How To Make Fine Art Photos That Appear As Etchings

As part of a TAFE poster assignment, I had mocked up a couple of different layouts. I thought rather than spend a lot of time and effort on an idea that may not work, I would complete a rough sketch. Unfortunately, I could not find a sketch that suited my needs but I found a suitable photo that I converted into a sketch instead.

I remembered that I had some time ago developed a method of taking making a fine art photo that appeared as if it were an etching. I certainly do not claim to be the first, or that this technique is unique, just that it can give interesting results when the following these steps.

Step 1A – Take photo (subjects that are sharp and contain a lot of detail generally work best).

Step 1B – Make 2 x copies of the background – (this will leave a spare copy of the colour to re-arrange layers in Step 6)

Step 2 – On the second copy of background Use “Find Edges” filter (result will depend on each image).

Step 3 – Use “Find Edges” filter again (optional – may give an improved result when filter is applied again).

Step 4 – Convert to monochrome (lots of different techniques available – try image->adjust->desaturate or for greater flexibility add a Black and White adjustment layer).

Step 5 – Increase contrast (again lots of different techniques available – try adjusting curves by making an “S” bend or using levels).

Step 6 – Flatten all layers (EXCEPT the spare coloured one), then re-arrange layer order so the monochrome etch layer is sitting below the original coloured photo, and start painting some of the colour visibility.

(NOTE I use a black and white copy of the image as a mask. I then paint on the mask using a 10-20% opacity soft brush to gradually reveal the colour. I find multiple applications of a low opacity often give a better result than a single brush stroke at high opacity. Also the colour layer has reduced opacity to give colours that “watery” look)

Step 7 – Continue using a low-opacity soft brush to brush through colour from underlying photo.

Step 8 – Finish image with sepia background

NOTE there is no “right” or “wrong” way, you just have to experiment. Sorry, if you are looking for an automated conversion, this is not it. What I like about the technique is that the hand-painted colour has a very attractive artistic  style.

Also somewhere between Steps 4 and 5 you could also consider removing or fading any distracting elements (such as messy backgrounds)

I have also discovered that some images just do not work well with this technique. It is a case of just experimenting to see what works for you and hopefully this article will help getting you started.


Waratah etching step 01

Step 0 – take photo

Waratah etching step 02

Step 2 – apply filter “find edges”

Waratah etching step 03

Step 3 – try applying “find edges” filter again

Waratah etching step 04

Step 4 – convert to monochrome

Waratah etching step 05

Step 5 – increase contrast

Waratah etching step 06

Step 6 – start hand painting to reveal colour

Waratah etching step 07

Step 7 – continue brushing through colour

Waratah etching step 08

Step 8 – finish with sepia background

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  1. Ray Cooper June 6, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    I am getting lost around step 6, flatteing the layers. How do I get the etch layer to sit below the original image? I am using CS 5.
    From your dumb friend.

    • MKImages June 6, 2013 at 4:53 pm #

      Hi Ray
      Oops, my tutorial already started after I had re-arranged the layers to suit. I will try & edit that tonight! There are a number of ways to accomplish this, however try this….
      Before flattening make sure original layer is not visible, then making sure only the layers you wish to combine eg find edges, curves & B&W are visible select menu:
      Layer->Merge Visible. This should result in the background (original photo) layer & the merged layer. Photoshop locks the background layer by default, so simply double-click on the background layer icon & you will get a “New Layer” dialogue box prompting you for a name (just accept “Layer 0” default) you can now drag either layer to be top or bottom one. Hope this helps, if not keep asking me questions 🙂
      My usual workflow would be step 1 make a copy of the background layer. This always preserves the original image. As long as you had a spare copy this layer you could re-order the layers.

  2. Wanda Lach June 4, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    Hi Mark, this is an interesting technique and the results are quite beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

    • MKImages June 5, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

      Hi Wanda
      thankyou – yes they are different, but that is why I like them

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