Use a full size reference photo to transfer images


See my article on drawing and tracing apps. iPads and Android phones and tablets. That article describes the using applications and other technical advances
This Low Tech article is about getting a full size 1:1 image traced/transferred onto your paper by tracing it. But to trace the image it needs to be actual size.
1.    Enlarge photos to Full Size:
       a. At store or
       b. Print LARGE from your printer.
Reference must be 1:1 in order to trace or transfer onto paper.
2.    Methods to transfer 1:1 image to paper Many YouTube links
      SKETCH NOT TRACE your drawing Keep your lines interesting!!!
You are an artist!
3.    Convert photos to a line drawing using advanced software Advanced techniques using Photoshop or Photopea to create a line drawing from a photo reference.


HOW TO ENLARGE YOUR PHOTO to larger than 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper.
 – Have a store print your 1:1 reference. One way, take it to a store and ask them to blow it up. This could be expensive to make a 16 x 20″, but an 11″x14″ is more typical for portraits in the home.  (the following examples will use 11″x14″ reference photo, modify this for your uses). However it will likely be cheaper to have them print your large image on 2 or 4 smaller sheets and tape them together yourself.

– Print your 1:1 on YOUR printer. Less expensive way is to use YOUR printer to enlarge images. You can then use this actual size image to help you accurately get your image on the paper.

  1. With your photo software, crop your photo exactly to the look and dimensions you will want the painting, 11×14, 16×20 , 14×11 or 20×16  or what ever… Make note of these exact dimensions.
  2. To change your cropped image’s physical size, in your photo software, look under Image>Resize/Re-sample. It might be under Edit on the tool bar at the top of the program. Look for Width and Height. Change these to your desired dimensions. Eg. Width:11  Height: 14, change the units to inches. (Use landscape dimensions if needed…),  Also look for something that says “Keep Your Proportions” or Preserve Aspect Ratio (proportional). This will keep it from distorting your image. NOW VERY IMPORTANT!!! SAVE THIS IMAGE WITH A DIFFERENT NAME!! Eg. PattiB RESIZED16x20.jpg. You don’t want to damage or change your original image!!!
  3. When your new resized image is the size you want it, you want to click on Print> then look for Actual Size or Original Size in your printer menu, not Shrink or stretch to paper size. When you select Actual Size you may only see part of your photo in the preview screen. That is how much of the photo will print on an 8.5×11″ piece of paper. Change the Position on Paper. You will uncheck “Centered on Paper”. Then change Left margin: to 0, zero, and Top margin: to 0. This will print the first page of just the top left corner of your photo. > Print!
  4. To print the rest of the photo will take a little trial and error. Remember this example is for a vertical/portrait oriented image. If yours is in landscape your numbers will be different.
  5. Go back to step 3. File>Print. Now change the Left margin to -6 (minus 6 inches) and Top margin: 0, It should show you the right side of the photo. Change the left margin to what ever you need, but you want overlap with the image you just printed.  Print
  6. File>Print. Now change the Left Margin: back to 0, Top Margin: -9.5 (this will move the print image down the page.)    Print
  7. File>Print: Left margin: Exactly what you put in step 5, and Top Margin: exactly what you put in step 6.   Print.  Ta Da!!
  8. Now cut any white paper away and tape then all together. Carefully cut away the excess on the backside. Here is your exact size reference photo. It reads more complicated than it is. Remember, you can always go pay for the store to do this…


Here is a Quick Reference list of my recommended how-to links to transfer photos to paint.
– How to Transfer a Drawing Using Graphite Paper with David R. Smith He uses transfer paper
– Doing a drawing for a Painting / Stan Miller Shows ways to transfer images onto paper. Using bright light or window and draw on the paper directly.
– 15 ways how to trace or transfer a photo, image, or drawing Tracing Masterpieces Pretty good. He covers most techniques.
– Favorite Way To Get The Right Proportions For a Portrait, Using proportional dividers
– How to draw a Portrait using a Scale Dividers Or proportional dividers. This show how to use them by drawing a cross on reference and painting surface, and measuring.
Four ways of beginning a portrait by Ben Lustenhouwer  YouTube where he discusses and explains 4 ways to transfer a drawing to Canvas or to WC paper, 1. Trace from full size drawing, 2. Projecting an image, 3. Grid method, 4. Drawing from direct observation. He gives good detail on each!!
– Marc Dalessio’s Minute Painting Video #5: Sight-size in Plein air. More about using Sight Size for plein air painting but still relevant.

You have many options to transfer this to your paper.

Tracing/Transfer paper
David R. Smith,
How to Transfer a Drawing Using Graphite Paper with David R. Smith He shows the process of using your 1:1 photo and transfer paper to get lines on your paper. The problem with this graphite transfer paper is it is difficult to erase. If you can see your lines in your painting, make them interesting!!! I would use it only to draw the minimal amount of reference marks in DARK/black value areas, then use these reference marks to finish your drawing on your actual paper.

Using a Light Table or Window and “Tracing Paper” Tracing paper is thin semi transparent paper.
1. Put the full size photo on a light box (or taped to a window). Then use vellum or tracing paper on top of your reference photo, then trace major features (not every detail) with THIN sharpie or very dark pencil. You want it to be dark enough to see through your paper on the next step.  Then remove the photo and replace and secure it to your watercolor paper (on the light box/window) and trace in pencil those main feature lines. (Thanks Patti B for this!) You can reuse this tracing paper image over and over again. Good for doing your portraits a second time…

Please read Drawing Tracing Aids Here is an excerpt:

 “Remember you are an artist. Don’t draw lines that are boring! It will be easy to overdraw your subject and create a STIFF overworked painting!”


SKETCH your image. The sketchy lines you draw on your paper will look artsy. Don’t let your lines get too long or continuous. These lines are boring!!! Let them change width and light-dark. You will like the results. Keep the lines light, you can darken them later. If you plan on painting the drawing don’t use too many lines. Just indicate the critical lines. Critical lines and marks include the eyes. Mark the placement of the corners and the angles of the lids, and pupils. Also note the corners of the mouth, nostrils and ears. Things like hair and clothing can be loosely placed and drawn by eye when you are done tracing. Remove the reference and look at your drawing. You are the artist.  Refine and repair the drawing. You can add more lines and erase or lighten the ones you don’t want or need. On a face, use light dotted lines for soft shadows like the cheeks or dimples or glint on the nose.
NOTE: Too many lines can make the paper dirty or cluttered or confusing. You don’t need EVERY line!! BUT remember this “you can’t paint yourself out of a BAD Drawing!!! The drawing MUST be accurate or you will just be painting someone else…

2. See the top of this article for links to many good YouTubes showing different ways to get a drawing onto your painting surface.

Good Luck,



Photoshop or Photopea convert photos to line drawings. You can use this free web-based software

Much of this is extracted and modified from this Adobe web-link.

Convert photos to line drawings / pencil sketches
 Make sure you are working on a dupe image, not your original!!!

1. Bring your photo into Photoshop.  If using Photopea see below how to start.

First, make sure that you’ve picked a good original image for the process.
You’re going to want a high-resolution photo with lots of sharp contrast. When you’re using a filter to shift something from photo to drawing, blurriness is the enemy and contrast is your friend. You’ll have a sharper and more realistic-looking pencil drawing if you pick the right original image. Filter>Sharpen, play to get crisp image before you start this process.

2. Select your subject.

First, if you don’t see the layers menu, Window > Layer to see the layers section view on the right.
Drag and drop your photo into the program. Now you want to make a second copy of it in the software. To do that, Drag the original layer with your image to the “New Layer” button for quick duplication.   (Folder symbol with the bent corner at the bottom of the layers menu)
Then, select your new copied layer and navigate to Image › Adjustments › Desaturate. This will put your image into grayscale. Or Image >adjustment> hue/saturation> move saturation slider to left. >OK

3. Duplicate and invert.

Once again, duplicate your desaturated layer (now have three layers). With that new layer selected, go to  Image › Adjustments › Invert. Your project will look a little wild for a moment, but don’t worry. In the blending mode menu, change the selection to Color Dodge. The blending mode is above the layers, it says “Normal” with a down arrow, click > Color Dodge.  This might make your image look completely white — that’s normal.    
Right-click the layer and select Convert to Smart Object, which will enable some of the edits you’re about to do.

4. Create the main LINE drawing effect.

With your newly created Smart Object selected, navigate to Filter › Blur> Gaussian Blur. This portion of the process depends on what you want your line drawing to look like. Make sure the preview box is checked, and adjust the Radius slider to achieve the effect you want. Click > OK.  You want as sharp and clear line you can get.

To print this,  (remember to change the name, DO NOT WORK ON YOUR ORIGINAL!!!
Change this drawing to the size you want to paint. Image> Image Size> 11×14 inches.
File> print  (Opens up the print menu) in Photoshop, It opens up a save for Web window in Photopea. See below for what to do with a Photopea image.

From the Photoshop print menu, (assuming you want to print a vert portrait 11”x14”) Ignore this if you are using Photopea, go to the bottom.

  • Change the Layout > Horz
  • Position, uncheck Center, Top – change to 0.0 Left – change to 0.0 (this prints the top left of image)
  • Scale 100%, Height 14… Width 11… (for this example)
  • Print (top, [left] half of drawing) It will warn you that it is bigger than your paper, “Continue”
  • Do this again but change position Top -7 (negative 7, some number so you see all the bottom of your drawing) Left 0.0
  • NOTE: If you want an image wider than normal 8.5×11” paper you will have to print 4 or 6 sheets of paper to tape together. So, second print, change Left position to -2 (some number that you see all of the right side of the drawing). Then for third print, change the top to -7 Left -2, forth print Top -7 Left 0.0. It will make sense if you are doing it… Trim the white on the edge of the paper and tape together on the front and trim the back so you don’t have overlap to trace through. 16×20 takes 6 sheets (top 0, -6, -13, Left 0, and -6.

How to start in Photopea: 
New project >Name, give it one > Width 8 Inches, Height 10 Inches (or 11×14) > Create

Slide/drag in your photo. Here you can sharpen, edit, crop etc. as you need. Sharper is better!! File >Sharpen > play with the settings.

At the top click Windows> CLICK  “Layers” to get the layer screen on the right. GO TO STEP 2 ABOVE and follow along.

Photopea: To print a Photopea image you need to save it as a JPG.
File> Print  > Change format to JPG > Change width to 8 > Height 10 >  inches   (you may have to change the Height and Width again) Quality 100% > Save
It will download from the webpage into your “Download folder” on your computer.

Open it and print is as you would a normal photo with your normal software. If larger than 8.5 x 11” see above in the Photoshop print area for some info how to print a multi page photo.


Last edited: 21 Oct 23, added Photoshop/Photopea instructions,  20 Sep 2023, added summary of links at the top,  26 Aug 2023, added David R Smith transfer paper link, 11 Dec 16, added a YouTube on transferring an image to a canvas/WC paper,
18 Aug 16 Thanks PattiB