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How to make silhouette artwork.


There was one other part to the Super Pink Barbie Birthday Party that I really wanted to share but just couldn’t fit in my other post. The silhouette portraits! This was my sister-in-law’s brilliant idea (reminiscent of the famous Barbie doll silhouette logo) but got assigned to me since I’m the family graphic artist. I thought I’d put a post up here about them because I think they turned out really cute.

And since I’m putting a post up, I might as well make it a tutorial. Though I’m thinking that if you have photoshop then you probably already know how to use the pen tool and make your own silhouette without my helpful instructions. But whatever. I’ll put it out there because it might be interesting to ten percent of my readers. The rest of you can just look at Bug’s cute profile.

So here’s how you do it:

First take a really nice profile shot of your victim subject. It’s helpful if you have a nice clean background behind them so you can see the line of their face clearly. It also helps if you shoot the picture in a room full of light and your subject doesn’t wiggle all over the place causing blurrage.


Then open your photo in photoshop and use the pen tool to create a path around their profile. You can do this with all sorts of tools but I like the pen tool because my favorite program is illustrator and the pen feels most comfortable for me. Do whatever you do, just make a path.

Now at this point you could select the inside of the path and turn it black and then select the inverse (shift-command-i) and turn that white and be done. OR you could be like me and export your paths to illustrator because you like illustrator better and would rather not be mucking around in giant rastor files.


This will put an ai file on your desktop (or wherever you have your default files set to go) and then you can open it in illustrator! Ahhhh, now doesn’t that feel better? Simple paths taking up hardly any memory.


At first you won’t see the path because it’s not selected or colored any color. Just do a select all (command-a) and turn the shape black. Now you can resize your silhouette to fit your frame. Our frames were 5×7 so I put two silhouettes up on one letter-size page. I decided not to print the silhouettes out in black because my mom’s printer was running low on black ink so I printed them out in pink (15% magenta) so I could see the shape clearly but use as little ink as possible.

Now that you have the print-out you can put it on a black piece of paper and cut out the silhouette using the print-out as your pattern. This part is tricky and will require some swift paper-cutting skills around tiny noses and hair tendrils. But you can do it and the end result is rewarding!

Bug and her silhouette

Hot pink frame optional.


  • Clistyb

    Oh thanks a million. I will try this out. I was just about to shell out $35 x’s 5 to a big name blogger offering it on her site.

  • Annika

    Is there a third version, where we come for a visit and I somehow con you into doing it for me?

    SAJ says: There is! Next playdate we’ll make it happen. :)

  • Ana

    I love it I saw some of these a Nienie’s and I fell in love immediately… ADOBE is right up on my list of things to be thankful for this year, thanks so much for the tutorial! Happy Turkey day Brenda!

  • Gramma

    Somehow I remember in days gone by that we put the subject behind a hanging sheet with a lamp behind subject…we did the silhouettes freehand using the shadow as a guide…your tutorial method seems much more accurate.

  • Mickey

    Thank you for the detailed instructions…it’s just what I need. I tried to make a silhouette in Photoshop a couple of years ago and failed. It was frustrating and my friend ended up doing it for me. But now I can use your instructions and try again. You’re the best!

    Have a very Happy Thanksgiving!

  • a chris

    I remember these from when I was a kid!! I think we had some done on the spot at a fair or something. I’d forgotten all about it.

    Something I’ve occasionally wondered: do you use your mouse for drawing in Illustrator etc., or do you have a tablet? I can’t draw with a mouse. But a tablet makes a laptop a bit less portable, harder to work on the fly, so it’s hard to picture someone curled up at a coffee shop or on the couch freelancing away with a tablet.

  • a chris

    Anna-b: it’s not hard if you stay in photoshop (or GIMP if you don’t have ps) and fill the selection in with black and outside it with white the way Brenda describes. The file just takes more space on your drive (and in your RAM) in that case, and depending on the resolution of the picture, it may come out a little less smooth as a raster image. But that won’t matter once your knife or scissors take over!

  • deb

    I love this tutorial Brenda. Please consider doing more. I think a lot of people have Photoshop, Elements or Gimp but it’s quite a challenge to learn, and if you don’t use them often it’s difficult to remember how to accomplish things and short cuts. I pretty much get the technical part; it’s the creativity I’m lacking. I would never have thought to do silhouettes any way except the way we did them in kindergarten. The printing tip to save ink was super smart. Really appreciate the advice from a pro!

  • sue1788

    Great idea.. now if only I can figure out how to outline the image.. having a hard time with the pen. any other suggestions?

    SAJ says: Try the lasso tool (sideways of the pen tool) or if your background is lighter/darker than your subject you might be able to make a selection by clicking on the color… If you’re new to photoshop I know this can be really hard. You could just print out the photo and cut it out as a pattern too. :)