Today we’re going to show you how to create a Warholian inspired portrait in Photoshop in less than 30 minutes.

Difficulty: Average

Time: Less than 30 minutes

Tools: Brush, fill, lasso, blend modes

And this is what we will be creating! I have chosen the delightful Joan Holloway from Mad Men as my subject, but you can use whatever image you want.


Choose Your Image

First things first, you have to decide what image you are going to use. I used this image. Try to pick an photo with good lighting and of reasonable quality. Trying to create this effect with a low quality photo can produce less than perfect results. Open your image in Photoshop (File > Open) so it is sitting pretty in your workspace.

Choose Your Image

Trace Around the Subject

Having Joan on this background of buildings is going to be no good for our pop art effect. Warhol usually has his subjects against a block of colour. So, we are going to have to trace around the image to separate them. Grab the lasso tool from the left hand tools menu. Ensure your settings are the same as below.



Start by clicking somewhere on the image (it doesn’t really matter where as it’s going to join back up anyway). I usually find it easier to start on an edge of the image so I know exactly where my starting point is. Click and drag the mouse all the way around the subject, making sure to get in the body, head and hair. Don’t worry about trying to match the edges perfectly as Warhol often had sharp edges and coloured outside of the lines! Once you reach your starting point, release your mouse click and you should see the famous “marching ants” appear.

Alternative: For those of you who are more experienced with Photoshop, there is also the option to use the pen tool for tracing around the image and creating the selection from there; this will provide you with cleaner lines.


Hit ctrl + j (cmd on Mac) on your keyboard to create a new layer with only what is selected. Alternatively, click Layer > New > Layer via Copy. Now you’ve successfully separated the subject from the background, you can hide the original layer by clicking the eye next to it. It’s also a good idea to rename your layers so you know what’s what. Double click on “Layer 1” and you should see space to type. I’ve called this layer Joan Base, so I know it’s the bottom of the pack.

Joan Base

And now this is what your document should look like. The checkerboard background lets you know that it’s transparent with nothing covering it!


Time to Threshold

Next is where you will see the biggest change. We will convert Joan from a standard photograph to a black and white, grungy looking image. Go to Image > Adjustments > Threshold and you should see a pop-up box with lots of lines.

Threshold Menu

Now, depending on the image you chose, the settings you should use will alter. The settings below work well for me, but that doesn’t mean they will for you. Have a play around and see what works best for your image in the background. There should be a lot of black and white, but the features of your subject should still be seen (eyes, nose, mouth).

Effect Threshold

Hit okay and the effect will save.

Colour the Photo

Great! We’ve got the base of our image (see why we called it Joan Base!?) and now we are ready to colour. Hit ctrl + shift + n on your keyboard (cmd for Mac) to create a new layer or go to Layer > New > Layer. Call it whatever you like, but we’ve called it “skin colour”. Now, we can’t just fill the canvas here otherwise we will lose the transparent background. To select only the back and white image, keep your new layer selected (see it is blue), hold ctrl and click on the thumbnail of the layer below where the red circle is.


You should see those happy little ants appear and start marching around the subject. Now we can double click on the colour selector (circled) and choose the right colour.


Colour Selector

I’ve gone for a very light purple as that’s what I associate best with the Marilyn. If you’re wondering the hex, it’s #e6caf1.

Now we want to fill our selection. Grab the bucket tool by hitting G or finding this icon on the left hand side.

Paint Bucket

Click inside your selection and it should fill with colour. As you can see we’ve lost the underneath layer as the pink fills over the top. This is an easy solution that you can remember for next time. Navigate your mouse over to the layers menu and find where it says “normal”. Click on this and you should see a drop down menu with lots of different options. Find “multiply” and choose that. Multiply only affects the lighter areas of an image, making them go completely transparent if they are white! Now you should see the darker tones coming through the pink.


Pink Skin

Looking good, right?


Time for the bits that really made Warhol’s pieces iconic. The bright red lips, yellow hair and blue eye shadow! Create a new layer (same method as above) and call it whatever you like, we named it “details”.

Hit B on your keyboard and you will bring up the brush tool. Alternatively, click this icon on the tools menu.

Brush Tool

As we want hard edges like Warhol, we want to pick an appropriate brush. Soft edges would create too much of a fade so choose this brush on the menu in the top right.

Brush Settings

If you need to make the brush bigger just slide the slider up and down, or use the square brackets on your keyboard ( [ ] ).

Next, pick a colour just the same as above. We are using a bright yellow, #eeec31. Before you start painting over the hair, do the same as in the previous step and hit ctrl + click the thumbnail of the layer below. This will make sure we don’t go outside of the subject and interfere with the soon-to-be background! Now just use the brush and paint right over the top of the hair, following the hairline across the face. Don’t worry if you slip, it adds to the charm of the piece and doesn’t have to be perfect.

Yellow Paint

Just like before, we can’t see the image underneath the layer. Head over to the layer styles and change it down to “multiply” again so we get the full image. We’re getting there!


Time for the lips. We’re going to use the lasso tool again instead of the brush for this part. Hit ctrl + d to deselect the current marching ants or go to Select > Deselect. Click and drag your mouse around the shape of the lips and let go when you join back up. Pick a bright red from the colour selector (we used #f9001d) and grab the paint bucket tool and click in your selection. It should look something like this.

Red Lips

It’s starting to take shape! Look familiar? Now for my favourite part, the eye shadow. We’re going to use the lasso tool again to draw this, but the beauty is that it can be drawn in so many shapes and sizes, depending on your taste. Hit ctrl + d or Layer> Deselect and select again as you have done the rest of the tutorial, choose a colour (we used #05e7d4) and fill.


Woohoo! It looks like Warhol made it himself. We have also coloured some elements of her clothing, but this is completely optional. If you are using a photo with teeth showing and want them to be white, follow this little extra part we will demonstrate with the eyes. Otherwise, keep scrolling down to the background filling section.

Click on your “skin colour” layer and hit E, or click this icon on the toolbar.


This is the eraser tool, we’ll use this to get rid of that pinky skin colour to reveal the glowing white underneath! The same with the brush tool, you can click in the top left to change the size or use the shortcuts ( [ ] ). Make sure that the hardness is set to 100%. Click on the teeth or eyes and start erasing and you should end up with something below.

White Eyes

Adding a Background

This is pretty much the easiest step of the whole tutorial. Create a new layer and call it “background colour”. Click this layer and drag it right down so it is second to bottom (one above the layer that’s lost an eye). Choose ab appropriate colour for the background, we’ve used #f27930. Get the paint bucket and fill it!


Voila! You’re done. Doesn’t it look good!? You can print this off and frame it as a gift or try again with another image.


As it stands, I thought the image looked a little bland. To combat this I decided to add a grunge texture, picking us some speckles as if it were really screen printed. I used this texture. Copy and paste this onto your document, resize as appropriate and change the layer style to multiply. Lower the opacity and you’re good to go. That gives it some dimension!

Here is the final image:

Texture Final

Have you had a go?  Show us in the comments below or join the conversation on social media by using #ALJTMedia!

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