Elements Line Drawing

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An Elements line drawing is really easy to do and they look great.

This tutorial is really useful for those of you who can't draw and wish you could - people like me, for instance.   Don't know about you but it mystifies me when someone takes my Wacom pen and draws a person or an animal or a face without any effort at all.

How do they do that?  

OK - back to the tutorial - just imagine how proud you'll be when you show someone special in your life a line drawing of them that you created all on your own.  Ah - life's good!

An Elements line drawing is a simple 4 step technique you can use with pretty much any photo.

The Steps

Step One

Choose an image to work with and load it into Photoshop Elements (any version of the program).  Here's the one I've chosen - it's a shot of my youngest Miniature  Bull Terrier, LIbby ...

elements line drawing libby

Duplicate the Background Layer by dragging it onto the new Layer Button at the bottom of the Layer palette.  Activate the new layer and convert it to black and white by selecting Enhance > Convert to Black and White ...

elements line drawing layers

Step Two

Duplicate the black and white layer - now there are three layers - two black and white and the original Background layer.

With the black and white layer still activated we're going to invert it by pressing Ctrl-I (Windows) or Cmd-I (Mac).  It looks kind of odd but it's coming along nicely.

Now change the Blending Mode of the black and white layer to Color Dodge.  

Yikes - everything disappeared and that's a good thing.

elements line drawing second layers palette

Step Three

There are two choices for finishing the project and it's best to try both of them to see what works best.

Choice One

Go to Filter > Blue > Gaussian Blur ... and make sure Preview is checked so you can see what is happening.

Move the slider around and watch what happens.  Stop when you like what you see and make a mental note (or written if your memory is short) of the radius.

elements line drawing gaussian blur
elements line drawing gaussian blur result
Gaussian Blur Dialogue
Gaussian Blur Line Drawing

Cancel out of Gaussian Blur.

Choice Two

Go to Filter > Other  > Minimum ... and make sure Preview is checked so you can see what is happening with this filter.

Lower the radius to 1 pixel and with the 1 highlighted start pressing the up arrow on your keyboard and keep an eye on the canvas.  This filter can be unpredictable so go slowly.  

It often creates spectacular results and just as often thing start getting blocky and ugly. 

elements line drawing minimum filter
elements line drawing minimum line drawing
Minimum Dialogue
Minimum Line Drawing

Now you've got a choice to make - did you like the results of the Gaussian Blur or the Minimum Filter best?

Typically, I find the Minimum Filter produces the best results. 

elemnts line drawing end drawing

Step Four

Now that you've chosen one of the two filters go ahead and fine tune it to your liking and you're done - well - almost done.

Make sure the top layer is activated and go to Layers > Merge Down.  Now you should have the top two layers combined sitting on top of the Background layer.  You can stop here if you wish - but why because ...

elemnts line drawing last layer palette

Now the real fun begins because there are so many different things that you can do to enhance your Elements line drawing!

Elements Line Drawing Enhancements

There are lots of cool things you can do to enhance your Elements Line Drawing so let's take a look at them ...


You've got two layers - the Background and the Background Copy.  Change the Blend Mode of the Background Copy to Luminosity and some of the color from the Background layer will appear.

elements line drawing luminosity


Modifying the Elements Line drawing with a Levels Adjustment Layer can make a big change.

elements line drawing levels 1
elements line drawing levels adjusted
Initial Levels
Adjusted Levels

And this is how the line drawing looks after the Levels adjustment ...

elements line drawing levels adjustment

That one made quite a difference, didn't it.  The Levels Adjustment can also be done after changing the Blend Mode to Luminosity.

Filter Gallery

elements line drawing filter galleryTrying out all of the different filters in the Filter Gallery (Filter > Filter Gallery ...) may keep you occupied for some time. 

There are six Folders and they are just chock full of interesting filters  (except Stylize which has but one lonely filter).

The most effective, at least to me, is the Texturizer in the Texture Folder.

There are four filters in the Texturizer - Brick, Burlap, Canvas and Sandstone - and each one of them can be adjusted in a variety of different ways.

What they do is put a texture on your Elements Line Drawing and they look great.  Try them all on your Elements line drawing - you'll like the results.

Heres's Libby again with the preceding three embellishments added (Luminosity, Levels and the Canvas Texture).

elements line drawing three adjustments

This looks like an improvement on the straight conversion, don't you think?

A Different Look

This section may be a bit more complicated if you're a new Elements user. 

It occurred to me as I was working through this Elements line drawing tutorial that there was one thing I really didn't like - that rather thick and distracting black line surrounding Libby.   The line is a feature of the Minimum filter and if the adjustment is low enough to eliminate it then a lot of the detail is lost.

As I pondered about it I thought that perhaps the thick black line could be erased.

It worked to some extent - the thick black line became a thick gray line.  Better, but not perfect and we're certainly striving for perfection, right?

As I was erasing that annoying black line with my Wacom tablet another thought hit me like a thunderbolt - can I trace the Elements line drawing?

Of course - it is an easy thing to do and offers even more options!

This is how its done ...

elements line drawing tracing layersAdd two new layers on the top of the stack.  The top layer will be for tracing and the other will be filled with white.

The white layer can be turned off and on so you can easily see the progress of your tracing.

Grab your Wacom pen and set the brush to change Opacity with pressure (this allows for some really great shading).

Make the brush small (the size will depend on the size of the image), set the foreground color to Black, zoom in tight on one part and start tracing (make sure the white layer is turned off).

It's probably best to do the tracing a bit at a time.  On my first layer I did the outline of Libby - the shading will be on different layers.

Here's the beginning with the white layer turned on to make the tracing visible ...

elements line drawing first tracing

This is coming along nicely and it looks just like my little Libby.

Now add another layer above the first tracing layer and start the shading of the tracing.

elements line drawing shading

Now she's got some character (which she really does).

A couple more suggestions ...
elements line drawing light gray layer
Libby is a white girl and she tends to get somewhat lost on the white canvas so I added a new layer above the white layer and filled it with a light gray using the Paint Bucket Tool.

The only problem with this is that Libby has now become a light gray little Mini Bull Terrier and that's just not right.

In Photoshop Elements 9 you have the ability to add a Layer Mask to any layer and that is what we'll do here.

The standard way to use a Layer Mask is to paint with black to remove the most recent adjustment and to paint with white to re-apply the adjustment.

This one will be a bit differently using

elements line drawing jitter settingThe Brush Tablet Options were set to both Opacity and Hue Jitter.  Painting on the Layer Mask with black and white as the foreground/background colors and Hue Jitter selected in the Brush Tablet Options.

Remember that the light gray layer is sitting on top of the white layer and when you paint with black then the white layer will show through.

With the Hue Jitter setting and varying pressure on the pen then this is what will happen.  the Hue Jitter Setting will create a texture of sorts and when I paint over little Libby it adds some character to her fur.

I also selected a more interesting brush (like an Oil Pastel or Chalk).  These are not simple round brushes and they certainly add character.

As I was painting Libby I also opened the Additional Brush Options and changed the Angle to conform with the direction of her fur.  In some cases it was horizontal and in others vertical or angled.

Here's how things look after painting on the Layer Mask with the Fuzzball Brush (yes, there is a Fuzzball Brush) set to Hue Jitter and Opacity for pressure.

elements line drawing painted

Now she is kind of white but she also has some texture and character.

It's probably time to stop working with Libby, however, adding a nice little frame ad a couple of Layer Styles will finish it off nicely.

elements line drawing frame

So there you go - a rambling discourse on Elements Line drawing.  It's fun and you can  create some great looking art work.

Page Links

The Steps


A Different Look

The End

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