7 days of unlimited video, AE, and Premiere Pro templates - for free!* Unlimited asset downloads! Start 7-Day Free Trial
  1. Photo & Video
  2. Photography

How to Create a Stylised Colour Sketch from a Photograph

Scroll to top
Read Time: 4 mins

Creating a stylish photo-realistic sketch used to require the skills of a talented illustrator. Later, if you knew tools like Photoshop inside and out, you could use filters to achieve the look. Now, thankfully for those of us with all the artistic flair of a broken etch-a-sketch, super talented people are creating photoshop actions—a way of automating Photoshop. This means formerly complicated techniques are now a few clicks away.

Here, I'll demonstrate the Colorful Sketch Photoshop Action by .

What You Need

If you'd like to follow the tutorial using the same images, you can download them for free here:

Before you get started, you need to install the pattern, brush and action files that come with the download.

Next, make sure your image is RGB and in 8-bit colour mode. Select Image > Mode, then select RGB Color and 8-Bits/Channel.

Using the Action

Choose an image with a subject that's easy to separate from the background.

example amageexample amageexample amage
I've chosen this example as the subject is easy to split from the background

Step 1: Select Your Subject

The easiest way to select a subject for use like this, in my opinion, is the Quick Mask tool. Don't worry about getting every bit of hair, when the action runs, the nature of it being 'sketchy' will hide any rough edges.

quick maskquick maskquick mask
Use Quick Mask to select your subject

Step 2: Brush Over Your Subject

Create a new layer and call it brush. Make sure it's all lowercase or the action won't run. Brush over the quick mask which, will stop you colouring over anything else.

brush your subjectbrush your subjectbrush your subject
Brush over your subject in any colour

Step 3: Run the First Part of the Action

This action is split into two parts. The first bit you'll need to run is PLAY, which you'll find listed above the colour options.

hit playhit playhit play
Run 'PLAY' first of all

When the action is finished running, you'll have something that looks like this.

after actionafter actionafter action
When the action finishes running you'll be left with an isolated subject against a plain background

Step 4: Make Adjustments

The first thing I’m going to do is create a layer mask on Blots and brush out the lines over our model’s face, as they're distracting.

layer masklayer masklayer mask
Use layer masks to reduce the effect of certain layers

Next, reduce circuit_grey to 30% which will reduce the white edges and give the features more definition again.

reduce circuit greyreduce circuit greyreduce circuit grey
Reducing circuit_grey gives the features more definition again

Next, turn on the layers sketch element_02 and 03, again to add some definition to edges.

finished imagefinished imagefinished image
The finished image using only the first part of the action set

Step 5: Run the Second Part of the Action

You could just leave your image like this, it looks pretty cool as it is, but the action comes with further options. There are a list of colours to choose from which you can run after you've finished with the previous adjustments.

Here's 'blue & red' as an example:

after blue and redafter blue and redafter blue and red
After blue & red from the colour options

Once again, go through the layers and make adjustments to remove distractions from the face and to add more colour if needed.

All Done!

finished imagefinished imagefinished image
I've removed some of the lines from the face and added more red to the shorts, hair and t-shirt.

Do More With the Action

This works really well on portraits, particularly those you can easily separate from their background. I was curious to see how it worked on a landscape and I was pleasantly surprised. The effect it gives is a bit like the posterization filter you can run in Photoshop, and it's reminiscent of the old railway poster styles.

This image of a train speeding through the mountains seemed perfect to try the effect on

For this image, there was no sense in brushing over one particular part, so I tried brushing over the whole image and then running the action.

after the actionafter the actionafter the action
This is the same image, after the action has run and with a few adjustments

Add a fun font and you've got a homemade postcard! 

It works really well on architecture, too.

You can tell I enjoyed playing around with this action. If you'd like to see some more great effects you can get from Photoshop actions then check these out.

Did you find this post useful?
Want a weekly email summary?
Subscribe below and we’ll send you a weekly email summary of all new Photo & Video tutorials. Never miss out on learning about the next big thing.
Start your 7-day free trial*
Start free trial
*All Individual plans include a 7-day free trial for new customers; then chosen plan price applies. Cancel any time.