How to Make a Stippled Portrait in Photoshop

Composed of only dots or small lines, a stippled effect can add a classic look to almost any portrait. While stippled portraits are best drawn by hand, like the method used for portraits on paper money and the portraits used at the Wall Street Journal, you can achieve a good result using a Stippled Grain Filter in Adobe Photoshop CC.

Preparing the Photo

Open a high-quality portrait photo in Photoshop. Busy backgrounds don't work well for stippling, so if the background isn't a plain light color, remove the background before proceeding.

Change the photo to black and white by clicking the Image menu, selecting Adjustments and clicking Black & White. Adjust the sliders if needed to make the background as white as possible without disrupting the person's face. For example, if the background was blue, drag the Blue slider slightly to the left to make it white. Click OK.

Photoshop's Black and White window
In most cases, the default Black and White options should work fine.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

Duplicate the Background Layer in the Layers panel by dragging it onto the New Layer icon. Hide the Background Layer by clicking its Eye icon. You can use the hidden layer later in case you need to do the stippling a second time.

Layers panel
Create copy of the Background layer
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

Click the Image menu, select Adjustments and increase the Brightness and Contrast to make the details crisp.

Brightness/Contrast window
In this example, the Brightness is set to 29 and the Contrast to 37.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

Select Blur from the Filter menu and click Surface Blur. Add just a bit of blur to smooth out the image.

Surface Blur window with Preview
Here, the Surface Blur Radius and Threshold filters are to 5 and 8, respectively.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

Invert the photo by pressing Ctrl-I, or by clicking Adjustments under the Image menu and selecting Invert. The photo should now look like an old film negative.

Applying the Stipple

Open the Filter Gallery under the Filter menu. Click Texture and then click the Grain thumbnail. Change the Grain Type to Stippled.

Grain Filter options
Using a Contrast of 100 makes a portrait look like a Che Guevara poster.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

Begin by moving the Intensity and Contrast sliders to the middle and then adjust them as needed. Zoom in and out of the Preview image to be certain you get the effect you want. Click OK.

Grain Filter showing the preview
In this example an Intensity of 43 and a Contrast of 46 works best.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

Zoom in to the photo by 3000 percent so you can see the individual pixels and then open Color Range from the Select menu. Click on a light square and adjust the Fuzziness to about 100. Click OK. Press Delete to remove all of the light pixels and return the Zoom to normal.

Color Range window
The Fuzziness is set to 103 in this example.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

Select Invert from the Select menu to select all of the dark pixels. Open the Image menu's Brightness/Contrast option. Decrease the Brightness slider to -150 and increase the Contrast to 100. Click OK.

Brightness/Contrast window
A dark, high-contrast removes gray pixels.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

Zoom in and out to examine the grain that makes the stippled effect.

a stippled eye
Zooming in to an eye to show the stippled portrait.
credit: Screenshot courtesy of Adobe.

The portrait is now completely stippled. The first time you do this, you may not get the result you want. You can use the History panel -- available under the Window menu -- to go back and start again, or delete the current layer and use the hidden Background layer to begin again.