How To Turn Color Photos Into Graphic Novel Line Art

Have you ever wanted to convert a color photo of yourself, or a scene, into a graphic novel effect?  Converting photos into graphic novel effects in Photoshop is not new, the hard part is choosing an art style and trying to replicate it faithfully. A quick search reveals that the spectrum of graphic novel art styles to choose from is vast.  For instance, in some graphic novels shadows are represented as solid black shapes while in others only simple linework is used. While some graphic novels artists make use of only one or two solid colors, others may use a broad range of watercolors — the final medium with which artists choose to depict the artwork is incredibly diverse.

In this tutorial we will be converting a color photo into a grayscale graphic novel line art result containing 4 levels of gray and solid black line work.

 

The term graphic novel came about as a way to distinguish the type of content apart from its natural counterpart, the serialized comic book.  Graphic novels have always centered around stories which were more vivid,  expressive and often more explicit than the typical superhero-style comic books.  Due to their mature storyline, and sometimes shocking illustrations, that the graphic novel was targeted to an older, more mature audience.

However, this is where differences between the two largely ends. When comparing how graphic novels and comic books look, that is to say, how they are illustrated, then things become quite homogeneous. Graphic novels are thought to be black and white, or grayscale, while comic books are generally associated with colorful benday dots — this is in fact not the case.  Graphic novels and comic book share a near complete overlap in art direction leaving only slight variations in how the final product is printed.

Therefore, while this tutorial is billed as a way to convert photos to graphic novel line art, it could just as easily been titled comic book line art.

 

Tutorial Assets

Source Photo

  1. 1954 Chevy Pickup Truck

Stipplr Actions

  1. INKER001
  2. GRAYSCALE001

 

Preparation

This tutorial assumes the reader has read through the Stipplr Panel tutorial.

The single most important factor when converting a photo into a graphic novel effect is the resolution of your source.  The resolution of the 1954 Chevy truck photo used in this tutorial was originally 6,000 x 4,000 pixels, it was scaled down to 2,122 x 1,600 pixels for this tutorial.  Working with very high resolutions is generally prefered, however, for this particular tutorial the lower resolution works just as well and is easier to work with (larger resolutions take longer to process).

Generally speaking, anything between 1,500 and 3,000 pixels in height or width work very well with Stipplr Actions.

Here is the 1954 Chevy truck photo we will be working with.

Stipplr Stock Photo 1954 Chevy Truck Parked on Side of Road

Other than scaling the original source photo down to 2,122 x 1,600 pixels there is nothing else to be done to this photo.

Grab The Original

The Chevy truck displayed above is scaled much lower than the resolution used for this tutorial — please use the link provided under the Tutorial Assets section to obtain an original copy.

 

Outline Stroke Shapes

Tracing Line Art From A Photo

Lets kick off the composition of our graphic novel effect by running the shape tracing line art Action on the photo — depending on what kind of photo you are using, you may need to composite multiple Stipplr stroke results in order to gradually build up the linework to where you like the results.  The 1954 Chevy truck photo we are using in this tutorial lends itself very well to being traced with only a single Stipplr Action, INKER001 (loose option).

  1. Open the Photoshop Layers panel and select the 1954 Chevy photo layer.

Stipplr convert to graphic novel effect by selecting 1954 Chevy photo layer

Run Action INKER001 (Fine – snug)

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

stipplr panel run inker001 shape trace action

Within a few moments the following result appears on the layer directly above the 1954 Chevy photo.

Stipplr graphic novel line art inker001 snug pass 01

The Stippr shape layer results can often be difficult to assess when the source layer is still visible — lets go ahead and toggle the visibility of the 1954 Chevy Truck layer to hidden.

Stipplr graphic novel line art inker001 1954 chevy hidden for better view

Here we see the Stipplr INKER001 Fine – snug results (above) clearly against a transparent background — if you are following along with this tutorial using the 1954 Chevy photo then your results will not be the same as shown.  This is because the snug and loose versions of the INKER001 Action are designed to trace contours in the source photo very loosly.  It achieves this by setting the work path tolerance value to a higher number forcing the trace operation to use fewer path nodes which in turn creates very smooth line strokes.

In rare cases the linework generated with a single pass of the INKER001 Stipplr Action will be sufficient, but in most cases the result will generate very fine detailed linework which may be too thin.  In the case above we can see that only the driver’s side headlight is finely detailed while the passenger side headlight is barely detailed at all —  when confronted with this type of result, composition becomes our friend.

To increase the fine detail in our linework and achieve the desired result we will be appling the Stipplr INKER001 (Fine – snug) Action 3 more times and allow the variations to build up over multiple layers.

Clipping Path Tolerance

The upside to a higher tolerance value is smoother lines that more closely resemble the linework of a graphic artist, the downside is that the resulting linework is unique to that process.  Running the Action a second, third or fourth time will consistently generate slight variations of the expected result but not exactly the same result.

 

Run Action INKER001 (Fine – snug) A Second Time

When variations are encountered, composition becomes our friend — to achieve the desired result we’ll apply the Stipplr INKER001 (Fine – snug) Action 3 more times.

Rename INKER001 Results

Because we are running the INKER001 Action multiple times within the same PSD document we must be mindful to rename the shape trace results.  By renaming the vector shape layers created with INKER001 on the first pass we can ensure that when running INKER001 a second time that Stipplr will not accidently select an already existing group or layer when generating additional results with the same Action.

 

  1. Rename previous INKER001 shape result group and layer to “path 1
  2. Ensure 1954 Chevy photo is visible and the layer is selected.
  3. Return to the INKER001 Details Page
  4. Ensure the Fine – snug Action is still selected
  5. Press the playback button

And here are the results from running INKER001 Fine – snug a 2nd time.

Stipplr graphic novel line art inker001 snug pass 02

Notice in the image above that our first shape result we manually renamed the group and layer to “path 1” prior to running INKER001 a second time.

The linework may appear indistinguishable from our initial INKER001 Fine – snug results, however it should be readily apparent that the lines are already starting to appear bolder.  In the image above we can see that details for the passenger side headlight have begun to appear — the default behaviour of Stipplr to ignore white (like Illustrator can) when tracing source photos means that each result seamlessly composites with results from other Stipplr Actions.

Lets render a few more shape layers by pressing the INKER001 Fine – snug button a few more times and then we’ll animate the various layers to see how they each help to compound the thickness of the linework.

Rinse, Lather, Repeat.

Run Action INKER001 (Fine – snug) A Third Time

  1. Rename previous INKER001 shape result group and layer to “path 2
  2. Ensure 1954 Chevy photo is visible and the layer is selected.
  3. Return to the INKER001 Details Page
  4. Ensure the Fine – snug Action is still selected
  5. Press the playback button

And here is our third INKER001 vector shape layer result.

Stipplr graphic novel line art inker001 snug pass 03

Again, notice our second INKER001 result was renamed manually to “path 2” before executing INKER001.

The variations in this third INKER001 result are harder to spot — aside from adding to the thickness of the lines we can see some new detail in the front bumper.

Run Action INKER001 (Fine – snug) One Last Time

This will be the fourth, and last time, we run the INKER001 Fine – snug Stipplr Action on the 1954 Chevy photo.

  1. Rename previous INKER001 shape result group and layer to “path 3
  2. Ensure 1954 Chevy photo is visible and the layer is selected.
  3. Return to the INKER001 Details Page
  4. Ensure the Fine – snug Action is still selected
  5. Press the playback button

And here is our final application of the Stipplr INKER001 Fine- snug Action to the Chevy photo.

Stipplr graphic novel line art inker001 snug pass 04

The new linework should be getting harder to spot at this point (above) but there is indeed new linework, we can see this clearly when the 4 INKER001 result layers are animated (below).

Stipplr INKER 001 vector shape tracing results animated

Tracing Minimal Grayscale Shape Details

Illusion Of Scene Depth

As it stands, the linework for our graphic novel effect is not complete — in this final stage we’ll be adding a minimal amount of grayscale to enhance the shape details and bring a false-sense of depth to the various elements within the composition.

White Backgrounds Are Fine

Simply deleting the chevy photo and replacing it with a solid white background at this stage would also make for a good final result.

 

The last Stipplr Action to be applied in this tutorial is the GRAYSCALE001 Action.

  1. Ensure that the “1954 Chevy Photo” layer is selected in the Layers panel.
  2. Open the Stipplr GRAYSCALE001 Details Page
  3. Hover the mouse over the 4 Shades playback button
  4. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run grayscale001 shape trace action

Within a few moments the following grayscale shape layer appears under our linework — Stipplr always places shape results directly above the selected source layer.

Stipplr graphic novel grayscale with 4 shades result

So what happened here? Stipplr GRAYSCALE001 created a Smart Object (shown above as GRAYSCALE001) which contains 4 vector shape layers representing the 1954 Chevy at 4 Stipplr specified Threshold Levels.  These vector shapes are then set with specific opacity values that create the appearance of having 4 levels of gray.

Editing Smart Objects…

Did you know that Stipplr does not rasterize vector shape results after they are traced?  Whenever possible, the scripted default is to preserve results as vector shape layers and simply wrap them in a Smart Object for easy manipulation.  If you want to modify the shape layers simply double-click the GRAYSCALEoo1 Smart Object icon, the contents will open up into a PSB document where you can edit the individual layers.

 

Graphic Novel Line Art Result Compared With Source Image

The following illustrates the before and after results. Simply clack and drag the disc at the centre to compare between the original source 1954 Chevy photo and the Stipplr generated graphic novel effect.

 

Conclusion

As demonstrated in this tutorial, converting a color photo into a graphic novel line art style is not difficult using Stipplr’s shape tracing Actions.  The results are purely vector shape paths with raster fills, not quite true vectors like those seen from Adobe Illustrator’s trace feature — but for those who don’t own Illustrator, Stipplr should perform well in a pinch.  Results can be expected to be the same across black & white photos including photos with Instagram-like filters applied, this is because Stipplr works by inspecting the contrast in the photo (resolution and contrast are key elements to a great result). Although reading and following along with this tutorial may have slowed your progress, typically this effect can be achieved in less than 10 mins once you have the process mastered.

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