1. Technology
Turning Digital Photos into Cartoons
Playing with Pictures

"I want to turn my digital photos into cartoons. What software do I need and how do I do it?"

This question comes up quite often. Personally, I have never seen a photo-to-cartoon effect that really looked right. I have made several attempts myself, but was not very happy with them. When I did come up with a method which I thought came close to my concept of a cartoon effect, it never came out quite the same on two different images.


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"I am trying to find the best software to use for creating cartoons. I am trying to find something that will create the little boxes that has the writing in it as well as the little circles that indicate the cartoon is thinking..."
--SOUTHERENGAL

Related Resources
Free Cartoon Effect Actions
Photoshop Photo Effects
Paint Shop Pro Photo Effects
Photo Art and Fun Effects

You have to realize that photos are highly detailed, where cartoons are both simplified and exaggerated. Cartoons come from an artist's imagination and I don't think you can capture that flair with a one-click filter or by following a step-by-step formula. You just need to dive in and experiment with all the tools your software has to offer.

If you're not as literal as I am in the definition of cartoon, you might want to experiment with the "Poster Edges" filter in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.

While experimenting myself in Photoshop, I did come up with a couple images which I think look somewhat cartoon-ish. I've posted them here with a brief description of how each was done. Hopefully, it will be enough to give direction to your own experimentation. I have deliberately left out specific settings because these will vary according to the image. Do not be surprised if you get entirely different results applying these techniques to your own photo, but use it as a starting point for your own experimentation.

Note: Since the original publication of this article, I have learned some new techniques that have allowed me to produce what I feel are improved cartoon effects than those shown below. I do not have them in tutorial format at this time, however you can download my free actions to produce five different cartoon effects in Photoshop 6.0 and up. Click here for the free Cartoon Effect Actions.

Cartoon Effect #1

Cartoon Effect #1

Layers Palette for Cartoon Effect 1Process:

  1. Background was duplicated and blurred using gaussian blur.
  2. Background was duplicated and the Stamp filter was applied.
  3. Stamp layer was blurred slightly (just enough to smooth the edges).
  4. Stamp layer was placed above the blurred layer. Blend mode is set to overlay. Opacity reduced to 70%.
  5. Add a levels adjustment layer linked to the stamp layer to adjust the line thickness.
  6. Above the blurred copy I added two hue/saturation adjustment layers with layer masks. One was to increase the saturation in the girl's clothes, hair, and--to a lesser degree--the face. The second was to reduce the saturation in some of the background areas.

Cartoon Effect #2

Cartoon Effect #2

Layers Palette for Cartoon Effect 2Process:

  1. Background was duplicated and blurred using gaussian blur.
  2. Blurred layer was duplicated and the Halftone Pattern filter was applied, then the layer was inverted. This layer is above the blurred layer.
  3. Background was duplicated and the Stamp filter was applied.
  4. Stamp layer was blurred slightly (just enough to smooth the edges).
  5. Stamp layer was placed above the inverted halftone layer. Blend mode is set to overlay.
  6. Add a levels adjustment layer linked to the stamp layer to adjust the line thickness.

Once you come up with a cartoon effect you like, you can use my kit and instructions for adding speech balloons and thought bubbles in Photoshop and Elements. As an alternative to completely transforming your photos into cartoons, it can also be fun to leave the image as a photo, but add cartoon-style clip art as props such as a hat, sunglasses, a bouquet of flowers, and so on. You can even cut a person out of a photo and place them onto a cartoon clip art background. See the links in the sidebar above to explore more photo effects, art techniques, and photo fun software.

Have you come up with a better method for creating cartoon effects? Come to the forum and share it with us.


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