How to make a paint-by-number in Photoshop?
December 4, 2008 4:20 PM   Subscribe

What's the simplest way to create a series of paint-by-number patterns from digital photos? I have access to Photoshop and Illustrator. My Photoshop skills are a bit rusty (it's been a few years) and my Illustrator/vector understanding is pretty lame.

My DIY xmas idea for the family this year is to create paint-by-number kits of all of the siblings/parents/grandparents and package them with paints/brushes,etc. Nothing too fancy... I just want to print numbered line drawings onto thick cardstock.

I'm assuming that Illustrator is the way to go. Is there anyone out there that knows it well enough to break it down to a few easy steps? I'm assuming that all I really need to do is break my family's headshots down to four or five colors and then outline and number the color fields.

Instructions anyone? Or links to a tutorial? The hints that come up in my google search involve just tracing with the Photoshop pen tool and/or tracing manually with carbon paper. There has to be any easier way, no? I vaguely remember the livetrace Illustrator command from school, but, again, really don't know how to mess with vector graphics.

Also- I'm on a mac and don't want to buy any extra software.

posted by macrowave to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
In Illustrator CS3, use "Live Trace" or "Live Paint". You'll need to do some trial and error on this, and 5 colors probably won't be enough.

Once you've got it looking the way you like it, expand the Swatches palette to see the colors in use. Make a numbered color key in a separate document using these.

Select a colored region, and under the "Select" menu, select "same fill and stroke." Now manually type in the number key into each region. Repeat for each color (sorry, don't know a way to speed this up).

Then select the whole traced image and change all the paths to white with black outlines.
posted by adamrice at 4:53 PM on December 4, 2008

you might want to use a filter in photoshop to simplify your photo before you bring it into illustrator for the live trace. try cutout or smudge stick.
posted by nanhey at 5:08 PM on December 4, 2008

I think you want to use the "posterize" filter. There's a video here.
posted by GuyZero at 5:24 PM on December 4, 2008

If you go the Photoshop route, start with the Posterize adjustment (set to the number of colors you want) then smooth it out with the Median noise filter to simplify the color areas, and finish it up with the Find Edges stylize filter to outline all the major breaks between colors. Then you can bring it into Illustrator to do the numbering if you want, though it might not be necessary because the color areas will already be outlined with their appropriate color. Change it to grayscale if that's too much of a hint.
posted by Jeff Howard at 5:25 PM on December 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Using vectormagic to simplify the image then select the regions by color may be another approach. Change the level of detail to make bigger regions. You can even edit the image in the app before you save it to further process in photoshop.
posted by stuartmm at 5:54 PM on December 4, 2008

If you have Photoshop, you could try one of the Topaz Labs plugins. Some examples can be found in the Flickr pool here and here, and they include an explanation of how they got this effect. You can get Topaz products as a 30-day free trial. I've used them and it's very simple and straightforward.
posted by smalls at 5:55 PM on December 4, 2008

I've tried this on every version of Illustrator going back to, like, version 5. And every time, it sucks. There's not enough control and the interface is just way too damned slow. But you know who've gotten it right? Macromedia... well, now Adobe. But deep behind that big, ugly 'A' lies Macromedia code, and the one thing they've always been able to do way better is they have a really solid bitmap -> vector conversion engine.

Just open up any copy of Flash (I think this should work all the way back to v. 1.0). Import an image, then drill down to the bitmap and select 'Trace'. You can configure the number of levels... each level is a separate color. Ten levels would be 10 colors. Once you've saved it as an Illustrator file (another convenient-as-heck function from the days before Adobe), isolate the different colors on to different layers. Then copy-and-paste the numbers 1-10 a whooole lot of times. :)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:29 PM on December 4, 2008

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