Illustration • Free Resources Free Photoshop Action: Toon Artist

This highly customizable action turns a portrait into a cartoon. 

Designed exclusively for Adobe Create by Nuwan Panditha (also known as BlackNull), this free Photoshop action is easy to install and run—and it turns your portrait photos into very shareable (and even frameable!) cartoon-style illustrations.  

We encourage you to use the action in both personal and commercial projects—and when you share your work on Twitter or Instagram, please tag @AdobeCreate so we can admire it! And share the action with a friend by sending them to this page! (However, please don’t redistribute the action.)

Photo of a smiling couple
image of a smiling couple with Toon Artist action applied.
photograph of a tattooed model
photograph of a tattooed model with Toon Artist Photoshop action applied.
Photograph of smiling pair of people
photograph of smiling pair of people, with Toon Artist action applied.

The Toon Artist action adds several customizable layers to an image, creating a “cartoon portrait” that you’ll love sharing!

We recommend reading the instructions and/or watching the videos for each step—the download folder also includes a complete guide to using the action, which was tested with and is compatible with all the CC versions of Photoshop that have the Oil Paint filter, from CC 2015.5 to the latest release of Photoshop CC 2020 (as of the publication of this page, in May 2020). It is also designed to work with Photoshop in any language, without any special setup. It has not been tested with versions of Photoshop before CC 2015.5 and may not be compatible with them. 

Download the Toon Artist Photoshop Action Files

Before You Start

1. This action was tested on images as large as 5,000 pixels; a good resolution to work with is around 3,000 pixels. Low-resolution images will result in a final image that is less detailed. Good candidates for this action are well-focused, well-lit images without too much white or black. Closeup portraits work well.

2. This action requires the Oil Paint filter in order to work. Open your image, select a layer, and go to Filter > Stylize > Oil Paint to make sure that the filter is available. If it is not available, follow these steps: 

Make sure that image you’re working with is in RGB mode and 8-bit mode (Image > Mode). Go to Edit > Preferences > Performance, and make sure the Use Graphic Processor option is active. While you’re here, click on Advanced Settings in the Graphics Processor Settings pane and make sure Use OpenCL is active. (If OpenCL is not available, there may be an issue with your graphics card. For more help, visit this help page.) 

Installation

1. You should have downloaded two files, the action file and a patterns file. First, install the action. Open Photoshop’s Actions panel (Window > Actions). In this panel, click on the menu icon at the top right corner, and then select Load Actions. Select the file Toon Artist - Action from wherever you downloaded it to.

Click to watch the installation process. 

2. Now install the patterns. In 2020 versions of Photoshop, open the Patterns panel (Windows > Patterns). In this panel, click on the menu icon at the top right corner, select Import Patterns, and select the file Toon Artist - Patterns. (In versions of Photoshop prior to CC 2020, go to Edit > Presets > Presets Manager. In this panel, select Patterns as Preset Type, click on Load, and select the file Toon Artist – Patterns.)

Image Setup 

1. Toon Artist creates a text effect that can be customized after you run the action. If you want to add text, keep its placement in mind when you crop your image.

Click to watch the image-setup process. 

2. Set the area of the image that the action will focus on. First, create a new layer. On the new layer, draw over the subject of the image (covering it); the action will rename this layer “focus” and isolate that portion of the image you’ve drawn over. Using a brush with a hard edge (with hardness set to 100% and spacing set to 10%) is an easy way to do this. (There is plenty of room for experimentation in this step. You can draw very precisely following the outline of a subject, but as a first test, you may want to start with a quickly drawn area using a large brush.)

Applying the Action

1. Before applying the action, make sure there are just two layers in your file: the image, and above that the layer with the drawn area.

Click to watch as the action is run, and to see the layers it generates in your image. 

2. Open the Actions panel, select the Toon Artist action, and click on the play icon. The playback time can vary depending on several factors; for a 3,000-pixel image, it should be around three or four minutes.

When the playback finishes, the message Render Completed will appear; click on Continue to close it.

3. If you’re happy with the way the image looks, you can stop here, but results are highly customizable via the layers it has created in your image. 

There are now many opened groups in the Layers panel. To quickly organize them, hold down the alt (Windows) or option (Mac) key and click on the arrow of the main Toon Artist group. Then release the key. When you open the group, all its layers will be shown in an organized way.

Layer Structure

Inside the Toon Artist group, there are a few subgroups and layers. To see what each one does, hide and unhide them one by one, starting from the top (more detail on each layer is in the video and in the user guide in the downloads folder):

There a lot of layers, but the structure is very simple: 

  • There is a layer group for the background color: BG Color
  • There are three groups with background elements: BG patterns, BG FX, and Border FX.
  • There are three groups with the toon effect: Toon Color, Toon Lines, and Toon Details. 
  • There are two groups of additional effects and a text layer: FG FX, Post FX, and Replace With Your Text. 

Most layers generated by the action share a few simple editing methods that will allow you to highly customize the image. 

Masks: All the layers and groups have a mask channel that can be used to hide or reveal parts of a layer. To do so, click on the mask channel of a layer, select the Brush tool and either white or black as the color, and then paint over the image. Using black will hide the painted parts of the layer; using white will reveal parts of the layer. You can view the mask channel by alt-clicking (Windows) or option-clicking (Mac) on it, mute or unmute it by shift-clicking on it, and invert it by selecting it and pressing ctrl-I (Windows) or command-I (Mac)

Blending Modes: You can modify the blending mode and opacity/fill of all layers and groups by using the controls in the top part of the Layers panel or by double-clicking on the layer, which opens the Layer Style dialog box.

Duplicate Layers: You can duplicate layers by pressing ctrl-J (Windows) or command-J (Mac). You can then modify the duplicate layer and mix it with the original one to make variations. You can also move, scale, and rotate layers with the Transform tool.

Layer Styles: Most of the graphical elements have a layer style or a filter that can be modified; you can access them by clicking on the arrow at the right of the layer. Then double-click on the style or filter to edit it.

Adjusting the Layers

Click to watch how the layers added by the action can be adjusted. 

Here’s a brief description of what each layer does:

BG COLOR

Double-click on the thumbnail of the layer to change the background color. 

BG PATTERNS

This group has 16 background patterns you can choose from. Unhide them one by one and select your favorite. Double-click on the thumbnail of the layer to change the color of the pattern. 

By default, the blending mode of these layers is set to Soft Light, so the final color of the background is a mix between these layers and the background color (BG Color). You can try experimenting with the other blending modes to achieve different results. 

BG FX

In this group are other effects for the background: 

  • Original BG is a toon version of the original background.
  • Fragments adds some particles. Use the color overlay layer style to change the color.
  • There are four paint splashes that can be moved and scaled using the transform tool to produce different effects. Here, too, you can change the color with the layer style.
  •  BG Gradient adds a linear gradient. Double-click on the thumbnail to edit the gradient.
  • BG Hue/Saturation can be used to quickly modify the color of the whole background.
  •  Secondary Border is made with a Stroke layer style. Modify the scale and color to make it work with your image.

BORDER FX

The layers of this group add some effects on the border around the subject. There are five layers with a ripple effect. Use the color overlay layer style to change their color, or turn off the color overlay to show the original colors of the image.

TOON COLORS

Usually the base filling layer (Color) can stay untouched. Modify the opacity of Details and Blur to find the right combination, or turn them off to have flat colors. The last two are adjustment layers that can be used to quickly tune the overall color of the toon effect.

TOON LINES

The first two layers  are the two borders around the subject. Modify the Stroke style to customize them. Notice that these two layers have a particular mask channel that can be turned on and off, inverted, or totally changed. 

Then there are three layers with lines that are really easy to edit with the basic methods. The last layer of the group is Shadows. Double-click on its Threshold smart filter to edit the range of the shadows.

TOON DETAILS - REVEAL DETAILS

Reveal Details is a toon layer with a high amount of detail. If your image is a well-focused closeup, it should already have lots of detail, and the information in this layer may be redundant. But if you are working on an image with multiple subjects and it is not a closeup, or if it is not in sharp focus, this layer can be very useful for easily restoring some nice details. 

Paint on the canvas with white to reveal important parts of the image—for example, the subject’s eyes or any other element that should be more detailed. You can switch to a black color to re-hide some of the revealed parts. Mute its mask channel to see the whole layer and decide where to paint.

Make sure the mask channel is selected while painting. This layer is a smart object so if you try to paint on it directly, an error message will appear. 

The other layers of the group add more details and highlights and are very easy to modify.

FG FX

This group has some foreground effects that can be edited using the basic methods.

POST FX GROUP

The layers in this group will add the final touches to the image.

TEXT

The text effect is made with some layer styles that can be fully customized. The layer is a smart object and can be moved, scaled, and rotated around the canvas. 

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