How to turn a portrait into Pop Art with Photoshop

Pop art is an iconic art style that transports us back in time. All salute the hero of pop art, Andy Warhol, and a shout out to Roy Lichtenstein too. Today you can make yourself look like the muses of their work, with halftones, abstract colors, bold lines and shadows. Caroontify your portraits with this fun pop art style in just 10 steps in Photoshop.


Step 1: Open your image

You can use a color photo or an already black and white photo. Since part of this process is coloring the image yourself, don’t worry about existing colors. The typical pop art style focuses on singular portraits, but in your recreation in Photoshop, use any image you like.

If you want to follow our lead, download this Eye for Ebony photo for free at Unsplash.

Step 2: Convert to smart object, crop and resize

To work non-destructively, we will convert our image into a smart object. This means that everything is easily reversible without affecting the quality of the original image.

Select the image layer in the Layers panel, right-click it and choose Convert to smart object.

Before you start creating a pop art masterpiece, it is best to check the size of your image. Since we’ll be using filters, a larger image won’t be as effective. If you want to crop your image, do so first using the Crop tool (VS).

To resize, go to Image > Image size and set it Resolution at 72. If your image is landscape, adjust the lenght at 1200. If your image is in portrait orientation, adjust the the size somewhere between 8701200. Once resized, select OKAY. Hurry CTRL + 0 (Windows) or Ordered + 0 (Mac) to fit your image to the canvas.

Step 3: Select your topic

There are different ways to select your topic, and it largely depends on your topic. For portraits, we can use the subject selection tool.

Select any selection tool from the toolbar, such as the Magic wand tool (O). So choose Select subject in the top settings bar. If you don’t see this option, go to Select > Matter. The selection shows walking ants around your subject, but it may need to be refined. Click the arrow next to Select topic to choose between Adobe Cloud or Device selection.

If your image has stray hairs or low contrast color differences between the subject and the background, you may need to refine the selection. Photoshop made it easy to maintain hair selections.

Select the Lasso tool (L). On the top settings bar, choose Add to selection Where Subtract from selectionthen draw over the areas you need to add or remove until you are satisfied.

In the Layers panel, with your subject layer selected, choose Add a layer mask at the bottom of the panel. This masks your subject so you can work non-destructively. Right-click on the image layer and choose Duplicate layer. Do it twice, so you have three in total.

Rename the layers by double-clicking on the titles, then click on the eyou icon on the top and bottom duplicates to hide them, so you can only show the middle layer.

Step 4: Add a white background layer

Select the bottom layer, then hold CTRL (Windows) or Ordered (Mac) when selecting Create a new layer in the Layers panel. A new transparent layer will open below the selected layer. Select the transparent layer.

In the toolbar, double-click the Foreground swatch to open the color picker. Type FFFFFF in the hexadecimal code box, then click OKAY. Then use the To fill tool (g) to fill the new layer with white. Now it looks like your subject has a solid white background.

Step 5: Make the image black and white

If you used a color image, now is the time to turn it black and white. If you have already used a black and white image, skip to step 6.

Select the thumbnail of your image in the Layers panel, then select Create a new fill or adjustment layer > Black White.

Step 6: Combine layers as a smart object

To ensure that all effects are applied correctly, some layers need to be combined into a single smart object. We’ve already made the individual subject photo a smart object, but now that we’ve added an adjustment layer, we need to do it again.

Select your main image layer and the black and white adjustment layer by holding Gap while selecting each. Right-click on one of the layers and select Convert to smart object. Now these layers will merge into one smart object layer.

Step 7: Add a Color Halftone Filter

This is the step that turns your portrait into a work of pop art: adding halftones. Go to Filtered > Pixelate > halftone color. Put it on Max radius at 6 and adjust each Canals at 60. Click on OKAY.

There is no preview option for this filter, so if you are unhappy you will need to cancel it and return to the filter to toggle the settings.

Step 8: Lighten your image with levels

In the Layers panel, click Create a new fill or adjustment layer > Levels. Set the bright end of the Levels spectrum to 100. This will lighten your image, but you can change the levels to your preference.

Select the main image layer in the Layers panel, then choose Linear burning from the Blend Modes drop-down list.

Step 9: Modify the exposure

Do you remember those hidden layers? Click it eyou on the top layer, then select the layer. Select Create a new fill or adjustment layer > Black White. Then select the layer again and click Create a new fill or adjustment layer > Exposure.

The exposure settings will be different for each image and your personal style, but for our image, set the Exposure at +5.21the Gap at -0.2269and the Gamma Correction at 0.01. Toggle the sliders to see what works best for your chosen photo.

In the Layers panel, select both the smart filter layers and your duplicate top layer—hold Gap while selecting the top and bottom of the group to select them all at once, then right-click and select Convert to smart object.

Set the blending mode of your new layer to Linear burning.

Step 10: Add a splash of color

You can now add color to your portrait to finalize the pop art effect. There are two different ways to add color to your portrait, both are very simple.

Option 1: Use the original photo

If your original image was in color, you can use this technique. Do you remember the last hidden layer at the bottom? Just select the eyou icon on this layer to review it. Blending modes and adjustment layers on the other layers create a cool color effect that works well for a pop art portrait.

Along with this great halftone effect, you can also make your photos look like paintings in Photoshop, or even create an interesting photo mosaic in Photoshop.

Option 2: Paint with the Brush tool

If you want to color your portrait in a more abstract way, you can use the brush tool to paint areas with color. Create a new layer and move it below your halftone portrait but above your lowest original image. Hide the layers above by clicking on the eyou icon on these layers.

With your transparent layer on top of the original, you can use the original image as a reference and paint the colors directly onto your empty layer. Use the Brush tool (B) to paint directly where you want, or use the Lasso tool (L) to draw and select precision areas before painting with the Brush tool or using the To fill tool (g).

Feel free to create multiple layers for each area of ​​color you add, or you can paint them all on one layer.

Once you’re happy, reveal the other layers again to see your pop art creation. You can hide or delete the original image layer at the bottom of the panel.

Now that you have your abstract colors, you can adjust or remove any of the adjustment layers to your preference. We think ours looks better without the Levels adjustment layer.

Turn your portraits into Pop Art

After this easy tutorial, you can take your portraits back in time with the iconic pop art style. Whether you want to keep the color realistic or go abstract, a pop art portrait is a fun way to showcase your photos and show off your artistic side. You can experiment with colors, halftone effects, or bold lines and see what you can come up with.

Christopher S. Washington