How to Turn a Photo Into a Painting or Drawing With Color Filters

Updated on June 30, 2020
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I made a program that changes the colors in digital photos. Then I used it to transform camera images into drawings and paintings.

How to Turn a Photo Into a Drawing

Digital photos contain red, green and blue values that can range from 0 to 255. 256*256*256=16,777216. That is over 16 million colors. A pencil drawing might only contain 16 colors. Reducing the number of available colors is an easy way to make a camera picture look like it was made by hand.

One option is to divide the color by a number, get rid of the decimal value and then multiply it by the same number. It reduces the number of available RGB values. For example 100,101,102,103,104 would all become 100 when dividing by 10. Another option is to use color lists.

You could use a list of RGB values that match the colors you want to use. I made a list of RGB colors that matched the colors in a crayon box. Then I replaced the photo colors with the crayon colors to make it look similar to a crayon drawing. The image below was made using 24 possible crayon colors.

When using color lists the original color is replaced with the closet matching color in the color list. To find the best match it compares the original color with all the possible colors in the color list. The larger the list the longer it takes to find the closest match. This method works best when you limit the number of colors in the list. I recommend using a maximum of 120 colors.

Pictures made with crayons, pencils, markers or paint colors look almost the same if you use every possible color. Use too many colors and it still looks like a photo. Use too few and you lose the details. For best results try to find a good balance. Experiment to see what looks good to you.

A deer photo with crayon colors .
A deer photo with crayon colors . | Source

Reducing the number of colors can give you some interesting images.

Convert Picture to Oil Painting

Paintings have fewer colors and broader strokes. Grouping pixels together and averaging the colors can make the photo you took with your camera look like an oil painting. Just averaging the colors can make the image dull and blurry. It works best when the group of pixels is divided into separate lists based on the the total of the RGB values, also referred to as the intensity.

After making the lists they can be sorted, allowing the program to use the most intense colors. Large groups of pixels can distort the image and creating the effect takes longer. I recommend a maximum radius of 10 pixels. Keep the radius small for a good representation of the original. With the program I used a radius of 4 pixels gave me good results.

If you plan on posting the pictures online use public domain images, creative commons images or ones you own. I transformed a public domain photo into a painting using a computer program I created. Public domain pictures that are modified may no longer be in the public domain.

Tiger photo with an oil paint effect and marker colors.
Tiger photo with an oil paint effect and marker colors.

Grayscale Images

Using a grayscale effect can make a colored photo look like a drawing made with a writing pencil. It could also just look like a black and white photograph. Using the grayscale effect by itself is not enough. If you want it to look like a drawing then use a paint effect or reduce the colors first. Change the colors. Then remove them.

To make an image look more like a drawing I reduced the amount of colors. Then I used a grayscale effect.

Deer painting that was changed to make it look like a drawing.
Deer painting that was changed to make it look like a drawing.

Edge Detection

Showing just the edges can make a photo look like a hand drawn sketch. A program can loop through all the pixels and only display the edges. It works by comparing the colors. After only displaying the edges you could use the grayscale effect. The image below looks a little different than it would with a standard edge detection effect because I kept the black..

Edge images are used in coloring books. You could fill in the colors yourself with paint, pencils, markers or crayons. If you want to begin making hand drawn art then I recommend you start by adding color to edge images.

Digital photo to drawing using edge detection.
Digital photo to drawing using edge detection. | Source

There is value in effort.

You will feel a greater sense of accomplishment and it will be worth more to you if you put some effort into it.

Digital vs Hand Drawn Art

Making a painting with a computer program is quick and easy. You just need to press a few buttons and wait 30 to 60 seconds. It requires very little effort. However digital art is not going to look exactly like hand drawn art and it is not worth as much. Making it does not give you the same sense of accomplishment you would get if you spent hours or days making it.

With hand art you need to be good at drawing or painting to get good results. To get good results with color filter effects you need a good picture. Start by taking some great photos. Make it your own. Put some effort into taking the picture because turning it into a drawing or painting will be easy. Use small or medium size images when you want to see the effect on a phone. Reducing the size of an an oil painting can make it look like a photograph.

Using color filters on pictures was fun and I liked the results I got. To create the effects you will need to find or make a program that can alter the pixel colors in a digital image. The effects on this page were created with a Paint Effects program I made. You should be able to create similar effects with Photoshop but I have not used it myself.

The main downside is that it is easy to duplicate and it requires very little effort. Hand drawn art is worth more because it requires more effort and is harder to duplicate. Using color filter effects on images may be too easy but you can put a lot of effort into taking the pictures. The deer image is worth more to me because taking the original photo required a lot of effort and I associate it with a good memory.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My favorite deer photo turned into an oil painting.Great blue heron with crayon colors.Leopard head photo to sketch using edge detection.Lighthouse photo to drawing using crayon colors.Swan camera picture to oil painting with marker colors. Camera picture to oil painting.
My favorite deer photo turned into an oil painting.
My favorite deer photo turned into an oil painting. | Source
Great blue heron with crayon colors.
Great blue heron with crayon colors. | Source
Leopard head photo to sketch using edge detection.
Leopard head photo to sketch using edge detection.
Lighthouse photo to drawing using crayon colors.
Lighthouse photo to drawing using crayon colors. | Source
Swan camera picture to oil painting with marker colors.
Swan camera picture to oil painting with marker colors. | Source
Camera picture to oil painting.
Camera picture to oil painting. | Source

Best method to transform camera pictures.

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Michael H

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