Using Photoshop Stipplr Actions To Create A Graphic Novel Style

With just a few preset Stipplr Actions any photograph can be converted into a sharp graphic novel style using Photoshop with relative ease.  The term graphic novel was initially coined in 1964 and made popular by comic books such as the WatchmenDark Knight Returns and Sin City series as well as popular Japanese Manga art form.

This tutorial post focuses around taking a landscape oriented headshot photograph and converting the result into a dark graphic novel style comic book. In this tutorial, one Stipplr Action will be used to prepare the photograph while exactly 4 other Stipplr Actions will be used to compose the graphic novel result you see as the featured image for this post.


Every photograph is different. Pixel resolution, focal depth, luminance, motion blur and other factors are often what makes a photo unique. The graphic novel effect applied to the headshot used in this tutorial was achieved through trial and error by rendering a few dozen Stipplr Actions followed by a few hours of experimental compositions until the right combination for this photo was found.

This process of rendering and experimenting is not pertinant to the tutorial, but the designer (that’s you) should be aware that Stipplr Actions are not a magic bullet for graphic design — you still need lean on your own skills and aesthetics to create compelling compositions.


Tutorial Assets

Source Photo

  1. Shutterstock Headshot

Stipplr Actions

  1. INKER001
  2. INKER002
  3. INKER003
  4. HALFTONE003



Before we start the process of compositing our Adobe shape vector layers to create a graphic novel style we first need to process the photograph to give it an overall darker tone.  Stipplr Actions thrive on contrast, and while there is ample contrast provided by the subjects dark hair we need something with a slightly higher dynamic range.

Our goal with preparation is to crop the photo such that her hair frames her face perfectly.  To complete this illusion we will also need to do a few minor touchups to her hair to improve the visual balance between the left and right side of the photo.

Here is what we will be correcting:

  1. Remove green background poking through the top-left corner.
  2. Reduce yellow tone visible in the hair on the right side of her face (her right).
  3. Curves Adjustment to darken photograph.

Original source graphic novel style photo

Final Cropped Dimensions

The original stock photo headshot used in this tutorial measured 8512 × 5664 pixels, and after being cropped and scaled measured 2122 x 1600.


Remove Green Background

It’s not much but the green foliage poking through the top left corner is enough to break the illusion that the subject is perfectly framed by her hair.

Using the Clone Stamp Tool we will select a dark area of her hair to clone over the undesired area — shown below is the diameter of the Clone Stamp Tool we are using (300px with 0% hardness).  The area immediately beneath the Clone Stamp in the image below represents the area defined as the source area to be cloned.

Zoomed in 400% to more accurately use the Photoshop Clone tool to cover up the green background

And the result.

Photoshop Clone Stamp Tool used to remove green background visible in top left corner

Removing the green background is complete.


Reduce Yellow

Next up on our list is to remove the excessive amount of yellow from her hair, granted it wasn’t that much but it will affect our results.

Using the Lasso Tool, we’ll select an area that covers roughly all the hair on the right side of her head (click the image to more clearly see the selection outline).

  1. Open the Hue/Saturation modal and select Yellows from the dropdown menu.
  2. Drag the Saturation slider all the way to the left until -100 is the value displayed.

Photoshop Hue Saturation modal to remove Yellows from subjects hair

Reducing the Yellows in her hair is complete (the yellow along the left edge of the image above has already been removed).


Curves Adjustment

The final touchup before we begin applying Stipplr Actions to our headshot is to perform a very minor colour correction to the gray point using Photoshop’s Curve modal.  This correction will reduce overall brightness in the photo while slightly increasing the contrast and saturation — exactly what Stipplr thrives on for tracing!

Open the Curves adjustment modalCommand + M (Control + M on Windows).

  1. Select the On Image Adjustment Tool.
  2. Position the eyedropper over the inside portion of the model’s eye.

Photoshop On Image Adjustment Tool to manipulate grey point of subject photo

With the eyedropper over her eye get ready to click and drag down — the travel distance between the point where you click the mouse and the point you will release the mouse measures roughly 8 pixels!

In the image below we can see the adjusted curve in the Curves modal after it has been dragged.

  1. Curve will bow downward slightly.
  2. The On Image Adjustment Tool is only 8 pixels from where it started.

Photoshop drag adjustment over image tool to modify gray point

The touchup portion of this tutorial is now complete.

In the following image below we can see the slight variation we created with the Curves adjustment.

Photoshop Curves adjustment results on graphic novel source photo

With the touchup complete, all that remains before we begin is to enhance the source photo with much more pronounced contrast and colour — we’ll do this next…


Apply Stipplr Action SCANNERDARKLY

The first Stipplr Action we will apply to our source photo is SCANNERDARKLY006 — this Action generates a style similar to the one seen in the movie A Scanner Darkly starring Robert Downey Jr.

However, our goal is not to create a Scanner Darkly effect, we are only interested in achieving the sharp contrast result which the SCANNERDARKLY Actions typically generate.  And with the right blending mode applied to the SCANNERDARKLY layer we can fake a pretty decent High Dynamic Range look, or pseudo-HDR (a very graphic one).  This resulting pseudo-HDR will be what goes on to becoming our graphic novel rendering.

  1. Select the image layer to be processed

Image source layer selected in Photoshop Layers panel

With the proper image layer selected it’s now time to run our first Stipplr Action.

  1. Open the Stipplr SCANNERDARKLY006 Details Page
  2. Hover the mouse over the Burn playback button
  3. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run scannerdarkly006 shape trace action

Within a moment the following result appears (below).


This Process Is Nondestructive

As shown in the Layers panel within the image above, Stipplr always works on a copy of the selected image layer leaving your original intact.


Not A Vector Shape Result

The SCANNERDARKLY Action series does not generate a vector shape layer.  The purpose of this Action is to create a colour base from which we can overlay dark Adobe shape layers such as linework generated from other Stipplr Actions.  In this specific case we are not interested in building up the Scanner Darkly effect but rather to bake in the dark contrast into the photo we just touched up.


Next, baking the SCANNERDARKLY effect into our source image layer…

  1. Select the SCANNERDARKLY 006 ƒ group.
  2. Set the Blending Mode for this group to Soft Light.

SCANNERDARKLY result with Soft Light effect applied to layer for pseudo HDR result

And this is the new pseudo-HDR style source photo we will be using to create our graphic novel effect.


The New Source Photo

While it looks like we have our new source photo we still have one more step to do first — merge the SCANNERDARKLY effect with the original source layer.

  1. Select the SCANNERDARKLY 006 ƒ group.
  2. While pressing the Command Key on your keyboard (Control Key on Windows), select the source image layer.

Selecting SCANNERDARKLY group and source image layer

  1. With the 2 layers selected in the layers panel…
  2. Go to the Photoshop Layer Menu and select Merge Layers

Stipplr merge selected layers

Once the layers are merged a few things become evident that we should be concious of:

  1. The Blend Mode reverts back to Normal for this new combined layer
  2. The name of this new layer is taken from the layer which was merged down.

Below, the result we want as a source layer for our graphic novel effect which we will start next.

Stipplr layers merged to finally reveal our source photo for gaphic novel

Why Was Merging Layers Required?

Stipplr Actions are specifically designed to only process 1 image layer at a time, and it does not work on groups, therefore we must merge the group with our source layer.  If you don’t want to loose the work done to your original photo you can simply duplicate the layer or save a copy of the current file for safe keeping.


And here is a comparision between the photo we started with and the current pseudo-HDR result.

Stipplr source photo after pseudo-HDR treatment

About The Preparation Process

There is nothing more frustrating than following a tutorial only to discover your results are clearly not the same as the author’s…

Hopefully this insight into how this photo was prepared prior to creating the graphic novel effect helps to remove some of the mystery about how the final result was acheived.  The Stipplr Actions on this site were not designed to dodge hard work — designers still need to rely on their skill and training to achieve their desired results.


Grayscale Graphic Novel Effect

The graphic novel effect we will be creating in this tutorial is made using 3 gray tone vector Adobe shape layers ending with a halftone print pattern.

While applying the following Stipplr Actions to acheive our desired result takes about 20 minutes, there was about 45 mins of effort spent on rendering a few dozen Stipplr Actions until falling upong the exact sequence used below.  If you are following along with this tutorial using a different photo then in all likelihood you will have to combine different INKER and HALFTONE Stipplr Actions to achieve a similar result.


Applying INKER001

Our first Stipplr Action will act as the first of our 3 grayscale tone shape layers.

Select the source photo in the Layers panel (note that the source photo has been renamed to the the merge proceedure above).

Selecting the source photo layer prior to applying Stipplr Action

With the source image selected it’s time to apply the INKER001 Stipplr Action.

  1. Open the INKER001 Details Page in the Stipplr Panel
  2. Select the Action Fine – loose from the Action Set menu
  3. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run inker001 loose shape trace action

About the INKER Series Scripts

The INKER series has more than one core script. Depending on a designer’s requirements, they can choose the tolerance level of the vector linework they wish to generate.  These include tight, snug and loose — we are using loose in this tutorial to give our final Adobe shape result a more organic feel.


Within a few moments the following Adobe shape layer is generated.

Photoshop Stipplr INKER001 result

  1. The dark vector shape layer result can be hard to make out because Stipplr Actions are designed to ignore white, a similar result to how the image trace feature in Illustrator works.  This means the source image always pokes through the transparent portions of the Adobe shape layer.
  2. To see the shape layer clearly, toggle off the source layer

And here is the result with the source layer toggled off.

Photoshop Stipplr INKER001 result with source photo layer hidden

The only change we will make to this Adobe shape layer is to set the group opacity to 33% — the reason for this will become clear when we start compositing the other INKER shape layers with this one.

  1. Select the group Inker 001 loose ƒ
  2. Set the Opacity level to 33%

Photoshop Stipplr INKER001 result set to 33% opacity

We are done with the INKER001 Adobe shape layer.


Rinse, Lather and Repeat

To complete the graphic novel effect composition we still need to apply INKER002, INKER003 and HALFTONE003 to our source layer.  However, executing these Stipplr Actions is a near identical process to what we completed in STEP 7 through STEP 9 so we will condense the remainer of the tutorial into smaller steps by using less screen captures.  If at any time you get stuck, just remember that you can refer to STEP 7 through STEP 9 to fill in any gaps.


Applying INKER002

Next we will apply INKER002 which is very similar to INKER001 but with minor variances to the resulting linework. Applying INKER002 is an identical process to INKER001 so we will condense STEP 7 through STEP 9 into a single step below followed by the final result.

  1. To begin, ensure the source layer is selected
  2. If you haven’t already, make the source layer visible
  3. Open the INKER002 Details Page in the Stipplr Panel
  4. Select the Action Thin – loose from the Action Set menu
  5. Press the playback button


The following is the INKER002 result. Notice how the results are difficult to see due to our source layer poking through the transparent vector shapes.

Photoshop Stipplr INKER002 result

Placement of Stipplr Results
  1. Stipplr always places the vector shape results on the layer directly above the source layer.


  1. To view the final results more clearly, lets hide the source layer.
  2. Select the group Inker 002 loose ƒ
  3. Set the Opacity level to 33%

Photoshop Stipplr INKER002 result set to 33% opacity

Already we can see how our Adobe shape vector layers are building up — the opacity settings on the groups are creating a darker tone where the solid shapes from both INKER results intersect.


Applying INKER003

Next on our list is applying INKER003 which, like INKER002, is also very similar to INKER001 but with enough variation to create a slightly different result.

  1. Ensure the source layer is selected
  2. Toggle the source layer mode to visible
  3. Open the INKER003 Details Page in the Stipplr Panel
  4. Select the Action Base – loose from the Action Set Menu
  5. Press the playback button


And as with the INKER002, here we see INKER003 with the source image poking through making it harder to see the result.

Photoshop Stipplr INKER003 result

And below is our composition so far with the Inker 003 ƒ group set to 33% opacity and the source photo toggled off for easier viewing.

Photoshop Stipplr INKER003 result set to 33% opacity


Applying HALFTONE003

With our grayscale base now complete we move onto simulating the halftone pattern generally associated with printed graphic novels.

  1. Ensure the source layer is selected
  2. Toggle the source layer back to visible
  3. Open the HALFTONE003 Details Page in the Stipplr Panel
  4. Select the Action Bold from the Action Set menu
  5. Press the playback button


Here is our result.  Again, the soure layer is poking through the transparent regions of our Adobe shape results…

Stipplr halftone003 result on graphic novel composition

And here is our composition to date with the source photo toggled off (the opacity levels for the HALFTONE003 result remains at 100%).

Stipplr final graphic novel composition with source photo layer toggled off


Vectorized Shape Compared With Source Image

Here is a comparison between our original source photo and the resulting Stipplr Graphic Novel composition.  Because the background is transparent you can choose to put whatever colour or effect you desire.



There are no silver bullets using Stipplr Actions.  In most cases you should expect to perform some touchups to your source content to ensure the best results — and in all cases you should expect to experiment with multiple combinations of various Stipplr Actions to achieve the result you are envisioning.

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