How to Create a Colored Pencil Sketch Effect Action in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

In this tutorial you will learn how to turn your photos into amazing and advanced, unfinished colored pencil sketches.

I will explain everything in so much detail that everyone can create it, even those who have just opened Photoshop for the first time.

The effect shown above is the one I will show you how to create here in this tutorial. If you would like to create the effects shown below, a sketch with a wet dripping oil paint and 3D pop-out effect, just using a single click and in just a few minutes, then check out my Wet Paint Photoshop Action.

Action final results

What You’ll Need

To recreate the design above, you will need the following photo:

1. How to Get Started

First, open the photo that you want to work with. To open your photo, go to File > Open, choose your photo, and click Open. Now, before we get started, just check a couple of things:

  1. Your photo should be in RGB Color mode, 8 Bits/Channel. To check this, go to Image > Mode.
  2. For best results, your photo size should be 1500–3500 px wide/high. To check this, go to Image > Image Size.
  3. Your photo should be the Background layer. If it is not, go to Layer > New > Background from Layer.
Checking image mode and image size

2. How to Create Brushes

Step 1

In this section, we are going to create a few sketch brushes we’ll need.
Take a pencil and paper and draw one shading scribble and three basic
scribbles. Then scan the scribbles that you drew. 

If you have drawn each
scribble on a separate sheet of paper then you should have four scanned scribble
files now. If not, then using some of the selection tools in Photoshop,
select each scribble, and move it to a separate file so you have four
files. Here are the scribbles that I drew.

Creating scribbles

Step 2

You don’t have to replicate my scribbles of course—draw them uniquely. But
what is important is that you have one shading scribble, and three basic scribbles. Also, the basic scribbles should be drawn sharply and have similar
density to the scribbles I drew. As you’ll draw unique scribbles there
will be density difference, but if you draw them so they are noticeably
drawn much thicker or sparsely, your sketch effect may appear too thick
or the reverse. Now open the shading scribble scan first, go to Edit > Define Brush to define this scribble as a brush, and name it Temp Brush 1.

Defining the brush named Temp Brush 1

Step 3

Open the first basic scribble scan, go to Edit > Define Brush to define this scribble as a brush, and name it Temp Brush 2.

Defining the brush named Temp Brush 2

Step 4

Now open the second basic scribble scan, go to Edit > Define Brush to define this scribble as a brush, and name it Temp Brush 3.

Defining the brush named Temp Brush 3

Step 5

Open the latest scribble scan, go to Edit > Define Brush to define this scribble as a brush, and name it Temp Brush 4.

Defining the brush named Temp Brush 4

Step 6

Now that we have defined our brushes, we need to adjust their settings and then define them again as new brushes. Press B on your keyboard, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, select the Temp Brush 1 brush, and hit Enter. Then go to Window > Brush and inside the Brush window use the settings below:

Changing the settings of Temp Brush 1

Step 7

To define this brush with new settings as a new brush, click on the top right icon in the bottom right corner of the Brush panel, and name it Sketch_Brush_1.

Defining the brush named Sketch_Brush_1

Step 8

Now press B on your keyboard, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, select the Temp Brush 2 brush, and hit Enter. Then go to Window > Brush and inside the Brush window use the settings below:

Changing the settings of Temp Brush 2

Step 9

To define this brush with new settings as a new brush, click on the top right icon in the bottom right corner of the Brush panel, and name it Sketch_Brush_2.

Defining the brush named Sketch_Brush_2

Step 10

Now press B on your keyboard, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, select the Temp Brush 3 brush, and hit Enter. Then go to Window > Brush and inside the Brush window use the settings below:

Changing the settings of Temp Brush 3

Step 11

To define this brush with new settings as a new brush, click on the top right icon in the bottom right corner of the Brush panel, and name it Sketch_Brush_3.

Defining the brush named Sketch_Brush_3

Step 12

Now press B on your keyboard, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, select the Temp Brush 4 brush, and hit Enter. Then go to Window > Brush and inside the Brush window use the settings below:

Changing the settings of Temp Brush 4

Step 13

To define this brush with new settings as a new brush, click on the top right icon in the bottom right corner of the Brush panel, and name it Sketch_Brush_4.

Defining a brush named Sketch_Brush_4

Step 14

Now we have our brushes ready. If you want, you can delete all temporary brushes we defined by Alt-Clicking on each of them.

Deleting temporary brushes

3. How to Create the Background

Step 1

To create the background, we are going to start by creating a solid color fill layer. Go to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color to create a new solid color fill layer, name it Background Color, and choose the color #f2f2f2 as shown below:

Creating new solid color fill layer

Step 2

Now we are going to add some texture. Go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Layer 1.

Creating new layer named Layer 1

Step 3

Press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches and go to Filter > Render > Clouds.

Adding filter render clouds to Layer 1

Step 4

Now go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold and set the Threshold Level to 128 as shown below:

Making threshold adjustment to Layer 1

Step 5

Go to Select > Color Range and using the Eyedropper Tool, select the white color by clicking anywhere over the white area in your photo, and set the Fuzziness to 40. Then go to Select > Modify > Smooth and set the Sample Radius to 20 px as shown below:

Creating a selection using color range from Background Texture layer

Step 6

Choose the Lasso Tool (L), Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, choose Make Work Path, and set the Tolerance to 2 px as shown below:

Making a working path

Step 7

Now go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Background Texture.

Creating new layer named Background Texture

Step 8

Press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches, and then press B on your keyboard to select the Brush Tool (B). Right-click anywhere inside the canvas and, inside the brushes panel, select the brush that you have made named Sketch_Brush_1. Then select the Pen Tool (P), Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, choose Stroke Path, and set the Tool to Brush as shown below:

Stroking path on Background Texture layer

Step 9

Now, while the Pen Tool (P) is selected, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas and choose Delete Path. Then Right-click on Layer 1 and choose Delete Layer. Select layer Background Texture and drop its Opacity to 10%.

Deleting path Layer 1 and changing opacity of Background Texture layer

4. How to Create the Background Sketch

Step 1

In this section, we are going to turn the whole photo into an outline sketch. Select the Background layer, press Control-J on your keyboard to duplicate the Background layer, and then drag that new layer to the top of the layers in the Layers panel.

Duplicating Background layer

Step 2

Now go to Filter > Stylize > Glowing Edges. Set the Edge Width to 1 px, Edge Brightness to 5 px, and Smoothness to 15 px as shown below:

Adding stylize glowing edges filter to Background_Sketch_1 layer

Step 3

Press Control-Shift-U on your keyboard to desaturate the layer and then Control-I to invert the layer. Change the Blending Mode of this layer to Multiply, drop its Opacity to 24%, and name it Background_Sketch_1.

Changing blending mode and opacity of Background_Sketch_1 layer

Step 4

Select the Background layer, press Control-J on your keyboard to duplicate the Background layer again, and then drag that new layer just below the Background_Sketch_1 layer in the Layers panel.

Duplicating Background layer

Step 5

Now go to Filter > Sketch > Photocopy, and set the Detail to 3 px and the Darkness to 2 px as shown below:

Adding sketch photocopy filter to Background_Sketch_2 layer

Step 6

Change the Blending Mode of this layer to Multiply, drop its Opacity to 50%, and name it Background_Sketch_2.

Changing blending mode and opacity of Background_Sketch_2 layer

5. How to Create the Subject Sketch

Step 1

In this section, we are going to create a subject sketch that is actually a detailed part of the sketch. Select the top layer in the Layers panel, go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Subject.

Creating new layer named Subject

Step 2

While the Subject layer is selected, hide all layers except the Subject and Background layers and fill in your subject with a color. 

You can do it in various ways. For example, you can create a selection of your subject using the Pen Tool (P), Magic Wand Tool (W), Lasso Tool (L) or some other tool, and then just fill the selection with a color. Or you can choose the Brush Tool (B) and brush over your photo using a hard or soft brush. It doesn’t matter what color you use. 

After you’ve finished, make all layers visible again.

Filling subject layer with a color

Step 3

Now Control-click on the Subject layer thumbnail to make a selection of the color fill and then hide the Subject layer. After that, select the Background layer and press Control-J to create a new layer using the selection. Drag this new layer just below the Subject layer.

Creating new layer using selection

Step 4

Now press Control-J on your keyboard twice more so that you have three subject layers.

Duplicating subject layer

Step 5

While the Layer 1 copy 2 is selected, go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold and set the Threshold Level to 128 as shown below:

Making threshold adjustment to Layer 1 copy 2

Step 6

Now select Layer 1 copy, go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold, and set the Threshold Level to 150. Then select Layer 1, go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold, and set the Threshold Level to 170 as shown below:

Making threshold adjustment to Layer 1 copy and Layer 1

Step 7

Select Layer 1 copy 2, hide all other layers except this one, go to Select > Color Range, and set the Select to Shadows, Fuzziness to 20%, and Range to 65 as shown below:

Creating a selection using color range from Layer 1 copy 2

Step 8

Now go to Select > Modify > Smooth and set the Sample Radius to 10 px. Then choose the Lasso Tool (L), Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, choose Make Work Path, and set the Tolerance to 2 px as shown below:

Smoothing selection and making work path

Step 9

Go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Subject_Sketch_1.

Creating new layer named Subject_Sketch_1

Step 10

Press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches, and then press B on your keyboard to select the Brush Tool (B). Right-click anywhere inside the canvas and, inside the brushes panel, pick the brush that you have made named Sketch_Brush_2. Then choose the Pen Tool (P), Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, choose Stroke Path, and set the Tool to Brush as shown below:

Stroking path on Subject_Sketch_1 layer

Step 11

Now, while the Pen Tool (P) is selected, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas and choose Delete Path. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All and hide this layer. Then select the layer mask of this layer, go to Image > Apply Image, and use the settings below:

Applying image on Subject_Sketch_1 layer

Step 12

Right-click on Layer 1 copy 2 and choose Delete Layer, and then select the Subject_Sketch_1 layer and show this layer. After that, click on the link icon between the layer
thumbnail and the layer mask to unlink them, select the layer mask, and press Control-I on your keyboard to invert the layer mask.

Deleting Layer 1 copy 2 and inverting layer mask of Subject_Sketch_1 layer

Step 13

Now, while the layer mask is selected, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 1 px as shown below:

Adding filter gaussian blur to layer mask of layer Subject_Sketch_1

Step 14

Hide the Subject_Sketch_1 layer, select the Layer 1 copy layer, and show this layer. Go to Select > Color Range and set the Select to Shadows, Fuzziness to 20%, and Range to 65 as shown below:

Creating a selection using color range from Layer 1 copy layer

Step 15

Now go to Select > Modify > Smooth and set the Sample Radius to 10 px. Then choose the Lasso Tool (L), Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, choose Make Work Path, and set the Tolerance to 2 px. After that, go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Subject_Sketch_2.

Smoothing selection making work path and creating new layer

Step 16

Press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches, and then press B on your keyboard to select the Brush Tool (B). Right-click anywhere inside the canvas and, inside the brushes panel, pick the brush that you have made named Sketch_Brush_3. Then choose the Pen Tool (P), Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, choose Stroke Path, and set the Tool to Brush.

Stroking path on Subject_Sketch_2 layer

Step 17

Now, while the Pen Tool (P) is selected, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas and choose Delete Path. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All and hide this layer. Then select the layer mask of this layer, and go to Image > Apply Image. After that, Right-click on the Layer 1 copy and choose Delete Layer. 

Then select the Subject_Sketch_2 layer and show this layer. After that, click on the link icon between the layer
thumbnail and layer mask to unlink them, select the layer mask, and press Control-I on your keyboard to invert the layer mask.

Applying image deleting Layer 1 copy and inverting layer mask of Subject_Sketch_2 layer

Step 18

While the layer mask is selected, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 1 px. Then hide the Subject_Sketch_2 layer, select the Layer 1, and show this layer. Go to Select > Color Range, and set the Select to Shadows, Fuzziness to 20%, and Range to 65 as shown below:

Creating a selection using color range from Layer 1 layer

Step 19

Now go to Select > Modify > Smooth and set the Sample Radius to 10 px. Then choose the Lasso Tool (L), Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, choose Make Work Path, and set the Tolerance to 2 px. After that, go to Layer > New > Layer to create a new layer, and name it Subject_Sketch_3.

Smoothing selection making work path and creating new layer

Step 20

Press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches, and then press B on your keyboard to select the Brush Tool (B). Right-click anywhere inside the canvas and, inside the brushes panel, pick the brush that you have made named Sketch_Brush_4. Then choose the Pen Tool (P), Right-click anywhere inside the canvas, choose Stroke Path, and set the Tool to Brush.

Stroking path on Subject_Sketch_3 layer

Step 21

Now, while the Pen Tool (P) is selected, Right-click anywhere inside the canvas and choose Delete Path. Go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal All and hide this layer. Then select the layer mask of this layer, and go to Image > Apply Image. 

After that, Right-click on Layer 1 and choose Delete Layer. Then select the Subject_Sketch_3 layer and make it visible. After that, click on the link icon between the layer
thumbnail and the layer mask to unlink them, select the layer mask, and press Control-I on your keyboard to invert the layer mask.

Step 22

While the layer mask is selected, go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 1 px and make all layers visible except the Subject layer.

Adding filter gaussian blur to layer mask of layer Subject_Sketch_3

Step 23

Now select the Subject_Sketch_1 layer and change its Opacity to 60%. Then select the Subject_Sketch_2 layer and change its Opacity to 27%. And finally, select the Subject_Sketch_3 layer and change its Opacity to 50%.

Changing opacities of subject sketch layers

6. How to Reveal More Subject Details

Step 1

In this section, we are going to reveal more details of our subject. Control-click on the thumbnail of the Subject layer, select the Background layer, and press Control-J to create a new layer using the selection. Then drag this layer just below the Subject layer.

Creating new layer using selection

Step 2

Now go to Filter > Other > High Pass and set the Radius to 5 px as shown below:

Adding filter high pass to Layer 1 layer

Step 3

Press Control-Shift-U on your keyboard to desaturate this layer, and then go to Image > Adjustments > Levels, and drag the Shadow slider to 85 and the Brightness slider to 170 as shown below:

Making levels adjustment to Layer 1 layer

Step 4

Now Right-click on this layer, choose Blending Options, and then use the settings below:

Making blending changes to Subject_Sketch_Highlights layer

Step 5

Name this layer Subject_Sketch_Highlights, Control-click on the thumbnail of the Subject layer, select the Background layer, and press Control-J to create a new layer using the selection. Then drag this layer just below the Subject layer.

Creating new layer using selection

Step 6

Now go to Filter > Other > High Pass and set the Radius to 10 px as shown below:

Adding filter high pass to Layer 1 layer

Step 7

Press Control-Shift-U on your keyboard to desaturate this layer. Then change this layer Blending Mode to Overlay, drop its Opacity to 84%, and name it Subject_Sketch_Details_1.

Changing blending mode and opacity of Subject_Sketch_Details_1 layer

Step 8

Now Control-click on the thumbnail of the Subject layer, select the Background layer, and press Control-J to create a new layer using the selection. Then drag this layer just below the Subject_Sketch_Details_1 layer.

Creating new layer using selection

Step 9

Press Control-Shift-U on your keyboard to desaturate this layer. Then change this layer blending mode to Overlay, drop its Opacity to 63%, and name it Subject_Sketch_Details_2.

Changing blending mode and opacity of Subject_Sketch_Details_2 layer

Step 10

Now Right-click on this layer, choose Blending Options, and use the settings below.

Making blending changes to Subject_Sketch_Details_2 layer

7. How to Color the Sketch

Step 1

In this section, we are going to color some parts of the subject sketch. Control-click on the thumbnail of the Subject layer, select the Background layer, and press Control-J to create a new layer using the selection. Then drag this layer just below the Subject layer. Then change this layer blending mode to Color and name it Sketch Colour.

Creating a new layer using selection and changing blending mode

Step 2

Now Control-click on the thumbnail of the Subject layer to create a selection of it, and go to Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection to create a layer mask using selection. Then press D on your keyboard to reset the swatches, choose the Brush Tool (B), pick a soft brush and, while this layer mask is selected, brush over so that the layer mask looks as shown below:

Adding the layer mask to Layer 1 layer

8. How to Create the Color Look

Step 1

Finally, in this section, we are going to add a nice color look. Go to Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves to create a new curves adjustment layer and name it Color Look.

Creating new curves adjustment layer

Step 2

Double-click on this layer thumbnail and enter the following settings:

Changing settings of Color Look layer

You Made It!

Congratulations, you have succeeded! Here is our final result:

Final result

If you would like to create even more advanced sketch effects with a wet dripping oil paint and 3D pop-out shadow effect as shown below, just by using a single click and in a few minutes, then check out
my Wet Paint Photoshop Action.

Action final results