In the ACLU Design Handbook (9.5MB PDF) the use of the so called "modern engraving" effect is detailed on pages 135-137. What would be a good way to achieve this look in Photoshop (or Illustrator, fwiw)?

Ideally, I'd be looking for a way that

  • does not require the installation of plugins or actions and can be created with the default tools available in Photoshop
  • produces somewhat smooth lines, see example image #2
  • allows for the direction of the lines to be adjusted easily (eg, not using a fixed pattern)
  • is possible to do in a reasonable time, without too much work (or layers)

Example 1 aclu modern engraving effect

Example 2 similar engraving effect

The duotone color effect can be added with a simple gradient map layer style, so it's not strictly part of the question.

  • 3
    I'm surprised that ACLU described the outcome of applying the styles so objectively. It's down to taste and trends but I find the look slightly kitsch and think the trend of emulating woodcuts digitally will age poorly. Sometimes people apply effects to photos in compositions as a crutch for selecting inappropriate images in regards to visual harmony with the composition and color palette of the page. There are several ways to achieve what you're looking for. Here's one without plugins: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/84987/… Commented Apr 15, 2018 at 12:37
  • @biscuitstack and its not really emulating a woodcut. No woodcutter would do something that looks like computer rasterisation
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 9:07
  • "Distinguished", "interesting", "historic" ... and next year it'll be "outdated", "cheap", and/or "tacky" and they'll advise everyone to use the Plastic Wrap Filter.
    – Jongware
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 10:06
  • I see your point, but to be honest, the question is primarily about how to achieve the specific effect most efficiently (which your post answers nicely), not about how to achieve a "distinguished, interesting" look, which would invite a much more thorough discussion.
    – oelna
    Commented Apr 17, 2018 at 9:52
  • @oelna Which is why I added it as a comment, not an answer. I felt it was not answering the question but was relevant to what was presented in the question without being off-topic. I should have probably separated my link into a posted, actual answer, yes, but didn't feel it thorough or definitive enough to warrant. Commented Apr 18, 2018 at 8:00

2 Answers 2


With Photoshop, in four easy steps:

Four easy steps

  1. Convert with Image Mode into grayscale.

  2. Convert with Image Mode into Bitmap. Set the Output Resolution to 10x the input resolution. Set Method to Halftone Screen ...

    Bitmap: method

    ... and the options in the next dialog to about 20 lines per inch, angle any way you want, and "Line" for the method.

    Bitmap: halftone options

    If you get too large distance between the lines, Undo and repeat step 2, increasing the number of lines/inch; if you get too many, decrease.

  3. You get a sharp, high resolution black-and-white bitmap as a result. Convert back to grayscale and choose a Size Ratio of 10 to get the original size back, but now converted to a line screen with grayscale antialiasing (which is why you chose "10 x resolution" in the previous dialog).

  4. Colorize at will and/or ability. Fastest way for me is converting it to Indexed Color, and then changing the Color Table: select all colors, then you are prompted for the first and last colors.


Apply from the filter gallery "Halftone pattern > Line". Use high contrast setting. Your photo needs nothing special, the effect works with normal RGB images, but

  • the background is good to be removed before if you do not want "engraved" background.
  • it's useful to mix the image to BW with Image > Adjustments > Black and white to get wide and smooth greyscale.

The lines are unfortunately horizontal, but you can rotate the image temporarily with expanded canvas size. See an example:

enter image description here

You see that some of the lines are grey, not black. You can make them black with Image > Adjustments > Treshold.

You must have very high resolution image (thousands of pixels) to get smooth lines. You can also apply median filtering to smooth the result. The benefit is not big because Photoshop's filter is well done.

More smoothing is available if you simplify the greyscale image with Cutout filter before applying the halftoning. Just in my image it resulted unpleasant lack of symmetry, because right and left eyes, altough nearly as bright, were left to different sides of brightness step treshold.

I have got best results in vector domain. See this link:

Create engraving in GIMP/Inkscape

The story is quite wide discussion of engraving lookalike effects.

Vector domain approach uses tracings at different greyshade tresholds. The tracing results are used as clipping masks for different line widths.

It uses freeware instead of Photoshop. Inkscape is quite easy for this job.

  • 1
    THere is a better way see youtube.com/watch?v=HpqSd0jBOXw
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 9:10
  • @joojaa that's perfect BW line raster printing simulation. Of course you are right if that's wanted.
    – user82991
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 9:42
  • You can turn it back to rgb and antialias it if you want.
    – joojaa
    Commented Apr 16, 2018 at 9:57

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