How to choose the perfect reference photo for your line portrait

How to choose the perfect reference photo for your line portrait

When it comes to choosing a photo to be transformed into a line art illustration, it can be a bit overwhelming.

What angles work best? Is there any specific poses that work better than others? The answer is yes!

There may be an image that you really love and yet it is not a good candidate to be tuned into a line portrait.

A key aspect to keep in mind is what kind of illustration style you are looking for. Do you lean more towards a more abstract result or are you looking for a more detailed illustration?

Line drawings are more minimalistic and simple than a realistic portrait anyways so the amount of detail we can achieve is limited and will vary depending on the style you choose.

Regardless of the line style you go for, I always bet on natural shots instead of very posed scenes.
Capturing a moment in an illustration goes beyond just outlining your photo. We want the connections and feelings of that moment to be reflected in the illustration as well.

That is why a photo in which people are interacting with each other, for example, looking at each other, kissing, hugging, dancing, holding hands... will always be more more powerful and appealing than a posed scene looking directly at the camera.

Custom line portrait from photo. Couple and family photos into line drawings

We want the people who appear in the image to be connected with each other rather than creating a direct connection with the viewer. 
From thousands of portraits drawn, I can tell this aspect really makes the difference!

Custom line art portrait from photo

But... what about if I want to use a photo looking at the camera or a selfie for my line portrait?
Well, that's definitely an option! I understand sometimes it's difficult to get 'professional looking' poses or that you just love that photo, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it! I’ve drawn a lot of these and they’re just as special.

My recommendation in this case would be to go with one of the more detailed line portrait options, such as:

Custom line drawing from photo

Using one of these styles will allow me to use thinner lines around the faces so we can capture your likeness more accurately than what we could do with a more abstract style.


To summarise!

What are the key points to find perfect reference photo for a line portrait?

  •  Look for natural poses, capturing the photo as if the viewer wasn’t there. (Dance like no one’s watching they say!)

  • Interacting pics will help in capturing the bond between the people in the image. Look for those shots that make you see further and feel the moment.

  • Choose natural angles and perspectives. A photo that has been taken from a very strong and unnatural angle (for example, taken from a drone above us, or in the case of pets taken from a very different height) might look strange when translated to lines.

  • Avoid cropped scenes with areas missing (we don’t want anyone missing a leg or half of their face!). Sometimes and depending on the situation I may be able to complete it but for it to look as natural as possible make sure to check this with me first!

  • Composition is key. Your poses are important since it’s what will remain after all rest of the information is taken away and there’s only lines left. The surroundings, lighting, lower resolution… won’t be as relevant as the pose. Try to imagine your photo with just the outlines left. You would be surprised at how photos that initially look terrible as camera roll shots end up creating the most lovely illustrations!

  • And last but not least, we need to have a decent quality image. I don’t need extra sharp / professional photographer shots but I’ll need to be able to zoom in a bit and appreciate face features properly (if you want to include faces, in the case of a faceless portrait we can be much more flexible)

Now that we have dived into the most important aspects to choose your reference image for your line drawing, let me show you a few different samples of previous portraits to show you how almost any image can be totally transformed into a line portrait!

Custom line drawing from photo
Custom line illustration portrait from photo

I hope you found this post useful and inspiring!
Remember that you can always look for inspiration in the gallery page, product images, customer reviews, my Instagram… and of course I’ll always be here to give you a hand. If you are indecisive while choosing your reference photo feel free to email me to and I’ll be happy to review your options with you and help you choose :)

Any questions, additions or suggestions of what you would like to see next in the blog feel free to comment below!

Thanks for stopping by 🤗💖

Monica xx


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