How To Turn A Photo Into A Cartoonize Effect In Photoshop

Converting a photo, whether it be colour or black and white, into a cartoon is one of the easier effects to achieve with Stipplr Actions. The effect, often refered to as cartoonize, has proliferated across the internet over the last decade.  Other nomenclatures for this process are simply cartoon yourself, cartoonized, cartoon effect, cartooned or similar to the title of this post, that is, variations of Convert Your Photo Into A Cartoon.

What is the cartoonize effect? In its most basic form it’s simply the posterization of your source photo with a photocopy Filter Gallery layered over it.  It’s not a terribly difficult style to achieve within Photoshop and you can find tutorials for the cartoonize process here, here and here.

Results can vary greatly.


The cartoonize effect itself is often conflated with results generated by more complex vexel, comic book or graphic novel styles (all of which can be created using Stipplr Actions). A cartoonized colour photo is the easiest of these effects requiring only the most basic elements:

  1. A base colour canvas, usually posterized to 16 or fewer levels
  2. A layered black outline simulating a pen stroke

In this tutorial we will create the cartoonize effect using the Stipplr vector shape Actions and use the resulting shape layers to composite the final result.

Tutorial Assets

Source Photo

  1. Cathedral Hallway

Stipplr Actions

  1. OUTLINE001
  2. STROKE003
  3. STROKE006



The most important requirement in pulling off a successful cartoon effect is the source photo quality.  Ideally your photo has little or no compression artifacts and should be high resolution — anything with at least 1,500 pixel in both height and width is a great start.  You can follow along with this tutorial by downloading the Cathedral Hallway photo using the link under the Tutorial Assets section above.

Here is the Catherdral Hallway photo you will be downloading.

Stipplr Stock Photo Cathedral Hallway of Stone Floors Archways and Stained Glass

Due to the simplicity of the cartoonize effect, we will not require any lengthy preparation of our source photo.  As long as the photo has good resolution, none to very little compression artifacts and is bright with high contrast then the results should be acceptible each time.

Size Does Matter

The photo above is a lower resolution photo than the linked photo under the Tutorial Assets.  Please download the high resolution version for a successful outcome.


Outline Strokes

Base Outline Vector Shape

We’ll start off the cartoonize tutorial by generating the vector stroke outlines that will represent the dark strokes typically found in photo-to-cartoon effects.

Once the Catherdral Hallway photo is open, or pasted into a new document, start by selecting the layer containing the photo to cartoonize.

  1. Select the photo layer to be processed.

Photoshop Stipplr Cartoonize by selecting source photo from layers panel

Run Action OUTLINE001

With the source photo layer selected we need to switch to the OUTLINE001 Details Page to generate our first vector stroke layer over the photo source layer.

  1. Open the OUTLINE001 Details Page
  2. Hover the mouse over the Fine playback button
  3. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run outline001 shape trace action

Once the OUTLINE001 Action completes its function you will be left with the following result:

Photoshop Stipplr photo to cartoonize OUTLINE001 result

The result can be quite subtle with the source photo still visible, lets toggle it off momentarily to see the vector outline stroke result more clearly.

Photoshop Stipplr photo to cartoonize OUTLINE001 result with background photo hidden

Run Action STROKE003

The next Stipplr Action we’ll be applying to our cartoonize composition is STROKE03 which will augment the composition with bolder strokes.

With the layer Cathedral Hallway selected, and set to visible, locate the Stipplr Action STROKE003 Details Page.

  1. Open the STROKE003 Details Page
  2. Hover the mouse over the Light – basic playback button
  3. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run stroke003 shape trace action

Within moments the vector STROKE003 results appear layered over the source photo.

Photoshop Stipplr photo to cartoonize STROKE003 result

The additional linework from the STROKE003 results can be difficult to identify as they are similar to those from OUTLINE001 — we’ll animated the build-up shortly in order to view each individual stroke layer.  Overall however, the appearance of bolder lines created by STROKE003 should be evident.

Run Action STROKE006

The third, and final vector stroke overlay creates a further set of stroke shapes that will make our linework appear bolder thus completing the linework required to create our cartoonized effect.

Before applying STROKE006 ensure that the Cathedral Hallway layer is selected.

  1. Open the STROKE006 Details Page
  2. Hover the mouse over the Heavy – basic playback button
  3. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run stroke006 shape trace action

Within moments the STROKE006 layer is composited over the source layer in the Layers panel.

Photoshop Stipplr photo to cartoonize STROKE006 result

As with STROKE003, the addition of STROKE006 can be very subtle, however, the linework should now be visibly thicker.

Vector Stroke Progress

Below is an animated gif to illustrate how the 3 vector stroke layers work together achieve the cartoon style linework.

Photoshop Stipplr animated cartoonize vector stroke buildup

Cartoon Effect Base Color

The final Stipplr Action we’ll be applying to our source photo is the CARTOONIZE001 Action. CARTOONIZE001 does not generate a vector shape result but rather a high-resolution raster encapsulated in a Smart Object.  You can find additional raster-style Stipplr Actions on this site under the Raster Category.

  1. Open the CARTOONIZE001 Details Page
  2. Hover the mouse over the Base playback button
  3. Press the playback button

stipplr panel run cartoonize001 shape trace action

Most of the vector stroke, shape and pattern Stipplr Actions are processed in a very short amount of time — however, the Stipplr raster Actions often take a minute or two to complete due to the complexity of the applied Filter Galleries. While the CARTOONIZE001 Action is processing the Cathedral Hallway you will be greeted with the following modal more than a few times…

Photoshop Stipplr photo to cartoonize reduce noise modal

Where Are The Stroke Layers?

If you are new to Stipplr Actions then you may have noticed that the vector strokes we created earlier in the tutorial are missing from the above screenshot.  This is because Stipplr Actions hide all layers except the selected source image layer when applying the desired Action.


Base Color Result

When the CARTOONIZE001 Stipplr Action is complete the Action turns all the hidden vector stroke shape layers back on.

Photoshop Stipplr photo to cartoonize base color result

Our cartoonize effect is nearly complete.  However, having 3 solid black vector stroke shape layers is excessive — any graphic effect applied to a real-world photo needs to appear as natural as possible without looking heavy-handed.

The over-application of vector stroke shapes is blocking some of the vibrant colors from the CARTOONIZE001 result from shining through — we can fix this while also keeping all three vector stroke shape layers…

If you haven’t already, switch back to the Layers panel.

  1. Scroll to the top of Layers Panel and select the OUTLINE001 group
  2. Using the blending mode menu, select Soft Light

Photoshop Stipplr photo to cartoonize outline stroke with soft light effect

With the Soft Light blending mode applied to the OUTLINE001 vector stroke group we see an immediate reduction in linework density.  The Soft Light blending mode causes the OUTLINE001 resut to seemlessly blend into the CARTOONIZE001 base color layer — the linework within the glass pane at the end of the hallway no-longer blocks the color but rather enhances the saturation further augmenting the overall cartoonize effect.

Soft Light Blending Mode Result

Using the zoom tool we can get a clear view of where our OUTLINE001 linework went. As the screenshot below reveals, the linework is still there but due to the Soft Light blending mode our linework has taken on a new role — rather than dark black lines it now exaggerates the colors that it intersects with making them appear more saturated than they actually are.

The end result is a more convincing cartoonized effect.

Photoshop Stipplr photo to cartoonize zoom soft light stroke effect

As the linework intersects with color it appears more saturated, however, as it traverses over white (or very bright) areas of the CARTOONIZE001 base color it becomes more translucent and therefore very difficult, or impossible, to spot.

Cartoonize Result Compared With Source Image

Drag the disc at the centre of the before and after image below to compare the original source photo and the resulting cartoonized effect.



The cartoonize effect is probably the simplest form of simulating a cartoon version of your supplied photo.  But as simple as the effect is to create it does not mean it will look good — generally speaking the cartoonize effect is rarely jaw-dropping but often passable as a quick effect for storyboarding or simply having a good time.

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