Graphic Thoughts: Mastering the Sketch
Posted Nov 1, 2008

I’ve had a Facebook account for more than a year now. Over the past 3 months, I’ve seen a massive wave of videographers signing up to get their own free accounts to post their favorite videos, photos, or general comments on their own personal area of the web.

This month’s article isn’t about Facebook so much as it is about the question I seem to get over and over regarding one of my profile photos. It’s a picture of me with a very artistic edge to it. The question? How long it took me to create that "masterpiece."

I’d love to say it took me hours and lots of filters, but the truth is that it took maybe 30 seconds and just one filter. So, with my ever-recurring theme of "doing things fast in Photoshop," I’ll give you the inside scoop on what I used.

The real secret can be found at It’s a Windows-only (sorry, Mac users) plug-in called Sketch Master and it retails for around $40, but you can try out the free demo for this lesson (Redfield also has a wide variety of both free and retail versions of different Photoshop plug-ins).

Some of you who own PixelPops’ Fast & Fabulous Volume 1 training video (see Stephen Nathans-Kelly’s review) and others who have seen me speak at any number of video expos have probably been exposed to this application at some point over the past couple of years.

At its core, Sketch Master is defined as a manipulation tool for the creation of realistic looking hand-drawings derived from photos. You can simulate various tools such as lead pencil, ink pencil, crayon, charcoal, and airbrush, and you don’t have to be a classically trained artist to get brilliant results! Download and install the plug-in and let’s get started.

Step 1: Open a Photo and Choose Some Patterns
To begin, open a photo of your choosing. With Sketch Master installed you’ll find it under your Filters menu in Photoshop at Filters > Redfield > Sketch Master 3. The interface has many different sliders; you can adjust line darkness, lightness, width, diffusion, distortion, levels, and so much more.

Like most plug-ins, Sketch Master gives you the ability to use any number of presets, as well as being able to instantly save any look as a new preset with just one click (saving a preset is the last choice on the drop-down list of presets at the bottom of the interface). Also, by clicking in either of the square, patterned icons on the interface you can opt to change the pattern you use for the line stroke or the paper pattern seen in the background. On top of that, you can add more patterns or strokes and you can tweak them even further (Figure 1, below).

figure 1

Step 2: Apply the Randomizer
Ultimately, while tweaking the settings couldn’t be simpler, the one feature I really love is the "randomizer" buttons found throughout the interface—they are diamond-shaped icons with five dots in the center.

I’ve added a yellow circle around the top randomizer button to highlight what I’m talking about (Figure 2, below).

figure 1

Step 3: Create Presets From Looks You Like
Naturally, by repeatedly clicking the randomizer buttons you can start to get incredibly interesting "looks" without even trying. Once you stumble onto something you like, it’s easy enough to make any minor adjustments.

The reality is that you could create any number of preset looks in a matter of seconds by only choosing the randomizer and nothing else (Figure 3, below). That’s pretty sweet!

figure 1 offers some pretty amazing applications. At less than $40, I can’t say enough great things about this one. It’s made my life as a designer so much better, and the reactions from my clients (and friends alike) have confirmed just how awesome a plug-in Sketch Master really is.

Lance Gray (lance at is the chief creative pixelmonkey at PixelPops Design, LLC. For questions, thoughts, or ideas simply email him.