Quickie cartoon me

For a while now I’ve been wanting a caricature of myself.  Several friends have cool buddy icons for messenger or as a tile on their blog.  Two things stopped me though: 1. my artistic talent is mediocre at best and 2. I’m too cheap to hire someone to make one for me.

So, what’s a cheap hack to do?  Why, come up with a quickie technique to make my own picture, of course.

0. Basic training

Before we get started, here are a few tips and notes:

  • I use Photoshop – it’s what I have, it’s what I know.  If you’re a photographer or an artist and looking for a great program, I highly recommend it. Many other paint, however, will work just great for this.
  • Make lots of layers – anytime you think you’re doing something new, make a new layer, you’ll thank me later.  Besides… CTRL-e (CMD-e on Mac) will merge a layer down so there’s no downside.
  • If you don’t like the results, try a different picture.  You’ll be surprised at how quick this can be and trying again is no trouble at all.
  • Small is good – starting with a little picture (I used one which is 150px by 150px) means less detail to distract you.  A cartoon version of you shouldn’t have much detail, Snoopy didn’t have whiskers, did he?
  • I figure you know how to use your paint program, so I skip a lot of detail.  If you have questions, ask, I probably need to clarify these steps.

1. Pick a pic

First, I selected a picture of myself I like.

Reeves and Paula in Goshen

I recommend using a brightly lit picture, I’ve re-tried this technique on a few different pictures and found dark images are hard to work with.

2. Double your fun

The next step will take all the color out of the picture, and you’ll want that color, so make a new layer.

Layer -> Duplicate Layer

As you go along and create new layers I highly recommend naming them. Later, when you want to edit a specific layer, it will be easier.

3. Xerox it

After drawing my first cartoon me on paper I figured out where the hard lines for my face were… but there’s a shortcut.  Use the Photoshop “photocopy” filter, it’s under sketch.


For this picture I simply set the detail all the way down (1) and the darkness all the way up (50).  You should play with it on your picture to get some good lines.

4. Trace elements

The photocopy filter has now given you a set of lines to trace.  It has probably given you too many, in fact, so don’t get greedy.  Try to draw the minimum number of lines.

Make a new layer (don’t duplicate this time, make a clean, new layer).  I named this layer “face”.

Grab the brush tool and set the color to black and set the size.  You’ll want to get a size which feels kinda cartoony, you can play with it to see what you like.  Go thinner for less drama, go thicker for a more Scanner Darkly look.  As a starting point, go with about 2% of your image size (my picture was 150×150, I used a brush size of 3px).

5. The straight and narrow

The trick to make this fast and easy (and make it look kinda cool) is to not draw freehand.  Pick a place to start (the jaw, under the ear, is a good one) and put a dot.  Next, pick a place along the jaw, hold down the shift key, and click again.  Photoshop will draw a line between the dots.


Continue along the outside of your face, a couple clicks on the jaw, one on the chin, back up the jaw, around the ear and follow your hairline around.  Once you’ve done the full face shape, add the hair using the same technique.

6. Eyes and ears and mouth and nose

Once you’ve finished the shape of the head, move to the eyes.  You should be able to get the shape with 3 to 4 clicks.  Start at one corner then click a couple more times to get the other corner. Draw a small box for each pupil. For my eyes I didn’t need to draw the bottom, just the top.

If you’re smiling in the picture you’ll likely have some smile lines, add those in. 

Eyes and nose

A few quick lines under the nose is all that’s needed to highlight the bottom and then one line for the side of your nose.

7. Color by numbers

Hide the photocopy layer so you can see your original picture under your lines.  Create a new layer above the photocopy layer but under your drawing.  Triple your brush size (9px in my case) to give more coverage and sample the color from some place on your face using the eyedropper.

Color away!

Eyes and nose

Now you need to add a little depth.  Create a new layer on top of the coloring you just did.  You’ll need a darker tone of flesh than you used before, so click the color palate (if you drop the “B” in the HSB section by about 10, you should be golden).

On a new layer use the shift-click technique again to trace the outer edges of your face, along your smile lines, under your nose, along one side of your nose and over your eye lids.

Eyes and nose

Sample your hair color and fill it in (I used the magic wand to speed up this step).  Adding a second hair color will also help (hide your hair color, create a new layer and sample some highlights to paint in with a medium-sized brush… say 5px).

Eyes and nose

8. Mad props

If you have a hat you always wear or (like me) you wear glasses, add those in now.  For glasses I recommend a thin brush to draw the frames (on a new layer, of course) and then draw the shape of the lenses in a neutral gray (on yet another layer).  Put the lens layer behind your face layer so the eyes appear to be showing through the lenses.

Eyes and nose

9. That’s all folks!

Now all that remains is to be sure your original picture and photocopy layers are turned off and save your new cartoon you.

Eyes and nose

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