Turning Photos Into Cartoons: A GIMP Tutorial

Updated on November 6, 2017

An Easy Method to Turn Photos Into Cartoons

Selecting Edge-Detect/Edge: Sobel Algorithm.
Selecting Edge-Detect/Edge: Sobel Algorithm.

Step 1: Create a Duplicate Layer: Use Edge Detect

  1. Go to FILE and OPEN the selected image.
  2. Go to WINDOWS and select DOCKABLE DIALOGS. From the drop-down window, select LAYERS.
  3. A new layers window will open up. Click on the overlapping photo icon in the layers window to DUPLICATE LAYER. Alternately, go to the LAYERS tab and select DUPLICATE LAYER.
  4. Select the new, duplicate layer.
  5. Go to FILTERS, then select EDGE-DETECT. From the drop down window, select EDGE.
  6. A pop-up window will appear. Verify the chosen algorithm is SOBEL (this should be the default) and then select BLACK among the three options (smear and wrap are the other options).

The result of applying edge-detect/edge/sobel
The result of applying edge-detect/edge/sobel

Step 2: Invert Colors and Divide

  1. Go to the LAYER WINDOW and change the mode from "normal" to DIVIDE.
  2. The photo will now appear in its final cartoon form. Go to FILE and select SAVE AS. Save the image with an identifying name.

Use the Edge Detect/Edge/Sobel filter more than once to create a more vibrant image.
Use the Edge Detect/Edge/Sobel filter more than once to create a more vibrant image.

Troubleshooting: My Cartoon is Too Light

If the final cartoon drawing is too light, simply apply the edge detect/edge/sobel filter once more on the duplicate layer.

  1. Click on the duplicate layer and select FILTERS, EDGE DETECT, and EDGE.
  2. When the pop-up window appears, verify the settings are for SOBEL and BLACK. Click OK.
  3. The cartoon will become more vibrant. Repeat this process as many times as needed to create the desired look.

Experiment With The Cartoonized Image

Desaturating the cartoon gives the look of a pencil sketch.
Desaturating the cartoon gives the look of a pencil sketch.

Experiment and Have Fun

By desaturating the final, cartoonized image, the picture will resemble a pencil-drawn sketch. Try changing the hue and saturation of the layers to achieve a different look with each cartoonized photograph: make each image unique!

Questions & Answers


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      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        9 years ago from Western New York

        I really need to do a quick tutorial on the layer window feature, with a description of where everything is! It took me a long time to figure out the GIMP, but once you get used to using the layer window, you can do almost anything.

      • WoodsmensPost profile image


        9 years ago from Arizona

        Very good, I just applied it to a photo using this guide. What a remarkable photo I have now. Thanks!!!!!

        I have been trying to find a way to do this one for along time. The only part that tripped me up was the invert and divide:

        1.Go to the LAYER WINDOW and change the mode from "normal" to DIVIDE.

        I was having trouble finding the drop down box in the window with the visible layers. Otherwise it was a snap!!! Thanks again WP!!!!!

      • leahlefler profile imageAUTHOR

        Leah Lefler 

        9 years ago from Western New York

        It is really fun. With the black and white line drawings, you can create personalized coloring pages for kids (they really like coloring pictures of themselves)!

      • akirchner profile image

        Audrey Kirchner 

        9 years ago from Washington

        How interesting Leah - this is something I could probably use!


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