In this tutorial, I am going to show you how to use some filters to help automate a hand drawn stipple effect in Illustrator.  First, we are going to prepare our image in Photoshop, then we will apply some effects in Illustrator and finish it all off with some hand drawn elements.

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Please note: This tutorial will show you the techniques on how to turn a photo into a stipple drawing, however not all images will come out perfect and there is a bit of trial and error in the settings.  I will explain what the settings do and what you are looking to achieve through each step to help get a workable image from your photo.


Step 1:  To start, go ahead and pick an image and load it up in Photoshop.  This technique tends to work best with isolated objects, so the first thing I am going to do is isolate my skull from the background.  There are about a million tutorials out there on how to isolate an image in Photoshop, so I’m not going to go into detail here.


Step 2: After your image is isolated, go ahead and remove the color by going to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.  There are more refined methods, but we really don’t need anything fancy here.


Step 3:  Now, we are going to lower the contrast.  Again, nothing fancy, just go to Image > Adjustments > Brightness/Contrast.  For my image I lowered the contrast slider all the way down to -50.


This is an important step because Illustrator is going to use this to determine where the stipple is.  If you find that your image just isn’t working for you as we progress through this tutorial, you will want to come back to this step and adjust the contrast.


Step 4:  Make a copy of your image (Ctrl + A to select the image, Ctrl + C to copy).  Open up Illustrator and create a new document and paste your image in.  My document is about 500 x 500 px.


Step 5:  This step is a stylistic choice and you don’t have to do it, but I am going to draw some outlines for my skull.  I will create a new layer above my skull photo and use it as a reference as I draw.  Using my drawing tablet, I am using the basic 2 pt. Oval brush with the settings as shown.


Step 6:  I am drawing out the main lines with a thicker stroke and adding in some of the details with a smaller stroke.  Very basic.


Step 7: Hide your outline layer.  Make a copy of your main photo layer and hide that as well (I like to save a copy on a hidden layer just in case I mess up).  With your image selected, go to Effect > Texture > Grain.  Change the grain type to “Stippled”.  The Intensity and Contrast slider settings will vary depending on your image and you will have to move the sliders around to experiment.  Basically, what you are looking to do is make sure the shadows and most of the midtones have a little bit of stipple coverage while still having white areas.  As we work through the steps, the stippling will get darker, so you want to start with an overall lighter setup than what you want the final image to be. When you are done, hit OK.


This step will directly affect your outcome, so if you are not getting desired results, come back to this step and adjust the Contrast and Intensity.


If you zoom in, you can see that this more a pixel mess than a stipple effect, but we aren’t done yet.



Step 8:  With your image selected, click on the arrow to the right of the “Live Trace” button and click on “Tracing Options” at the bottom.


Step 9: In the Tracing Options, set the mode to “Black and White”, up the Blur to .2px, set the minimum area to 5px and check the box that says “Ignore White”.  Turn the Preview on and adjust the Threshold.  If your image is too dark, adjust it down.  If you find you are losing some of the stipple in the lighter areas, increase the Threshold.  Again, this is a step that will vary depending on your image.  When you are happy with the results, hit “Trace”


Still a mess of jagged pixels



Step 10:  With the image still selected, click on “Expand”.


Step 11:  Now we are back to having a vector image.  You should be left with just the black specks. Double check and make sure that you don’t have any white parts.  With all of the black objects selected, go to the Pathfinder (Window > Pathfinder if it isn’t open) and click on Unite.  This step may take a while and slower computers may not be able to handle it, but let it do its work.


Step 12:  Here is where we get those shapes to be rounded and more like a traditional “stipple”.  Go to Object > Path > Offset Path.  Set the offset to a fairly small amount.  My image is about 500 x 500 px, so an offset of 0.25pt should be good.  Change the Joins to Round and leave the miter limit at 4.  Hit OK.  Again, this step will take some processing power from your computer.


Step 13:  When it is done, you should have more rounded speckles and a fairly convincing stipple effect.






Unfortunately, you really can’t tell what the final product will look like until you get to that final step, but once you have done it a few times you will get the hang of what you need to put your settings at.


Like I said on step 7, if you want to adjust the amount of Stipple, you will have to go back and adjust the contrast/intensity on the Texture filter.  As an example, I lowered the contrast all the way down for step 7 and went back through the other steps.   Here is the result:



Step 14:  Once you are happy, go ahead and turn your outline layer back on.


Step 15:  Now I am going to manually add some more stippling to some areas.  I am using the brushes from Transfuchsian’s Stipple effect set, which you can download by clicking on the image below.



Step 16: Since I already have the outline strokes, all I have to do is make a copy of the strokes from my outline layer and paste them to a new layer and apply one of the stipple brushes.


Step 17:  To show you how to manually add in a large area of stippling, I will add a bit of a shadow under the skull. I am going to use the patterns included in the set to create it. First I draw out a shape beneath the skull.


Step 18:  Next, I draw out another shape a little smaller than the main shape.  I am going to use the main (pink) shape to cut out my smaller (blue) shape.


Step 19:  Make a copy of the pink shape (Ctrl + C) and paste in front (Ctrl + F).  With the pasted pink shape still selected, hold Shift and select the blue shape.  You should have both the smaller (blue) shape and the copy of the main (pink) shape selected.  In the pathfinder, click on “Intersect”. This will cut out the excess areas of your blue shape.


Step 20:  Do this a couple more times so you have a few different shapes.


Step 21:  I now apply one of the stipple patterns to all of the shapes.  In this example I am using pattern 4. It is a quirk of Illustrator that a pattern is drawn out from a specific point and each instance of the pattern will follow this.  You can see this at work here because we aren’t seeing the separate shapes.


Step 22: No worries though as there is a quick trick to move the pattern around within the shape.  Simply select one of the shapes, with the select tool (V), hold down the tilde key (~) and then click and drag a little.  You will not be able to see as you are dragging, but once you release the mouse button you will see the change.


Step 23:  Do this for each pattern object so that it appears more “filled in” the closer you get to the main drawing.


Step 24:  Finally, to finish off the outer shape, use the pencil tool (n) to loosely follow the edge of the shape and apply one of the brushes to it.  I am using brush 6, but I increased the outward scatter a bit.  Play around with it until you are happy.



And there you have it!




The brushes and patterns are designed so that you can easily add a background color.



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