshop CS5, this mode divides the blend color (the color in the duplicate or stamped layer) by the base color (the color in the original layer) in each channel, which significantly brightens the image, almost to the point of being solid white. Don’t panic! We’ll fix that in the next step.


Choose Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur and, in the resulting dialog, enter a fairly small amount in the Radius field and click OK. It’s set to 10 pixels for this 2,500×2,700 pixel image.


Create a stamped copy of your existing layers by pressing Command-Option-Shift-E (PC: Ctrl-Alt-Shift-E).



Convert the newly stamped layer into a smart object by choosing Filter>Convert for Smart Filters. Photoshop adds a special badge (circled) at the lower right of the layer thumbnail.


Now it’s time to run the Poster Edges filter. In CS6, choose Filter>Filter Gallery. Locate the Artistic category at the top of the center section and single-click the Poster Edges icon. In previous versions of the program, choose Filter>Artistic>Poster Edges. Either way, enter a value of 1 for each slider and then
begin dragging each slider rightward until you produce a pleasing result (every image is different so this part takes a little experimen­tation). Click OK when you’re finished.


Change the blend mode of the smart object you created in Step Five to Linear Burn to darken the colors and add a splash of contrast. If the effect appears too strong, lower the Opacity setting near the top right of the Layers panel. It was lowered to 75% here. You’re basically finished at this point, but for even more creativity, go on to the next step.


This step is optional, but if you want to create a single-color sketch or adjust the saturation of the colors in your sketch, you can do it with a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Choose Layer>New Adjustment Layer>Hue/Saturation and click OK in the New Layer dialog. In the resulting Properties panel (or Adjustments panel or dialog in previous versions), turn on the Colorize checkbox to produce a single-color sketch. Experiment with the Hue slider to get the color you want. If you merely want to reduce the saturation of your sketch, leave the Colorize option turned off and drag the Saturation slider slightly to the left.


Save your creation by choosing File>Save As and choosing Photoshop from the Format drop-down menu. This preserves your layers for future editing.

Obviously, there are myriad possibilities to produce unique results with this technique and here you’re seeing but a precious few. The general idea came from Scott Valentine’s most excellent book, The Hidden Power of Blend Modes in Adobe Photoshop, so grab your favorite beverage and experiment! Until next time, may the creative force be with you all.