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I have a stencil image of Karl Marx. The subject is mostly white on a black background. However, I would like to create another version of it where the subject is black on a white background. I thought that simply inverting the colors would do the trick, but it ends up looking terrible (see below) and not recognizable. This was puzzling.

Does anyone know how to do this correctly so the look is exactly the same and only the subject/background colors are flipped?

karl-marx-stencil

karl-marx-stencil-inverted

  • The problem is that the brain interprets dark as shadow, so when you invert it you're getting all the wrong signals. I don't know any way to fix that. – Tetsujin Aug 4 at 8:17
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You must reconstruct the island where the head is to recover at least the edge on which the figure-ground effect is built without altering it.

enter image description here

Or, after reconstructing the head shape, change the background color:

enter image description here

There's a similar problem in this question

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I don't think inverting will work - it has clearly failed as shown by your example. Here's a different approach. Start with the original photograph (there's a copy on Wikipedia)

In Photoshop, remove the background using the Select and Mask workspace

enter image description here

Create a new layer from visible (Ctrl+Alt+Shift+E)

Convert the layer into a Smart Object and apply the Cutout filter

Add a threshold adjustment layer effect

Here's the result

enter image description here

The nice thing about using a Smart Object and Threshold adjustment layer effect is that they are non-destructive, and you can adjust the settings to get different results.

For example, here I adjust the Threshold, and the Cutout filter levels:

enter image description here

It's also possible to add additional filters for more refinement of missing details. Here I add a Poster Edges filter, and fix some holes left in the arm by creating another layer and painting on it.

enter image description here

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