Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How to: Make Silhouette Portraits

My sister-in-law, Valerie, and her husband, Jack, are two of the most creative people I know: Jack makes movies (and awesome birthday videos for his nieces and nephews), and Valerie builds bookshelves from scratch, makes her own upholstered headboards, sews the most amazing quilts, and creates the lushest container gardens you've ever seen.

Seriously, these two inspire me to live more creatively, adventurously, and thoughtfully every single day. I'm so lucky to have them in my family.

Here, they share step-by-step instructions for their latest DIY project: Making Photoshop silhouette portraits of their four furkids ... uh, I mean cats. But you can follow these steps to create silhouettes of just about anything you choose -- your pet, your kid, even an inanimate object (I might try my mouse at a few botanical silhouettes, for instance):

"* Using a digital camera, photograph your subject from the side. It's best to shoot against a white wall or a white posterboard to make it easier to digitally remove the background during the next step.

* Open the picture in Photoshop. Use the Magic Wand tool to select the background for removal. Once clicked, the background will be outlined and highlighted. Go to 'edit' and click 'cut.' The background will disappear.

* Now go to 'image' and click 'adjustments.' Select 'desaturate' to remove all color.

* In 'adjustments,' select 'brightness/contrast.' Lower the brightness and increase the contrast until your image takes the form of a silhouette.

* If the image isn't completely silhouetted, use the Paintbucket tool (with black as the color selection) to fill in as needed, placing the cursor dead center and clicking until your desired effect is achieved.

* Using the Image tool, select 'image size' to set your desired dimensions.

* Save your silhouette as a JPEG file.

* Burn the file to a CD and take it to your favorite photo-printing or copy shop (or simply use on online printing service like Shutterfly or Kodak Gallery), printing it on whatever paper or card stock you choose.

* If you want greater depth or thickness or a different background color, augment the printed image with paint.

* Trim the edges of the finished silhouette as needed and place it in the frame of your choosing. We used the black oval Ung Drill frame from IKEA that we then painted gold."

Thanks so much, guys -- I love how digital cameras and photo-editing tools can help even us non-artistic types unleash our inner creative spirit. (Next, I want a how-to for making that beautiful headboard ... )

Readers: If you have a simple DIY project to share, send me photos and instructions and I'll be happy to feature it here!


Unknown said...

Hi Leah,
Love this post! I made silhouettes of our family, too, but used the semi-old-fashioned way. I would have used Photoshop but its still on our old PC, and since I've gone Mac, I haven't gone back. My mother's grade school teacher made class silhouettes using a bare light bulb and traced the shadow while the kids sat very still. I tried that with our cat and turtle children, but it didn't work out so well. So I took their picture and enlarged it on the computer screen until it was the right size. I taped tracing paper (with painter's tape) over the screen and very gently traced the outline of the person or pet. I took the tracing paper off the screen and retraced the light pencil line with a Sharpie. Then I transferred the image onto construction paper by putting the solid piece on top of the tracing paper. I used the side of our glass aquarium for the backlight, but you could tape the image on a window during daylight. Then I cut out the image, mounted and framed it. I was surprised how well it worked since there were so many tracings of the original image. I'd be happy to email you pictures but I can't link to your "email me" button. What's your email address?

Leah said...

Hi Samantha,

Thanks for sharing your own silhouette how-to!

I'm not sure why the "email me" button isn't working for you, but you can always email me directly at:



Jen of MadeByGirl said...

I knew how to do it a different way, but its cute to see other ways to get this done, thanks!
Jen Ramos
'Earth Friendly DESIGNER Cards'

Julie V. said...

I have been wanting to make some of these for quite some time. Your sisters turned out fabulous. I will get my computer brained teenager to do this method and see how it goes. The frames are awesome, great idea. Thank you. Love this blog! How fun!

Anonymous said...

Thank you soooo very much for this very simple but awsome instructions on how to make a silhouette! I have been looking forevery for instructions on how to do this, it was so easy and it looks awsome!!! I need to make a lot of them of different people and this is just what I was looking for! Thanks so much! :-) My masquerade banquet guests will enjoy them!

Anonymous said...

This is AWESOME!! I have been wanting to make silhouettes of our children for a long time and now I can. So excited to do this and I may send you the outcome. :o) I may take my silhouettes to a metal cutter and have them cut out in metal too.

Anonymous said...

here's another way. i print out the image i want to silhouette at the size i want. trim it down as much as possible. glue (temporarily) onto the paper. cut out the shape. remove original. tada!

Nancy Reyes said...


Anonymous said...

I love this idea but don't have photoshop- any other methods to doing this or other programs?

Ashley said...

Yeah try downloading gimp at its free it's kind of hard to undrstand at first but then once you mess with it for a while it's easy to use

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for these helpful instructions! My little girl's silhouette came out beautifully!!

The Beading Gem said...

This is a wonderful tutorial and a fun craft for jewelry makers too. I shall be linking to my blog in a few weeks.

GHD said...

Thanks for sharing your own silhouette how-to!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wonderful idea! I just finished making one of our two cats (a Savanna & Bengal)and it came out pretty well. I used a leopard spotted background to match their spotted coat. I took one extra step when making this and imported my Photoshop file into Illustrator. I then live traced it to smooth out some of the pixalizatin I was having with the fur and to thin out the whiskers. I am very happy with the results and excited that the IKEA near us has the frame in stock. Thank you very much.

Annie said...

Amazing! Honestly, I didn't know how to do that silhouette portraits until I've read this blog. Thank you very, very much. I will bookmark it. Keep it up! =)

myblogger4 said...

I used a leopard spotted background to match their spotted coat. I took one extra step when making this and imported my Photoshop file into Illustrator. I will get my computer brained teenager to do this method and see how it goes.

Shelly said...

Hi, great tutorial! I'm currently working on mine. I had no trouble using the magic wand tool and removing the background image once I shot the photo with a light and solid background. I simply printed my desaturated image straight onto white cardstock. Why the need to cut the image out and then lay back on paper? I am thinking of reprinting it on a colored cardstock rather than using paint to see which I like better.


Chrissie said...

Thanks for posting this.... Where did you get your gold frame??? I love it.


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