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Creating an embroidered look in Photoshop By Ko Maruyama and Paul O. Zelinsky
Paul O. Zelinsky is not only an award winning illustrator, but is an avid Photoshop and After Effects user, and an active Adobe community member. When a question about creating a cross stitch appearance for photos came up, Paul quickly came up with a solution. There are many different methods to employ this effect, but they all include a small "stitch" pattern that you'll need to download first.

Paul came up with a basic set of instructions that would answer the question succinctly, but as he and I started to play around with the files (having fun experimenting), we realized that there are several ways to use this basic, yet effective solution.   In this article I'll cover Paul's steps to creating a cross stitch appearance using Photoshop.  You could probably use a similar method to create an animated piece in After Effects, but we'll save that for another day...

Before I get into the steps - a little more about Paul : For those of you with kids, you'll probably recognize the name "Paul O. Zelinsky" from the illustrated covers of books like "Awful Ogre's Awful Day", "The Wheels on the Bus", or you may have even read "Ralph S. Mouse" when you were a kid yourself!


Lately, we've been talking about "The Shivers in the Fridge" and the animations "Pickles" and "Applesauce!" which you can find by clicking on the image below:


Okay - on to the tutorial - - There are two major steps that you need to go through in order to achieve this look, making the pattern, then applying it. The first you may already know how to complete, but I'll go through the process anyway.


Download this image of a cross stitch. It's huge, sure. But if you're like Paul, you need some serious resolution. For us broadcast people, it's maybe a little too big, but you can always resize it to a smaller image before you define the pattern, or use one of the pattern tools to resize it.

1. With the cross stitch file open, choose: Edit -> Define Pattern from the Edit pulldown menu.
2. Name your new pattern.

That's it!
click pictures for larger image / pops up

Now you can use this pattern through several different tools in Photoshop.   If you're not familiar with patterns, you might want to take some time to experiment with the different ways you can apply these.

A. Edit -> Fill -> Pattern
B. Bucket Tool (Option fill with pattern)
C. Pattern Layer (modify size, later rasterize)


Instead of applying the filter to the original layer, first duplicate the original artwork, then apply the filter to the new copy.

From the Filter pulldown menu, choose PIXELATE -> Mosaic. What works for this image, may not work for all images, but we'll choose a mosaic value of 27 (because the stitch is 100px square, we can match the mosaic with a 27% tile later).


At this point, you can use one of the "Pattern Fill" options. I'm using the Pattern Adjustment Layer (found at the bottom of the Layers Palette). The nice thing about this option is that you can modify the size and position of the pattern after you've applied it.

1. Choose Adjustment Layer / Pattern
2. Select your new custom pattern and change the size to 27% (click OK).
3. If you decide you need to edit the pattern a little more, double click the layer until its correct.

Change the OPACITY of the pattern layer to 50% so you can see how it looks over the layer below it.   Make sure to change it back to 100% when you're done editing its size and/or position.

Change the transfter mode (blending mode) to OVERLAY to produce a different contrast result with this layer.

When it's the right shape, rasterize the layer by ctrl-clicking on the layer (right-click), then selecting "rasterize layer".


You'll want to make the areas between the stitches a neutral color. You can achieve this a number of ways. An easy way is to use the pattern fill's transparency with a color fill layer.

1. In the layers palette, cmd-click (ctrl-click) the layer's icon to load the selection.
2. At the bottom of the layers palette, create a WHITE or GRAY color layer.

Photoshop will automatically use the selection as a layer mask.

3. Invert the layer mask by selecting the color fill layer mask, then press cmd-I (ctrl-I).

All the gaps should be filled with white. If you want to change this gap color, simply double click on the fill color icon on the color fill layer.

Season to taste:

There are plenty of layer effects and transfer (blending) modes that you can use to enhance the look of your cross-stitch image, you may want to experiment with a few to see which one(s) work best for you.   You may want to duplicate the pixelated and set it to MULTIPLY to enhance some of the color or contrast.

You can use different blur techniques to give the embroidery thread a softer look, or even dial back the opacity of the pixelated layer to reveal some of the original image.

Photoshop is part of the Creative Suite: Be Creative and come up with your own recipe. We'd love to see it.


You can see more of Paul's work in the upcoming sequel to Awful Ogre's Awful Day: "Awful Ogre Running Wild", a book of poetry by Children's Poet Laureate Jack Prelutsky. The new book is expected to be published by Greenwillow Books, a division of HarperCollins, in 2008.

Paul is also part of the Artist to Artist book project in which 23 well-known children's book illustrators talk about their art, addressed to a child audience. Each artist's section includes a self-portrait made for the book. Paul Zelinsky painted himself in Renaissance costume; this detail is the mirror hanging on the back wall of the room. You'll have to look in the book to see the scene from the front, and different stages in its creation.

The book will benefit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, Massachusetts. All of the included artists have exhibited there. It is a wonderful place to visit!

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Ko Maruyama is an instructor at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California and co-host of the Motion Graphics Los Angeles group. Paul O. Zelinsky grew up in Wilmette, Illinois, the son of a mathematics professor and a medical illustrator. He drew compulsively from an early age, but did not know until college that this would be his career. As a Sophomore in Yale College he enrolled in a course on the history and practice of the picture book, co-taught by an English professor and Maurice Sendak. This experience inspired Paul to point himself in the direction of chidren's books. His first book appeared in 1978, since which time he has become recognized as one of the most inventive and critically successful artists in the field. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and their two daughters. Among many other awards and prizes, he received the 1998 Caldecott Medal for his illustrated retelling of Rapunzel, as well as Caldecott Honors for three of his books: Hansel and Gretel (1985), Rumpelstiltskin (1987), and Swamp Angel (1995).
Related Keywords:tutorial, paul o. zelinsky, adobe photoshop, cross stitch, embroidery pattern, thread look, adobe after effects, ko maruyama,

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  • CROSS STITCH STYLE by DMN Editorial at Oct. 07, 2007 2:34 pm gmt (Rec'd 2)

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