How to Use the Photoshop Cartoon Effect

Quickly convert a photo to a cartoon

Photoshop Cartoon Effect

FranckReporter / Getty Images

Photoshop can make all sorts of neat effects if you play around with filters and image adjustments, but one of the most popular is a cartoon-like effect. There are a number of different ways to achieve a comic-like look, depending on what you're going for, but our method should give your photos a unique look all of their own. Follow these steps to convert a picture to a cartoon in minutes.

The following guide focuses on Adobe Photoshop CC version 20.0.4. Most methods will also work with older versions of Photoshop, but the methodology may not be as exact.

How to Turn a Photo to a Cartoon in Photoshop

Grab the image you want to work with and load it into Photoshop. Pictures with high contrast areas work best, but this effect will work on anything as long as you play with the settings to achieve the effect you're looking for.

  1. Before you do anything else, make a copy of your image layer so you can always go back to the original image if you need to. Select your image layer and press Ctrl (or CMD)+J. Alternatively, select the layer, then select Layer > Duplicate layer in the top menu.

    If you can't see the Layers window, open it by going to Windows > Layers.

  2. Name the new layer something distinctive. We'll call it "Top" for the duration of this guide.

  3. Make sure the "Top" layer is selected, then select Filter > Filter Gallery > Artistic > Poster Edges.

  4. Use the preview window while adjusting the sliders to achieve a more defined look for the new layer. The following settings are recommended: Edge Thickness: 10; Edge Intensity: 10; Posterization: 2. When done, select OK.

  5. Select Image > Adjustments > Threshold > and set it to 50, then select OK.

  6. Select Filter > Stylize > Oil Painting. Again, adjust settings as desired. For an effect similar to the one in the header image, select the following: Stylization: 5.0; Cleanliness, 2.0. Leave everything else default, then select OK.

  7. Duplicate the original layer again and name it something else. We'll refer to it as "Color" for the purpose of this guide. 

  8. Hide the "Top" layer. In the Layers window, select the eye symbol to the left of the layer.

    Photoshop cartoon effect
  9. Select the "Color" layer, then select Filter > Filter Gallery > Artistic > Poster Edges.

  10. Make adjustments as you see fit, using the preview window to gauge their strength and effectiveness, or use the following values: Edge Thickness: 0, Edge Intensity: 0, Posterization: 2.0. Then select OK.

  11. With the "Color" layer still selected, select Image > Adjustments > Levels, or press Ctrl (or CMD)+L.

  12. Select and move the Output Levels slider to reduce the overall contrast of the image by around a quarter. When you're happy with the result, select OK.

    This is dependent on the coloring of your particular image, so come back to this step and repeat it if necessary later to make further adjustments.

  13. Select Image > Adjustments > Hue and Saturation, or press Ctrl (or CMD)+U, the use the Saturation slider to increase the color intensity of the image so each color is clearly defined. Select OK when you're happy with the results.

    If at any point during this process you change your image in a way you don't like, press Ctrl (or CMD)+Z to undo your action. Alternatively press Ctrl (or CMD)+Alt+Z to take several undo steps.

  14. Select Filter > Stylize > Oil Painting. Either make your own adjustments as before, or follow these guidelines: Stylization: 5.0; Cleanliness: 2.0. Select OK when you're happy with the results.

  15. Highlight the "Top" layer again and select the empty box next to it in the Layers window to make it visible.

  16. Use the drop-down box of blend modes at the top of the window to select Multiply.

    A slightly different effect can be found if you select Darken or Linear Burn, too, so pick the one which provides the final image closest to your desires and expectations.

  17. Press Ctrl/CMD+L to open the Levels tool again and make any adjustments you like to the dark, medium, and light tones to tweak the various contrasting elements of the image. When you're happy with the result, select OK.

  18. Now that the image is finished, save it as you would any other or make other changes to it using some of our other Photoshop guides.