Converting a color picture to a stencil

Just strolled onto this post: “Converting a colour photo to a single layered stencil with Photoshop” (via and I thought: you don’t need no friggin’ Photoshop to do that! Let me show you how it’s done with (free) Irfanview (Windows):

We start with the same picture as the Photoshop procedure above (actually I blew it up to 4x the size, double width, double height):

STEP 1: convert to grey
Use ImageConvert to Greyscale:


STEP 2: adjust contrast
Use ImageEnhance Colors... and set Contrast to 100. Then set Gamma to a ‘suitable’ value (e.g. so that background is all very dark or all very light, so that shadows in the face are dark enough to show up in the next step). I used .19 as Gamma:
Enhanced contrast

STEP 3: convert to pure black/white
Use ImageDecrease Color Depth... to convert to 2 colors. You have an option to use Floyd-Steinberg dithering, this will simulate levels of grey by using a mix of black and white pixels.
The result with dithering:
with dithering
The result without dithering:
without dithering

Which is quite similar to the result of the above Photoshop tutorial from stencilrevolution:
Photoshop stencil.
The only tricky part is the application of contrast/gamma: that takes some practice to get right. There it is: using a $0 software to do something you can also do with a $650 software.

See detailed photo album here:

5 thoughts on “Converting a color picture to a stencil

  1. Nicole

    Dude: to make a re-usable stencil, grab a hard plastic transparency sheet, a narrow bladed X-acto art knife, and go to town. These are super cheap, I found ’em at Wal-Mart and saved a trip to the craft store. Print out the image you manipulated using the above tutorial, place the plastic sheet over it, and carefully cut away all the dark spaces. You may want to secure the image you’re tracing with tape or trace the lines lightly onto the plastic with a pencil if you’re able. Voila. Slap your stencil onto some cardboard and do a test run with cheapo paint, tweak as needed. You may want to start with a slightly less ambitious image than a face before you get the hang of it.

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