Photo to Clipart in Photoshop – Stylish Stock Illustrations in 5 Steps

It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to put together a school newsletter or a full website – clip-art (or stock illustration) is a tool we can’t live without. Finding something new, useful, and cool looking can be something else entirely – often costing an arm and a leg to get our hands on. As usual, though, Photoshop has the tools you need to create your own art and illustrations … if you know how to do it.

In this guide, we’ll take a few very simple steps to completely transform a photograph into modern clip-art. If you’ve spent any time on stock illustration sites, you’ll recognize the style immediately – and be amazed at how easy it is to do yourself.

What will you need? Just a photograph you want turned into clip-art, and a copy of Photoshop. Any version from 7.0 through the current CS2 will work beautifully. You may also want to reference Illustration 02 attached to this article – it features screenshots of the steps. Please be aware, though, that it doesn’t go in-depth the way that the article does.

So, let’s save a buck and cause some jaws to drop.

One: Open the photograph you want to transform. I’ll be using this photo of a surfer, which I grabbed from Make sure to always get your photography from a source that allows you to use it; a Google image search isn’t good enough.

What you want is photography that the artist has marked as public domain, or as royalty-free. If it’s a royalty-free piece, make sure that you understand their terms of use. Some photographers release their work freely and say that you can use it commercially; others are strictly against its commercial use.

Two: Before we make any changes, we’re going to duplicate the original photo. This lets us (1) apply filters, and (2) avoid headaches if we do something awful. Right-click the photograph’s layer and choose “Duplicate Layer”. If this option doesn’t come up for you, make sure that your photo is in RGB mode (Click “Image”, choose “Mode”, and click “RGB”).

Three: This whole transformation takes place through Photoshop’s filters. There is a longer, much more complex way of making this effect work – but if something can be easy, why make it hard? So … first, let’s desaturate our photo. This will turn it grayscale: Click “Image”, choose “Adjustments”, and click “Desaturate”. Don’t worry – it only does it to your copy layer, not the original photo.

Now, we’re ready for our first filter. Click “Filter”, choose “Stylize”, and click “Find Edges”. What you now have is a dark, well-lined photo. We need it lighter. So click “Image”, choose “Adjustments”, and click “Curves”. Then, change the “Input” to 146 and the “Output” to 189.

Four: Only a couple things left to do! Now, we really want some color back in our clipart, right? But we want it to be easy, which means we’re not going to go painting it ourselves, and we want it to look like clipart, which means the original layer won’t work.

So … first, duplicate the original photo one more time. For now, turn off the lines layer by clicking the eye icon beside it. Then, click “Filter”, choose “Artistic”, and click “Dry Brush”. Leave the settings at their default, and click OK.

Five: Our very last step! Turn the line layer back on (click the eye icon beside the layer). Then, change the layer’s mode to “Overlay”. Just like that, you have stylish clipart from a photo in 5 easy steps!

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