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How to Convert Photographs to Line Drawings With GIMP

Updated April 17, 2017

GIMP can do a line drawing of a photograph just the way a human artist would: by looking at the edges of objects in the picture and picking them out in shades of grey, ignoring the colours. Fortunately, GIMP features many edge-detecting algorithms, and one of them, called "Difference of Gaussians," can detect salient details of a photographed figure in much the way that a human eye might see them. By tweaking the results of the edge detection, you can create a very naturalistic line drawing.

Load the photograph into GIMP by selecting the "Open" option under the "Files" menu. Navigate to your photo file and double-click on it.

Drop down the "Filters" menu in the GIMP editing window and select "Edge-Detect," and then "Difference of Gaussians."

Check "Normalize" and "Invert" at the bottom of the EOG dialogue box. Your image should now appear in the preview screen with the edges highlighted and most of the colour dropped out.

Adjust the Smoothing Parameters numbers next to "Radius 1" up or down until you've dropped out almost all the colour but have preserved the dark edges you want to see in your picture. Set the "Radius 2" parameter down to 0. Then click "OK.:

Drop down the "Colors" menu and select "Desaturate," and then click "OK." The image converts to grey scale.

Drop down the "Colors" menu again and select "Brightness-Contrast." Using the sliders in the Brightness-Contrast dialogue box, slide brightness down to about -100 and contrast up to about 100. Adjust these settings until you get nice dark lines and the amount of detail you want in your drawing. Then click "OK."

Drop down the "Colors" menu again and select "Threshold." Slide the threshold slider to the right until you reduce the image to dark lines without too much texture detail. Then click "OK."

Tip

You can use your line art as-is, or you can hand-colour it using the GIMP Paintbrush tool to give it more of a graphic arts effect.

Warning

The GIMPressionist module, which is found under "Artistic" in the "Filters" menu, has two "Line Art" presets, but these don't really create black-and-white line art. Instead, they render the image as a pattern of coloured lines.

Things You'll Need

  • Scanned or digital photograph
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About the Author

Scott Knickelbine began writing professionally in 1977. He is the author of 34 books and his work has appeared in hundreds of publications, including "The New York Times," "The Milwaukee Sentinel," "Architecture" and "Video Times." He has written in the fields of education, health, electronics, architecture and construction. Knickelbine received a Bachelor of Arts cum laude in journalism from the University of Minnesota.