Multi Tone Vector Trace Silhouette Effect In Photoshop

What is a silhouette? Generally speaking a silhouette is simply the outline of an object such as a person, animal, building, car and so on.  In most cases, silhouettes are solid shape forms, usually black, with no defining information within the outline shape and an entirely white, or transparent, background.

This tutorial puts a slight twist on what most of us think when we think of a typical sihouette Our goal will be to create a custom shape composition containing a strong graphic novel style overlaid on a grayscale contour shape layer making up the underlying silhouette.  We’ll achieve this result by using just 2 of Stipplr’s Photoshop shape tracing actions composited as a 2 layer result.


While this tutorial hopes to put a twist on the standard solid black shape silhouette by creating something slightly more graphic and unique — we’ll still be creating a solid shape silhouete along the way.  Therefore, designers who absolutely need a simple path shape outline will also benefit from reading through this tutorial.

Requirements for creating a silhouette is a photo with well defined subject material.  Ideally the photo is from a studio photo shoot such as the photos we are using in this tutorial — studio photos tend to have a solid white background making it much easier to trace out the vector shape outline.

Tutorial Assets

Source Photo

  1. Shutterstock Male Model
  2. Shutterstock Female Model

Stipplr Actions

  1. STAMP005



Before running any Stipplr shape tracing Actions to generate the silhouette, we need to determine if our photo is intensionally overexposed or not. Ensuring your photo has desirable levels of overexposure is important because Stipplr ignores white by default — a process not unlike how Illustrator can ignore white.  This means any white, or overexposed areas, in the source photo will not be traced and therefore appear as transparent vector shapes within the final vector shape result.

Here’s a quick look at the two models we’ll be tracing:

Stipplr Vector Shape Silhouette Models Separated from the background

While not immediately obvious in the above photo, careful review reveals that there are some slightly overexposed areas on both our models.

Through a quick a test-trace made with the Stipplr Panel we can highlight the issue in the image below:

Stipplr Vector Shape Silhouette without corrected white areas

What the silhouette shape above demonstrates is that Stipplr faithfully traced the 2 source models as it was designed to do — however, those white areas on the male model’s waist line and on the female model’s torso are in fact transparent shapes within the trace result.  The vector shape silhouettes literally have holes in them.

Sometimes Overexposed is Good

Having overexposed or solid white areas be ignored by Stipplr is generally a desirable result.  For example, if we were tracing a certain British spy in a tuxedo then we would expect to see transparent shapes of the white shirt’s collar, cuffs as well as breast pocket handkerchief.


Correcting The Overexposure

The word correcting is used very loosely here — to deal with the undesired overexposure we simply need to darken the model layers by adjusting the output levels. Since we want the area around the models to remain solid white we need to create a mask in order to apply the output levels only on the models directly and not to the surrounding background.

Creating A Mask In Photoshop

If you are following this tutorial using your own photos please note that masking someone, or something, from a photo in order to separate them from the background is out-of-scope for this tutorial and will not be addressed. To learn how to extricate subject material from a complex photo we suggest following the tutorial titled “Remove a Person”  hosted at Adobe and provided by  The video tutorial will guide you through the best practices required to pull a pefect mask.

Additional helpful resources to get you started with masking is this introduction to various masking techniques in Photoshop followed by advanced masking.

For an in-depth tutorial you’ll want to watch this very professional 35 minute video tutorial about 10 things you need to know about masking.


  1. Select the Male Model from the Photoshop Layers panel.

Stipplr multi-tone silhouette select model layer from layers panel

Permanent Changes Ahead…

Along with ignoring white, Stipplr Actions also ignore any applied layer effects and smart filters to your Photoshop layers.  Therefore it is important that the levels adjustment we are about to perform be applied directly to the raster data — always ensure you have backups of your original source material before modifying the raster data.


  1. Go to the Photoshop Image Menu, find Adjustments then select Levels…
  2. Drag the White Point Output Level slider to 170

Multi-tone silhouette Levels adjustment setting

Below is the adjusted the White Point result on our male model:

Stipplr multi tone silhouette male model white point output adjusted

Inked Line Art With Stipplr’s STAMP Simple Trace Action

Unlike typical solid vector shape silhouettes, a multi-tone silhouette generally contains a half-dozen layers, or less, of shape details.  One of the shape layers we will be creating for this unconvensional human silhouette is an inked line art effect typically found in graphic novels. These inked outlines will add fine details to the result without being the focus of the overall composition.

To add inked line art to our male model photo, we will apply the Stipplr STAMP005 Action to the male model photo layer.

Applying STAMP005

With the male model layer selected we’ll now run our first Stipplr Action.

  1. Open the STAMP005 Details Page
  2. Select the Action Black Stamp from the Action Set menu
  3. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run stamp005 shape trace action

Within a few moments the following result appears (below).

Stipplr STAMP005 outline comic outline result

If we hide the male model photo layer in Photoshop we can get a better look at the vector shape Smart Object which STAMP005 has generated for us.

Stipplr STAMP005 vector shape silhouette outline result

Stamp005 represents the topmost graphical element in our human silhouette composition and will remain solid black —therefore there is nothing else to do with this vector shape.

Easy Multi-Tone Contour Silhouette

With the inked details layer complete, it’s time to turn our attention to creating a solid shape male silhouette along with 2 or 3 additional outline shapes that will help bring a minimal amount of depth to the final composition.

Stipplr does not have a dedicated silhouette tracing action, however through the use and application of the GRAYSCALE002 Action we can automatically generate a Smart Object which is composed of 9 vector shapes where at least 1 of these shapes will contain our desired solid shape model silhouette.

To continue, ensure the male model layer is selected and visible.

Stipplr select male model layer and make it visible

Applying The GRAYSCALE002 Stipplr Action

With the male model layer selected in the layers panel it’s time to generate the intermediate vector shape which will edited to become our male silhouette.

  1. Ensure that the “Male Model” layer is selected in the Layers panel.
  2. Open the Stipplr GRAYSCALE002 Details Page
  3. Hover the mouse over the 9 Shades playback button
  4. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run grayscale002 shape trace action

Within a few moments the following result appears (below) sporting a few apparent errors:

  1. The background was transparent but now appears white.
  2. The female model has seemingly disappeared although we can still see her in the Layers panel.

Stipplr multi-tone vector trace shape GRAYSCALE002 result

Where did she go?

The Stipplr GRAYSCALE Actions work a little differently than most other Stipplr Actions.  The grayscale result is achieved by compositing 9 solid black contour outlines of varying opacity levels — the final result is essentially translucent allowing anything in the layers beneath the result to blend through.  The solution to preventing layers beneath the grayscale result from blending through it is to add a solid white layer. However, adding a white background creates its own problems such as obscuring any layers beneath the result. In our current situtation the white background within the GRAYSCALE002 Smat Object is obscuring the female model layer from our view.


Customizing The Vector Shape Grayscale Result

While not immediately apparent, the sought after solid human silhouette shape is now contained within the GRAYSCALE002 result.  Stipplr Actions always wrap vector trace results within a Smart Object container which remain fully editable by the designer.  To access the solid shape silhouette we’ll edit the GRAYSCALE002 Smart Object and manipulate several of the layers contained within it.  Editing the Smart Object will take place in a new document, once we have deleted several layers and modified the opacity levels of those which remain we will return to this document to complete the composition.

  1. Select the GRAYSCALE002 Smart Object within the Layers panel.

stipplr silhouette select the grayscale result layer

  1. Double-click the Smart Object proxy icon to edit the Smart Object.
  2. A separate PSB document opens containing the 9 grayscale vector shape layers and solid white background which comprise the GRAYSCALE002 result.

Double-click the grayscale002 proxy icon to edit the smart object

Editing The Smart Object PSB Document

The PSB document (shown below), has now opened within a separate and distinct window from our main PSD composition — however, we are still editing the same document.

The PSB only contains the following:

  1. 9 vector shape layers which make up the grayscale result
  2. A single white background layer which prevents layers beneath it from blending through.

Stipplr PSB document containing multi-tone vector shape layers

Smart Object Shape Layers Breakdown

Before we continue, lets have a quick look at what this GRAYSCALE002 PSB is comprised of…

  1. Each of the 9 vector shape layers has a unique name containing the threshold value which was used to determine the path outline for that particular shape layer.
  2. Each layer has a precise Fill value allowing the colour from the previous layer(s) to blend through allowing a compounding effect to take place between each semi-translucent layer.
  3. Finally, the solid white background provides a solid backdrop for the grayscale result.

Stipplr GRAYSCALE002 PSB comprised vector shape layers

Achieving a Solid Black Silhouette

If your only goal is to extract a solid black silhouette result then now is the time to do it.  When editing any GRAYSCALE or CONTOUR PSB Smart Object, the last layer is almost always a solid outline silhouette of your subject material. We can clearly see a solid shape silhouette in the image above represented as layer “threshold path 240“.  Simply set the Fill of this last layer to 100% and then drag the Smart Object to any PSD document where your solid shape silhouette is required.


From Grayscale Smart Object to Multi-Tone Shape Silhouette

To simulate the multi-tone effect we only need to keep 3 vector shape layers within our GRAYSCALE PSB document, the rest can be deleted.

  1. Delete all shape layers within the PSB except for layers “threshold path 112“, “threshhold path 144” and “threshold path 240“.
  2. Delete the “solid background” layer.

Stipplr GRAYSCALE002 multi-tone vector shape set

And here is the result as it appers on the PSB canvas:

Stipplr GRAYSCALE002 vector shape silhouette multi-tone set

Because we deleted the white background, our result is now highly translucent which is exactly what we want. Kind of. While the fully transparent area outside the path outline is indeed dersirable, the interior opacity of the male model needs to be solid otherwise the male silhouette will blend with any layers which appear beneath it.

We can resolve this by duplicating the last shape layer and assigning it a solid white fill.

  1. Duplicate layer “threshold path 240” and rename the duplicate to “silhouette”.
  2. Ensure the layer Fill is set to 100%.

Stipplr solid vector shape white background silhouette layer

Next, we need to add a solid white overlay to our newly created layer.

  1. With the layer “silhouette” selected, open the Color Overlay… modal from the Photoshop Layer > Layer Style Menu.

Open Color Overlay... modal using the Photoshop Layers Menu

The Layer Style modal appears with the Color Overlay option selected.

  1. To continue, click on the color swatch.

Photoshop Layer Style Modal Color Overlay selected

  1. Manually drag the color picker to the top left corner or type FFFFFF (white) into the hex field.
  2. Click OK to close the modal.

Photoshop Color Picker modal with white selection

And here is the result.

Stipplr GRAYSCALE002 vector shape solid white silhouette layer

Our model silhouette (above) is now a fully opaque vector shape but remains fully transparent around the exterior.

The last remaining step is to make the 3 vector shape layers much darker.

  1. Set the Fill of layer “threshold path 240” to 75%
  2. Set the Fill of layer “threshold path 144” to 40%
  3. And finally, set the Fill of layer “threshold path 112” to 20%

Stipplr vector shape layer fill set to 20 percent

And here is the resulting male silhouette sporting a much darker look.

GRAYSCALE002 PSB with vector shape silhouette darkedned fill settings

We are now done editing the GRAYSCALE002 PSB document.

  1. Save the PSB document.
  2. Close the PSB window.


Quick Review Of Male Model Vector Silhouette

With the PSB document now closed we find ourselves back in the PSD we started with.  At first glance there are 3 very notable changes:

  1. Even though the male model photo is still visible
  2. …it does not show through the vector shape silhouette due to the solid white silhouette we created within the GRAYSCALE002 Smart Object (PSB).
  3. The female model can be seen once again.

Stipplr Multi-tone Male silhouette complete

Rinse, Lather and Repeat

To complete the model silhouette composition, all that remains is to apply the same settings to the female photo as we just did to the male photo.

  1. Apply STEP 1 through 12 to the layer Female Model.


Vector Shape Silhouette Compared with Model Photos

With STEPS 1 through 12 applied to both the Male and Female Model layers the end result appears as follows.



Stipplr’s vector trace Action presets are the simplest way to convert jpeg photos into both simple and complex vector shape elements. Results obtained from running Stipplr results are rarely meant to be used as final works on their own, it is highly encouraged that results be composited into unique layouts. The GRAYSCALE002 result is a good example of a static result which was easily modified to represent something different, in the case of this tutorial we took a set of banding grayscale layers and quickly modified it into a multi-tone silhouette.

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