How To Create The Cartoon Effect In Photoshop (Step By Step)

If you are looking for a unique and creative effect to add to your images, then the cartoon effect in Photoshop is your answer. 

You can achieve this result in a few steps by altering your subject’s facial features, adding effects to achieve a cartoon-like look, and placing a shape behind the subject for a unique touch to the final result.

While the steps and techniques may seem complicated, they are relatively easy to carry out. If you want a quicker way to achieve the cartoon effect, check the last section for 3 Photoshop actions you can buy to create the effect with one click.

How To Create The Cartoon Effect In Photoshop

While some steps may feel repetitive, they are necessary to achieve the desired effect. The last few steps show you how to add your own touch to the image by making the cartoon subject look like they are popping out of a shape.

Remember, when creating an effect like this, the settings I show you below are merely a guide to make the baseline effect, and you might need to adjust them depending on your image.

Step 1: Convert The Image To A Smart Object And Change The Image Size

To start, you need to open your image in Photoshop. I will use this photo of a man to create the cartoon look.

Once the image is open in the document, duplicate the background image by selecting it and pressing Control + J (Win) or Command + J (Mac) and convert the copied layer to a smart object

Converting the layer to a smart object lets you change the image easily. When you add effects to the layer, they are added as smart filters, which allows you to double-click on the filters and adjust the settings throughout the process.

To convert the copied layer to a smart object, right-click or Control + click on the layer and select Convert to Smart Object from the options.

You can then unlock the background layer by clicking the lock icon and renaming both layers to organize your Layers Panel. I labeled the background layer as Original and the copied layer as Effect.

Next, you should check your image size and resize it if needed. The image size will affect how much or little detail is visible in the cartoon effect. To check image size, go to Image > Image Size or use the shortcut Alt + Control + I (Win) or Option + Command + I (Mac).

In the image size panel, you can then look at the Width, Height, and Resolution values, as these are the sizes that will affect the effect.

Firstly, you want your resolution to be 300 Pixels/Inch to ensure the quality is good enough to complete the effect. Then you don’t want the width and height values to be too small or big, as this will result in too few details in the result.

As a guide, I recommend you set the longest side between 2000 and 3000 pixels.

I resized my image by adding 2250 pixels into the width box, and since the link is checked on, the height was adjusted to keep the aspect ratio. Click OK to confirm the new size.

Your image is now ready to be transformed into a cartoon.

Step 2: Add A Liquify Filter To The Effects Layer

You will now work with the effects layer to add the main cartoon effects on the image, so ensure the effects layer is selected for the next few steps. 

The first step is to adjust the facial features to make them more cartoon-like. Cartoons are known for their larger-than-life facial features.

To adjust the facial features, go to Filter > Liquify or use the shortcut Shift + Control + X (Win) or Shift + Command + X (Mac)

The Liquify Tool workspace will open with multiple features to adjust and warp your image. You only need to focus on the Face Tool (A) from the Toolbar on the left and the Face-Aware Liquify panel on the right.

Photoshop automatically detects the face or faces in an image when the Face Tool is active. Your settings will depend on your image and how much of a cartoon effect you want. You can adjust the eye size, eye tilt, nose width, mouth height, face shape, and more.

Here is a list of the settings I used, which is a good baseline.


I kept both eyes with the same settings, but you can change them individually.

  • Eye Size: 61
  • Eye Height: 36
  • Eye Width: 56
  • Eye Tilt: -49
  • Eye Distance: -34


  • Nose Height: 52
  • Nose Width: 10


  • Smile: 30
  • Upper Lip: 7
  • Lower Lip: 0
  • Mouth Width: 14
  • Mouth Height: -71

Face Shape

  • Forehead: 27
  • Chin Height: -47
  • Jawline: -31
  • Face Width: -44

While adjusting the settings, you can see the applied effect in the preview panel in the center. Adjust the settings until you can see the facial features taking on the cartoon look. Pay special attention to the Eyes, and the Face Shape settings, as these will emphasize the cartoon effect the most.

Click OK in the bottom right of the window to apply the effects to your image.

Step 3: Add A Poster Edge Filter From The Filter Gallery

Add a Poster Edge Filter to change the subject’s skin tone to varying levels. This filter simplifies the skin tone.

To add the filter, go to Filter > Filter Gallery.

Then, click on the Poster Edges filter under the Artistic tab.

Next, adjust the settings on the right to modify the effect. I recommend using the following settings as a baseline.

  • Edge Thickness: 0
  • Edge Intensity: 0
  • Posterization: Between 2 and 4

You can then check the preview to see if the settings work for your image. You want the skin tone to be split into different levels.

Click OK to apply the effect.

Step 4: Use Unsharp Mask To Sharpen The Effect

At this stage, you need to sharpen the image using an unsharp mask to reveal the details after adding the previous filters. To do this, go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp Mask.

Then adjust the settings as follows and click OK when you are done.

  • Amount: 63%
  • Radius: 5 pixels
  • Threshold: 10 levels

Your image will take on a sharper look.

Step 5: Add An Oil Paint Filter

The next step is to apply the Oil Paint Filter, which smooths the image and creates the painted look on the photo. 

To do this, go to Filter > Stylize > Oil Paint.

Use the following settings as a baseline and see what works on your image. Click OK to apply the effect.

  • Stylization: 2.5
  • Cleanliness: 0.8
  • Scale: 1.4
  • Bristle Detail: 0.5
  • Lighting: Uncheck

The image looks painted, and the details have become much smoother. Look at the man’s beard and hair before and after adding the oil paint filter. The softer effect is what you want.

Step 6: Use Unsharp Mask To Sharpen The Effect Again

Since you smoothed out the details, you must sharpen them again to balance the effect. You can do this using the Unsharp Mask once again.

Go to Filter > Sharpen > Unsharp mask.

This time, adjust the settings around the following and click OK.

  • Amount: 60%
  • Radius: 5 pixels
  • Threshold: 5 levels

The details in your image should sharpen slightly but still keep a smooth look. This is the last step for the effect layer. Now, you can move on to add and define the outlines for the cartoon effect.

Step 7: Duplicate The Base Layer And The Liquify Effect To Create Outlines

To start creating the outlines, you need to duplicate the Original layer that has no effects applied to it. Select the original layer and press Control + J (Win) or Command + J (Mac) to copy the layer. Then rename the layer to Outlines and move it to the top of the layer stack.

Convert the duplicated layer to a smart object by right-clicking or Control + clicking and selecting Convert to Smart Object.

Now, you need to add the same Liquify effects that you did to the effects layer onto this one. Instead of adding the filter manually and copying the settings, you can simply copy the Liquify smart filter from the effects layer and place it under the outlines layer. 

Hold in Alt (Win) or Option (Mac), click the Liquify smart filter, and drag it to the outlines layer. Let go of the mouse when the filter is over the outlines layer. The filter will then appear copied under the Outlines layer.

Now, while the Outlines layer hides the remaining effects, you will see the liquify effects added to the subject’s face again.

Step 8: Add A Poster Edges Filter To The Outline Effect

Next, you want to add another Poster Edge filter to the image, this time on the Outlines layer and with different settings to bring out the edges.

Select the Outlines layer, then go to Filter > Filter Gallery.

Click on the Poster Edges filter to add it and adjust the following settings. Then click OK to apply the effect.

  • Edge Thickness: 0
  • Edge Intensity: 2
  • Posterization: 6

You will notice the filter added black lines around the image to emphasize the details.

Step 9: Add An Oil Paint Filter To The Outlines Layer

Next, you must add another Oil Paint Filter to the Outlines layer. Add the Oil Paint filter by going to Filter > Stylize > Oil Paint.

Then use the same settings that you used on the Effects layer, which, if you copied, my settings are:

  • Stylization: 2.5
  • Cleanliness: 0.8
  • Scale: 1.4
  • Bristle Detail: 0.5
  • Lighting: Uncheck

This filter will have the same smoothing effect as the previous layer, but the details will be more noticeable.

Step 10: Change The Blend Mode And Fill Of The Outline Layer

Since the effects I added to the Outlines layer are harsh, I want to bring them down slightly to blend the filters with the original effects I added to the Effects layer. 

To blend the outlines, change the blend mode by selecting the Outlines layer, then finding the drop-down menu next to Normal in the Layers Panel.

Click on the drop-down menu, then select Overlay from the options.

Then, reduce the Fill of the Outlines layer using the slider in the Layers Panel. You can adjust this as needed for your image. I dropped the Fill to 16% because I don’t want the outlines to be too harsh.

The Outlines layer should blend into the Effects layer and have a cartoon look. While it may look like the image is complete, there are a few more steps to sharpen the effect and add a unique touch, so don’t stop here.

Step 11: Add A High Pass Filter To Bring Out More Details

To complete the cartoon effect on your subject, add a High Pass Filter to sharpen the graphic and highlight the details more.

To add a High Pass Filter, you must first create a merged copy of all the layers. You can use the shortcut Shift + Control + Alt + E (Win) or Shift + Command + Option + E (Mac). This merged layer will appear at the top of the layers stack. You can rename it High Pass.

Then, with the merged layer selected, go to Filter > Other > High Pass.

Then, change the Radius to 2. You should use this exact value for this step.

Your image will then be covered in gray, with only the outlines visible.

If there is a slight bit of color around the outlines, this can cause noise in the final result. To avoid this, desaturate the image by going to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate. You can also use the shortcut Shift + Control + U (Win) or Shift + Command + U (Mac).

Then, change the blend mode of the High Pass layer to Overlay to bring back the image colors and keep the sharpened effect.

You will now have the cartoon effect applied to your image with sharp details. 

You can easily replace the image in the Smart Object layers to apply the effect on another picture, but you must delete the High Pass filter and repeat that step for the new image.

Step 12: Create A Merged Copy Of The Effect And Remove The Background

You can take the effect further and add a unique touch to your photo. 

To do this, first clean up the layers panel by adding the Effects, Outline, and High Pass layers to a group by selecting the layers while holding in Control (Win) or Command (Mac), then press Control + G (Win) or Command + G (Mac).

You can rename the group to keep it organized.

Then, create a copy of the group by selecting it and pressing Control + J (Win) or Command + J (Mac).

Select the copied group and press Control + E (Win) or Command + E (Mac) to merge the layers within the group into one layer.

You must remove the background to ensure that only the subject comes out of the shape. You can use any background removal method, but a quick and easy one is using the Select Subject feature. 

To do this, activate a selection tool like the Quick Selection Tool (W).

Then, change the option next to Select Subject in the Options bar to Cloud (Detailed results) by opening the drop-down menu and selecting the Cloud option.

Lastly, click Select Subject and give Photoshop a few moments to select the subject accurately.

This method accurately selects the subject, even on images with hair and fur.

Then, remove the background by clicking the Add Layer Mask icon in the Layers Panel. This action hides the background and only keeps the subject visible.

You will still see the background if the Cartoon Effect group or the original layer is still visible. Turn off the layer visibility to have only the subject visible by clicking on the eye icons.

Step 13: Add A Shape To The Canvas Using Any Shape Tool (U)

Next, add any shape to the canvas. You can choose which shape to use for the effect by selecting a Shape Tool (U) or a custom shape you created.

Once your shape is selected, click and drag on the canvas to place the shape.

You can then resize or angle the shape as you’d like. Hover your mouse just outside the shape and use the curved arrow icon to tilt the shape.

You can use the Fill swatch in the Options Bar to change the shape’s color to something that matches your subject. I will use a blue color.

Step 14: Position The Subject Over The Shape And Mask Out Areas

You want the subject to be above the shape, so click on the subject layer in the Layers Panel and drag it above the shape layer.

Then, select the Move Tool (V) and activate the Transform Tool by pressing Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac). Use the control points to resize the subject.

Click on the subject on the canvas to position it over the shape. Place it where you want the subject’s head to pop out. The areas you wish to hide should be over the shape edges.

Now, you need to create a selection of the shape by holding in Control (Win) or Command (Mac) and clicking on the shape’s thumbnail in the Layers Panel.

You will see the marching ants around the shape on the canvas.

Now, since you want to hide the parts of the subject outside the shape, you need to invert the selection. You can do that by pressing Shift + Control + I (Win) or Shift + Command + I (Mac). The marching ants will now be around the canvas.

Then, select the subject layer mask indicated by the white border.

Activate the Brush Tool (B) and set the foreground color to Black.

Then, paint over the areas of the subject outside of the shape. The selection will prevent you from painting over any areas within the shape.

Press Control + D (Win) or Command + D (Mac) to deselect the area. Then, link the two layers together by selecting them both and clicking the link icon in the Layers Panel. Now you can move and resize the two layers together.

If you aren’t happy with the placement, press Control + Z (Win) or Command + Z (Mac) to undo a few steps and redo the placement before masking out the shoulders of the subject. You now have the subject coming out of a shape.

Step 15: Add A Background To The Canvas

To complete the look, add a solid background color by going to Layer > New Fill Layer > Solid Color.

Name the layer if you want, and click OK. Then, select a color from the Color Picker and click OK.

Then drag the solid color layer to the bottom of the stack.

You now have a cartoon effect with a unique touch to it.

Best Cartoon Effect Photoshop Actions To Try

To streamline your process, buy one of these Photoshop action sets to apply a cartoon effect with one click. I found these actions to create a similar cartoon effect to the one above on Creative Market and Envato Elements.

4in1 Cartoon & Vector Art Ps Action

This 4-in-1 action bundle offers a cartoon painting, cartoon effects, and vector art actions with color halftone effects. Easily apply various cartoon looks with this set and level up your graphic design abilities.

Cartoon Effect Action | Photoshop Plugin

This set contains one Photoshop action to apply a seamless cartoon effect to your picture. You can download the action once you have subscribed to Envato Elements.

Cartoon Painting Photoshop Action

This Photoshop action creates a cartoon painting effect on your photos in one click. You can produce arty pictures with ease.

Article By

Brendan Williams

Hey, I'm Brendan! I'm a professional photographer and photo retoucher who has spent the majority of his career shooting or retouching outdoor lifestyle and social media campaigns for brands like G-Adventures, xoxo Bella, P&G, Fitbit, Chevy, Tourism California, and more. These days I primarily focus my efforts on this site, creating guides and tutorials that I wish I had earlier in my career. Each week I publish new tutorials on Photography, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Canva to help you unlock new skills and bring your creativity to new levels! Everything you learn here is backed by real experience, so you can finally skip the fluff and focus only on what matters.

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