What Software Can Create the Wall Street Journal Hedcut Effect on a Photo?

Hedcut Portrait by Noli Novak
Hedcut Portrait. © Copyright Noli Novak, Used with Permission

Question: What Software Can Create the Wall Street Journal Hedcut Effect on a Photo?

Don writes: "I'm looking for software that can turn a photo into the type of portrait you see in The Wall Street Journal. Bottom line, I'm looking for something that will create an image that will fax well. Gray scale images don't fare so well."

Answer: I wasn't familiar with The Wall Street Journal portraits you referred to, but I did some research and discovered these portraits are known as "hedcut" drawings.

The Wall Street Journal first used this technique in 1979 after artist Kevin Sprouls approached the paper with his line drawings. To this day, the paper is still using artists — not software — to create these hand-drawn hedcuts.

But to answer your question, I have not found a software technique that can generate results as strikingly detailed as the hedcut stipple drawings used in The Wall Street Journal, though some attempts have been made.

If you want a quick and easy effect that won't resemble hedcuts, but might make a good candidate for faxing, try the Graphic Pen or Photocopy filters in Photoshop under the Filter > Sketch menu. You will need to start with a fairly high resolution image to get the best results with these filters.

Another method is to simplify the image as much as possible, then convert to Indexed Color mode using diffusion dithering in Photoshop. This method is explained in an illustrated step-by-step tutorial: How to Make a Photo Suitable for Faxing

You can also find more advanced plug-ins for creating stylish line drawing, woodcut, and inked effects listed under Halftone Line Screen & Line Art Plugins.

For more information on hedcut stipple drawings, see this article from Kevin Sprouls, Creator of the Wall Street Journal Hedcut Portrait, Sprouls Method — the Hedcut, a blog post from Kevin Sprouls, or visit the links under "Wall Street Journal Hedcuts" below.