How to Create a Coloring Book from Your Family Photos

Adult coloring books are more popular than ever. They have even shown positive effects on mental health! The act of coloring relieves stress and improves focus, and many people find it an enjoyable and accessible creative pursuit. Rather than buying a generic book, make one yourself using photographs that carry meaning.

Photographs are the perfect medium to turn into coloring pages because their complex details often turn into intricate designs when reduced to outlines. A photograph can include a beautiful background as well as expressive portraits of individuals, meaning the recipient of your gift won’t easily get bored with their coloring options.

Turning photographs into outlines that can be filled in is fairly simple now. Adobe Capture in particular is an excellent mobile app to make outlines on the go. Capture allows the user to create high-contrast images with plenty of white space that can be filled in, and allows re-drawing and erasing of objects. The app will create the page, but you can decide what the finished product looks like.

Capture is user-friendly and easy to learn, especially with the right guide. Phil Scroggs is a professional illustrator and graphic designer who has used both Illustrator and Capture to create coloring pages. “People really get a kick out of themselves being turned into a cartoon,” Phil says. He recommends Capture for new designers because it cuts out extra steps necessary for producing the same end product in Photoshop and Illustrator. Creating your own coloring book doesn’t have to be a heavily involved process. And don’t limit yourself to adults. These pages can be perfect for children too.

Download Adobe Capture and follow along with Phil’s how-to guide below to create a fun and unique experience that your friends and family will love:

Step 1: Select a photo

When creating a coloring page from a family photo, the first step is — of course — selecting your photo. The most important aspect of the photo is the meaning it holds for you and the person you are designing for. But also keep design in mind. I like to look for a photo where there is a element like a simple pattern on either a shirt or a hat that will make the image more fun to color in. You’ll also want to try and avoid complex patterns or distracting background elements.

After you’ve decided on a photo, it’s time to open up Adobe Capture.

Step 2: Edit in Capture and import it into Illustrator

You can take a picture directly in Capture if you want to. But for this example, I opened an existing photo from my camera roll by tapping the picture button on the bottom right side of the screen. After opening my picture, I adjust the contrast slider for the best balance of highlights and shadows. Making it brighter helps omit some extraneous elements I won’t be drawing. Then, tap the “check” button.

Next, I use my finger to erase any distracting background elements and objects that won’t be part of the final illustration. Tap “Crop” and drag the bounding box in from the corners. Tap “Save.”

Once the image is saved, I can send it from my phone to my laptop by email, text, or with AirDrop. Just tap the ellipsis icon at the bottom right corner of the saved image, tap “Share Shape,” and then tap “Share To…”

Step 3: Import your photo into Illustrator

To make it easier to arrange the parts of your illustration, it’s best to set up some layers in a new Illustrator document. From the Window menu, open the Layers palette. Double click the name “Layer 1” to highlight the text. Change the name to “Photo layer” and hit return.

Locate the photo you just shared to your computer. And drag it onto the center of your page.

Double click the square thumbnail icon to the left of your photo layer name, and check “Template” to make this your tracing layer. This will also lock the layer and make it dimmed to help you draw on top of it. Click OK.

Click the “Create New Layer” button at the bottom-ride side of the palette. A “Layer 2” will appear in your layer list. Double click the layer name to highlight the text. Rename it “My drawing”. This is where you’ll make your shapes.

Step 4: Create your drawing

Select the Pencil Tool in the tool palette and draw a simple outline of your subject’s face details. Start with a big shape like the nose or an eye. (Bonus trick: To make a perfectly straight line, you can hold the shift key while drawing!)

Next, set the style of your line. Open the Stroke palette from the Window menu. With your first line still selected, make the outline thicker by increasing the Stroke Weight to 4 points. Then, change the “Cap style” to round, and the “Corner option” to rounded. Continue drawing enclosed shapes for each major part of your picture: eyes, ears, legs, large details, or objects that will make good coloring shapes.

Most of your coloring shapes will just be a hollow black outline. But, you may want some shapes — likes pupils and shadows — to be solid black in the finished project. From the Window menu, open the Swatches palette.

There are two aspects you can color using the swatches: the Stroke and the Fill — represented by the two overlapping square icons at the top-left side of the palette. The stroke is currently black. And the fill is set to “None”, indicated by a white square with a red slash through it. Click that Fill icon and click the black swatch. After drawing your next line, you can change it to a plain black line by setting the Fill back to None.

Continue adding line details with the pencil tool. If you make a mistake or don’t like the line you drew, just use Edit/Undo and redraw it. Don’t worry about making the lines perfect. Just make sure that your lines touch so that the resulting shapes can be colored in.

Click the selection tool — the first one in the toolbox — to drag your shapes around if you need to reposition anything. Or select a shape and hit the “delete” key to try drawing it again.

The most important thing to remember is that this is YOUR interpretation. There are no mistakes. Have fun, and the people coloring the page will too!

Phil Scroggs