Learn How to Turn Photos Into Illustrations

Take your photo from realistic to artistic with PicMonkey's photo editing tools.

We all know your photographs are works of art, but have you ever wished they looked more graphic? Less photographic and more representational? Not lifelike, but illustrational? PicMonkey has the tools and photo effects to help you make a photo to illustration masterpiece worthy of an art gallery wall. Let's get started!

Make a photo illustration in 4 steps

  1. Open your image in PicMonkey.

  2. Apply the Edge Sketch effect.

  3. Add an artistic touch with Posterize.

  4. Adjust Exposure and Colors for a polished look.

1. Start with the right image

This technique works differently with different types of images. We suggest sticking to images that are a little on the darker side and/or have a high contrast. Lighter images have a tendency to look washed out. Lastly, stick to a picture that’s not too rich in detail, since too many details can end up looking muddy. If you don't have a photo to start with, check out our vast array of stock photos to find a great shot to work with.

2. Trace the lines in your image with Edge Sketch

The Edge Sketch tool is a great starting point for turning photos into illustrations, as it makes your pictures look like they’ve been traced over in pencil. If your photo isn't transforming well with Edge Sketch, try upping the contrast first: go to Edits > Basic Edits > Exposure.

  • In PicMonkey, click the Effects tab and scroll down to "Edge Sketch" (in the Artsy effect group).

  • Turn your Thickness and Level of detail sliders all the way up to capture the maximum amount of detail.

  • Adjust your Fade slider about midway so that some of the color comes back into the image and then click Apply.

3. Add a painted feel with Posterize

Next, adding the Posterize effect reduces the number of colors in your image and softens out the details so that your image looks like it’s been painted.

  • The Posterize effect is conveniently located also in the Artsy group.

  • Adjust your # of colors slider up to at least 15. (Don’t be worried if your picture still looks washed out. When we adjust the exposure in the next step, it’ll bring the colors back.)

  • Adjust your Detail slider so that it’s somewhere in the middle. This will keep most of your detail intact while softening out some of the lines. This makes your image look more “drawn.”

  • Again, adjust the Fade slider about midway and then click Apply.

4. Bring on the color with Exposure & Colors

Finally, adjusting your image’s exposure will bring back the colors that have been muted by the other effects.

  • In the Edits menu, click on Exposure.

  • Each photo is different, so play around with the sliders until they look right to you.

  • When you’re all done, click Apply.

Repeat the same process with the Colors under Basic Edits, adjusting the sliders until you have a look you are happy with.

Now that you've successfully made a magnificent photo illustration, you can use it in a Facebook post, Instagram story, Pinterest pin, or YouTube thumbnail so the world can appreciate your artistic genius.

More photo to illustration fun

Wanna get extra artsy? Give the Draw tool a go!

Want to add some extra doodly fun to your image? PicMonkey's Draw tool: at your service. Choose from a bunch of different draw types (even more for Pro subscribers) like Pencil, Paintbrush, Spray Paint, and Circle.

Control the sketchy look and design exactly how you want. Draw makes it possible! To learn more about Draw (or if you're on the lookout for more artsy tutorials), see:

Rocket to the top of photo editing mastery with a PicMonkey subscription.

This article was written by PicMonkey Staff, a multicellular organism of hive-minded sub-parts who just wanna get you the ideas and information you crave, so you can make powerful images that level up your business.