Vectorportraits in Photoshop


For this tutorial, we will use Photoshopto create our vector portraits. Most artist prefer Illustrator for vector graphics but for this tutorial Photoshop will do.



Welcome to site will teach you how to make your own vector portraits. Every artist has their own style of creating vector portraits, ranging from ultra-realistic to very cartoony. What you’ll learn on this website is my style of making one and hopefully you can come up with your own style after learning the basics of vector art. If you want us to create a vector portrait for you please check out our Buy A Vector page. We just launched an Ebook to show you how you can make some money with your new photoshop skills, check it out HERE. Let’s begin.

What you need to get started:

  • Basic Photoshop
    7 skills (or later)
  • A steady hand
  • An eye for details
  • Some time and patience

Reference Photo:

This photo is what we’re going to work on for this tutorial.

And this is what we will end up with:

Try to use hi-res copies of the pictures that you’d want to convert into vector portraits because it’ll be easier to see the details and produce a much better looking vector.

Photoshop Basics:

For this tutorial, we will use Photoshopto create our vector portraits. Most artist prefer Illustrator for vector graphics but for this tutorial Photoshop will do. We will use the Pen Tool (PS Shortcut: P) primarily in creating the vector portrait. This tool is used to produce vector shapes and the vector shapes that you will create will ultimately form the portrait that you are working on. If you haven’t used the pen tool before here’s a primer:

To create a basic vector shape, just click wherever you want to start on the canvass and continue clicking to create a square shape. Click again where your shape started to close the shape. A new shape layer will appear in your layer pallette.

There are two ways to deal with curved shapes using the pen tool. The first one is to use a curve node which creates a smoother curve and the other is to use lots of nodes to trace the curve.

Method 1:

After finishing the curve, you can still edit the curve by holding the CTRL key while still using the pen tool. Your cursor will change to a plain white arrow to edit any node on your current curve. Just click on any node and drag it to edit the curve.

Method 2:

This is easier than the first method but may result to not as smooth as the curve from the first method. All you do is zoom into the curve that you wanted to trace then click along the curve to create a lot of nodes which when zoomed out looks like a smooth curve.

Before we start:

We need to set the pen tool options and shape options

Click on the pen tool or press P on your keyboard then check the settings for the pen tool options and shape options. This is the basic set up we will use on working on our vector portraits. We will use different shape option a little bit later on the tutorial. I guess we’re all set so click the link below to start with the next part.

Tracing Shapes

First right click on this image and save it on your desktop and open it on Photoshop

Duplicate the current layer by pressing CTRL+J then go to Image>Adjustment>Posterize. Type 7 in the levels input box.

The posterized layer will serve as a guide to the shades of color that we need to trace. The higher the level of posterizing you use the more realistic your vector will look but it will also be more difficult to work on.

Now press F to go into fullscreen mode, this will make tracing shapes easier. Zoom in at around 300% using the zoom tool, then hold down the space bar (your cursor will change to a hand) click and drag the image so that you are looking at the part of the picture same as below.

Click on the background layer to activate it then press P to select the pen tool, using the above image as a reference click on the starting point. You will notice that a new layer is created named “Shape 1″ on the Layers Palette. That is normal and this simply means that we are working on a vector shape. Follow the guide below to start tracing the outline of the skin of the model in the picture.

You may notice that I intentionally placed a node outside the picture, you don’t have to worry about this because any nodes outside the picture will not show and will not affect the vector. Also, in case you made a mistake or the curved path did not fit well you can hit CTRL+Z to undo. You can also edit any past node by holding the CTRL button and drag any node that you want to edit.

Continue tracing the shape until you have something like the image below:

What we are doing here is to trace first all the skin parts. Finish tracing the belly and the leg part, don’t forget to close you shape. Click on the “add to shape area” on the shape options.

What this does is to add the next vector shape in the same layer. This way we can keep our layer organized and easier to edit in case we need to come back and correct something. Continue tracing the other skin shapes so you may end up with something like this:

And this is what your layers palette should look like:

The top layer is your posterized picture, the middle layer is the shape layer which ou are working on and the bottom layer is the original picture. You can toggle on and off a layer by clicking on the layer visibility toggle icon. You can turn off the top layer so you can see how are you doing with your vector. Double click the box found on the left side of you shape layer to change its color. Select a color that is close to the primary skin color of our model (I used #F7CDB8). This will be the basic skin color of our vector, you will add highlights and shadows later to this to finish the vector skin.

Here’s what your current work should look like with the posterized layer turned off:

Skin Shading

Using the posterized layer as a guide, we’ll start tracing shapes that will be details of our model’s skin. Lets concentrate on the belly and leg part first. When you posterized your picture’s color depth was reduced and the boundaries of the shades are shown. Take a look at the image below, it is a zoomed in picture of the posterized belly part. You’ll just have to trace every color that you see in this picture.

This is where you’re going to need the patience part. It really takes awhile to finish a vector portrait. You can also see clearly which color is on top of other color. Basically darker shades should be on top of a lighter shade. Every color shade must also have its own shape layer. You can create a new shape layer by clicking on create a new shape layer option in the shape tools option box. Don’t forget to use the add to shape area option to add a new shape in the current shape layer. The following thumbs are arrange in order in which they are created with the last thumb as the top most layer.

You will notice that each color shades have a very slight difference. Also the last 3 frames are actually highlights. I usually trace highlights after I work on the darker shades. Color are selected by moving the color selector slightly towards the darker side of the color palette or lighter side of the palette, depending if you’re working on shadows or highlights. Here’s what it looks like when its put all together:

Notice the details that are showing on the belly part of the skin. Using the same techniques, continue working on the shading and highlights for the other skin parts. You can organize your layers using the layer folders found on the layer palette. I highly recommend that each part should have its own folder.

Simply drag a layer to the folder that you created to include it in that set. Also, mind your layer arrangement. After you finished working on the other skin parts, here’s what you should have by now.

This is with the posterized layer off and the background layer on. Click on the link below to proceed with the tutorial.

Tracing Clothes

Now that we are finished with the skin, it’s time we do the clothes. Using the same techniques on tracing the skin, it’s going to be the same with the clothes and even easier. Using the pen tool and create a new shape layer and trace around the yellow top. This is how it should look like after you trace the shape of the yellow top.

Once you get a hang of it and if you finished tracing the skin and its shadows and highlights, you won’t have a hard time tracing the shirt. The red bikini is also made on a different shape layer so as the string design for the bikini. Here’s what it should look like.

You can really see now the details of what we have been working on. Now the only thing missing is the word “Kellogg’s” on the shirt. Just trace the shape of the word as usual and don’t worry about the holes on “e”, “o”, “gg” and “s” yet.

On the same shape layer trace the holes of the letters.

After tracing all the holes, use the path selection tool pathselect.gif to select all the holes that you made for the letter then click on the subtract from shape area option on your shape options tool box.

This will make the hole paths negative thus becoming a hole on the word. Check it out.

After that we can add the facial details and the hair and we’re almost done. This is how your work should look like by now.

Move on now to the next page for the facial details, hair and the baseball cap.


Now we will work on the details for the face, the hair and the baseball cap. Again, once you really get a hang of this it’ll be easy for you to work on any picture. Its just a matter of how much details you’d want to put into the portrait. First we’ll work on the eyes, actually just the right eye. As you might have noticed our model is looking and down so not much details will be needed for her eye.

That’s it were done with the eye. Check out the image below of other eyes that I worked on from my other vectors.

You might notice that I do’t put much details on the eyes of my works but don’t let that stop you. You can put a lot of details when you’re working on your own vectors.

To trace the mouth, first trace the shape of the lips. Don’t forget the whole for the mouth, use the steps that we did when tracing the word “Kellogg’s” on her shirt.

Using the posterized layer as a guide, add shadows and highlights on the lips.

The color changes are subtle but when you look at the portrait the details really makes difference.

For the teeth, create a shape layer under the lips layer and fill it up with white then add the shadows to complete the mouth.

The mouth shadow layer is sandwich between the teeth and the lips layers. Here’s what our face currently looks like.

We now move on to the hair. The hair layer should be done on top of the skin layers. Just trace the hair as you normally would. Try to include the as much of the fly away strands as you can.

Here’s what it should look like with the original photo layer turned off:

We need to add shadows and highlights to the hair to give it texture and not flat.

We’re don with the hair. Here’s what should our work should look like now.

Now just finish it off with the baseball cap and create a background and you’re done.

If you need the reference psd for this tutorial you can download it from here.

I really hope that his tutorial was able to teach you what you needed to learn to work on your own vector portrait. Please do visit our gallery section to view more samples and submit any vector that you worked on using this tutorial. You may also email me for clarification or any suggestion on improving this tutorial.

Lastly, let me be the first to say Congratulations on your first vector!

Update: I have included a supplementary tutorial on working on the eyes. Check it out:

Detailing Eyes

The eyes are the most important part of a vector portrait. So I decided to include a detailed tutorial on working on eyes. In our original sample, we didn’t need to detail the eyes because the model is looking down so for this special part of the tutorial we will use a different photo.


This is a great picture to work on because it is detailed and we can see clearly her left eye. First posterize the photo to 8 levels. I used eight because I wanted to be able to include as much details as I can. This is what our sample currently looks like:

Enable fullscreen mode (Press F on the keyboard) and zoom into her left eye. First step is to trace the general shape of the eye. Then trace around the boundary between the eyeball and the eyelids.
eyeshape.gif eyeball.gif

With that two shapes done, here’s what you should have so far. I used the color white for the eyeball and a light flesh tone on the shape of the eye (#AE8052).

Next we’re going to work on the iris and it details. The more detail you can put in your work the more beautiful your finished project will be. Simply trace around the shape of the iris and you must keep it in inside the eyeball. Looking at the photo carefully, I found out that she has green eyes so I used a dark shade of green for the color of iris (#15220C).

Let’s add details to the iris so it won’t look flat. First trace the pupil, it’s just a circle shape in the center of the iris and then draw a smaller circle in the center of your pupil. This will give detail and prevent your pupil looking flat. Then trace the shine of her eye found on the upper right corner of the pupil. Set the opacity of this shape to 20%. Lasty, trace an arc at the bottom left part of her iris again to give detail and prevent her eye from looking flat. Here is a step-by-step screenshot.

We’re almost done. Here’s what we have after tracing the details on the iris.

The only shape missing now is the eyelashes and the definitions of the eyelids. I also decided to add a little bit of shading to the eyeball instead of keeping it flat white.

That’s it. We just finished working on her eye. Here’s what I have so far.

Looks nice right. You cant even notice that the eye is already a vector. Now just to complete the effect, I also traced the skin shades around the eye including the eyebrow. Then I added a solid shape to form the eyebrow. Here is the finished work:

That’s it. I really hope that I’m able to help you work on your vectors portraits. To download a copy of the psd [click here]. Please don’t let this tutorial limit you and what you can do on your portraits. You can put it as much details as you want and make it as real as possible and come up with your own method and style on working on your portraits. Thank you for reading my tutorial and I hope that you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed writing this.


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