Design Process

Continuous color Color applied as in paint on an automobile.
Floaters An area that will fall out that isn’t supposed to. On a pattern, it is a white area surrounded by black.
Halftone A type of single-bit image composed of a pattern of black dots that fool the eye into seeing shades of gray.
DPI Dots per inch- the measurement of resolution. DPI equals the number of dots that fit horizontally and vertically into a one-inch measurement.
Pixel A picture element, or a single unit of a graphic image used by the computer to represent image information in a digital format.
Highlight The lightest portions of an image.
Midtones The parts of an image between the lighter and darker areas, at around 50% gray
Shadow The darkest areas of an image.
Threshold Black and white balance
Saturation The intensity of a color, or the degree of color in a particular hue.
Contrast Contrast is the range between the darkest and lightest shades in an image.
Brightness Brightness is the balance of light and dark shades.

The portrait pattern making process is basically 2 steps. The first step could be divided into 2 really different things. Step one entails the original picture selection for what you want, how much background if any, quality of the picture, distance and features, glasses, clothing, wrinkles, shadows covering areas, size of substrate and of reproduction. Then capturing that part so it can be worked on and output into a usable format (hopefully a pattern). The first step also covers changing the original into a picture that a pattern can be worked from.

Step 2 is the actual pattern process that can only be practiced with to achieve the desired results.

Pictures to portraits:
Step 1 picture processing

Portraits can be made from pictures in several ways; direct transfer to wood by applying heat from an iron to a Xeroxed copy of a pattern, tracing a picture onto the wooden blank using carbon paper, or if cutting soft wood- tracing over the picture with a sharp instrument can leave impressions to be used as a pattern.

Point is: depending on what needs to be done, the kind of pattern you are looking for changes. Portrait (expressions) or silhouette (outlines)? Still life (moose in woods) or real life (known personalities)?

Designing a portrait or any pattern from a picture requires a few basic forethoughts; type of design or pattern (fine detail or general outlines) will determine width of cuts which are a concern of thickness of pattern lines. Detail in the form of wrinkles, scars, hair, clothing patterns and such play a lot in the final design.

Concept: Take a picture and turn it into a black and white line drawing that can be printed for use as a pattern.

My setup to do this; personal computer running windows and Adobe Elements software. Adobe Elements is the child version of Photoshop. I use a scanner to make images and via the Internet. I use a Wacom graphic tablet and pen, although a mouse can be used. I use a printer with standard paper for the pattern.

Here we go:

Select a picture that you want to convert into a portrait. You can try and do any picture you want, people… still life… whatever… not all pictures work well though. You want a picture that has good contrast between light and dark areas.
Remember the final outcome will be a black and white line picture… always think about this when you’relooking at potential photos, how well will the colors convert into just black and white?
Once a picture is selected that will be converted, scan it into your graphics software. What I’m describing is done with Adobe elements and/or Photoshop. Other graphics intensive programs such as; Paintshop and Painter can also be used with slightly different commands or ways of completing tasks. Do not confuse these programs with Paint that comes standard on many computers.
Pictures can be thought of as continuous color. That color is first changed into what is called “halftone” so computers and printers can work with it. This halftone image is made up of 4 colors (in print) and 3 colors (in light). We are adjusting things from the 3 color past the 2 color (duotone) to just one color… black. But trying to just turn things black and white normally will not work because the computer needs to know how much of what color you want black and what isn’t is white. This picture of Drew Barrymore has a resolution of 72 dpi. Notice the clear hair and clothing details. Even with a small picture and low resolution for screen and printing, the eyes aren’t just black holes.
There are many different file formats. For the purpose of this short discussion, save your scanned image as a “jpg/jpeg” format; this is one that is readily found on the Internet.
Here’s how it works:
Your computer screen works on dpi which are round while printed material and digital pictures work in pixels which are rectangle. So when you scan an image, the image is converted into little square chunks, the higher the resolution- the more little square chunks there are and the finer the lines, edges, corners, and color.
Problems are encountered when resolution isn’t large enough to provide detail when enlarged. Some of this can be rectified with adjustment of the image also. Resolution can be thought of as computer numbers also, each pixel tells a program its exact location, size, and color (if other than black or white this could include numbers for degrees of process colors). This is the same picture with a lower resolution. Notice the fuzzy areas forming around the hair and the lines of the clothing melding.
To make the resolution not appear spotty online it’s 72 dpi, which, depending on the detail you’re trying to get… may not be fine enough. Beware, higher resolutions increase file size and processing time. As you can see, this same picture was set at a resolution only slightly less than the last. A pattern from it becomes a poor stick figure.
You help the computer make these decisions with the steps that follow.
Let’s say we get to the point where you have your file:
Save your image with a new file name, close the original and open the new file.
Fit the picture to your program window (you’re going to want to watch your picture) by maximizing the window then hitting ctrl+0 (zero).
Next select Ctrl+L which brings up the Levels window. This control is going to let you mess with the highlights, midtones, and shadows. It also lets you control the output level.
For the time being I’d leave the output control alone. Adjust the “shadow” far left control to increase the depth of your image. I next adjust the “highlight” or “midtones” to see if I can increase smiles, wrinkles, anything that may be out of focus or masked in an image. This process normally takes a minute or less to conduct and often isn’t helpful, different pictures are all different.
Next change your image to “grayscale”. Image, Mode, Grayscale.
Again ctrl+l (L) and adjust the gray scale image to refine the depth or saturation. Remember to look at hair, the shine in eyes…
So far you’ve worked on the Image for about a minute to a minute and a half.

At this point many people jump over to the Image, Adjustment, Threshold function and make a very bad pattern. What I and many others think make for more control and a better image for a pattern is: Instead of Threshold… select Filter, Sketch, Photocopy… in the control box increase the image area to get a good look at the face or eyes… this is an adjustment that is different every time, but often I’ll notice I have the upper control (Detail) close to the far right and the lower control (Darkness) about ¾ of the way to the right. On some darker images I have seen the reverse bring out better lines though. Playing around with the two controls might take another minute or 3. For all practical purposes, you now have a converted picture, ready for pattern design. Look at the white areas in the hair and inside the eyes… actually the entire face and right hand are not attached to the blank… yet.

Step 2:

Pattern drawing

As with the Threshold command, initially after a picture has been converted into black and white, the negative (black) and positive (white) areas have islands of floaters. Some of the float is pixilation or the computers attempt to make a judgment call of what was supposed to go there, or could of come from dust or dirt. Whatever the case, one of the initial things to do is clean up the picture. Removing unwanted background areas, removing black or white areas that for one reason or another turned out spotted.

Shift+b selects the brush tool. Start with a large brush to erase the background and any unwanted areas, switch to smaller and smaller sizes to remove all the unwanted pixilation. Saturated areas of black that seem to glow can be recolored with black. This process of cleaning up the picture and either removing negative or positive space can take anywhere from 15 minutes to hours to complete. Normally it’s on the hours side of the coin.

Next, continuing to decrease brush sizes, clean and reshape the interior areas. I often find myself basically redrawing the entire pattern in black and white. You’re looking for detail, not floating white areas, no tiny black areas that are impossible to cut.
Understand your blades abilities, your speed and medium (material) these will rule your minimum cut separation. Watch for long runners… thin, long, fragile pieces or areas.

This first picture was completed by me using the method listed above, the second picture was completed shortly afterwards by a person using my system and same pictures to attempt a first initial pattern.


If possible save scans at 300 dpi… it’s a big file and a large picture, but it will allow for a good detailed image and you can always reduce it later. As a side note, if the image is for the web, save it at about 75 dpi… the file will be hundreds of thousands of bits smaller and pop right up when viewing it online.

Ensure both the scanner is clean and the picture doesn’t have dust on it.

Use a good original.


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