Resizing Photos and Using Photos in Pyrography tutorial wood burning

In this tutorial I’m going to discuss how resize pdfs and photos.  Also I will explain how to use photos to trace designs onto the wood; no need for a pattern.   The method I’m going to explain can be used on wood, paper, leather, gourds, etc., and any other surface that accepts pencil.   I chose to write up this tutorial because I was asked about it recently and figured there were others who might be curious about this too.   Tracing directly from a photo might seem a little intimidating, but with a little practice and some basic guidelines, it’s pretty easy to do.   

I have a YouTube video that demonstrations transferring patterns to the wood using either a pattern or a photo.   The video also shows how I create patterns.  To watch click on the image to the left.



The first thing I want to discuss is a simple way to resize pdfs as all of my patterns are in that format.  I want to point out that this is not the only way it can be done, but I think it’s one of the easiest and it doesn’t require anything more than the standard free version of adobe reader.

Step 1 – Open a Pdf File by double left clicking with the mouse or single right clicking.  Double left = opens file.  Single Right = opens a popup menu and then you have to select open from the list of options.

The screenshot shows the basic PDF screen.  Yours might be a little different depending on the version you have.






Step 2 – Click on the PRINT button.  You can either click on the printer icon or click on the FILE button in the upper left corner and then select PRINT from the dropdown menu.   Either option opens the print menu.  

In the screenshot below I used a red arrow to point to the printer icon that is found in the upper left corner.  Click on this to get the printer menu.








STEP 3 – Click on the CUSTOM SCALE option.  This will unlock the text box to the right of it. 

The photo shows the standard printer menu screen.  Again, your screen might look a little different depending upon the version you are using.

After you click on the CUSTOM SCALE option, the text box to the right will unlock and you can enter numbers in it. 






The CUSTOM SCALE option is marked with a red arrow.  Until you click on the little round button the text box to the right is grey out.  This means you can enter anything there.








Now the Custom Scale button has been clicked, so the text box turns white and a new value can be entered.  It defaults to 100%.




STEP 4 – Enter a new percentage and press the TAB button on your keyboard to get out of the percent box.  DO NOT PRESS ENTER on your keyboard as this will send the pdf to the printer.   Pressing TAB allows you to see the results.  If the results aren’t what you want, then enter a new percentage until they are.   

The screen shows that I entered 30 into the custom scale text box, and the image is reduced to 30% of its original value.  If I had entered 130, then the image would be increase by 30% of its original value.






Let’s talk about photographs.  At some point most, if not all of us, myself included, have used photos obtained from the internet.  That said, we all need to draw the line at using copyrighted photos.  The photographer who took them is an artist trying to make some money, so we should all be respectful of that.  I don’t use a lot of internet images in my artwork.  Instead I spend a lot of time and effort to get out and take pictures so I can use them without worrying about copyright issues.

I do want to mention that my friend Richy Coelho has a YouTube tutorial showing how to use Photoshop and a free online editor to resize and change the photos to black and white images.  Click on the image or this link to watch video:  How to Use Photos.   The free online editor Richy uses is found at:  Please keep in mind that I haven’t used either program, so I cannot answer questions about them.   


Richy has another tutorial video that explains how to create a photo composition using a free online photo editor.   Click on the image or this link to watch this video:  Photo Composition.  This video uses Photo Collage.  Again, I have not used this program, so I cannot answer questions about them.

Keep in mind that there are all sorts of ways to do this, and I will show you how I do it using a word processing program.   I will explain using Microsoft Word and Google Docs.    The only difference between different programs might be how to get the photo into the document.  I will explain how to get the photo into the word document first and then discuss resizing it. 

The easiest way to get a photo into a word document is to use the copy/paste feature, but, in case that isn’t enabled or allowed, I will also explain how to use the insert photos option. 


STEP 1 – Open a BLANK word document

STEP 2 – Right click on the photo you want to resize.  This will open a popup menu.  Left click with the mouse to select COPY from the popup menu. 

This is the popup menu.  Left click on the COPY option on this menu.









STEP 3 – Go to the word document, and Right click anywhere in the blank document (white area on the screen).   Do not click in the toolbars above or below the the blank document.  

STEP 4 – Left click with the mouse on the PASTE button.  The photo will now appear in the document. 

This is the popup menu that appears in word processing.




STEP 1 – Open a BLANK word document

STEP 2 – Click on the INSERT tab on the top menu bar. 

Here’s how the screen options look in word.





 This how the screen looks in Google Docs.







STEP 3 – Word or Google Docs open the same basic picture finder.  Click on the picture,  click the INSERT or OPEN button at the bottom of the screen.  The photo will now appear in the document.

Here’s a screenshot of the basic picture window.  Generally speaking, the computer will default to the Library Picture folder, but this might be different on your computer.






Once the photo is in the word processing document, then you can resize it.  At this point they all work the same (at least the ones I’ve used).

STEP 1 – Left click anywhere on the photo with the mouse.   This puts a thin frame around the photo with small circles or squares on the corners and long edges.  Using the small circle or square will keep the photo in proportion (marked with green arrows).   Using the squares on the long edges will distort the picture (marked with red arrows).

Word has small circle in each corner and a small square on the long edges.






Google Doc’s has small squares on the corners and the long edges.






STEP 2 – Left click and hold (don’t let up on the mouse button) on any one of the small circles/squares to change the size of the photo. 

Moving the mouse towards the center of the picture will shrink it.  Moving the mouse away from the picture will enlarge it.

When you click on one of the small circles/squares, the mouse cursor changes to a line with an arrow at each end of it.









Clicking and holding on the vertical line square will distort (compress or lengthen) the picture vertically depending on which way you move the mouse.













Using the horizontal line square will distort the picture horizontally. 




In this photo I used one of the corner circles (or squares depending on the program) and I haven’t let up on the mouse yet.  There is a small blue rectangle in the lower right corner of the photo that indicates how small the picture will end up being.  I used red arrows to point to the top and the left line of the blue rectangle.




STEP 3 – When you get the photo to the size you want, then let up on the mouse button.  It is now resized.   If you discover that it’s not the right size after all, then repeat these steps.


Microsoft’s Word program has a bonus feature that allows you to precisely resize a photo.   I call this a bonus feature as I can’t find anything similar in Google Doc’s.

STEP 1 – Get the photo into the word document.

STEP 2 – Click on the Picture Tools FORMAT tab.  The red arrow is pointing to this tab. 





STEP 3 – On the far right of this toolbar are options to alter the Height & Width of a photo.   Enter the dimension you want in the text box or use the up/down buttons to the right of the text box.





Tracing directly from a photo isn’t complicated and it gets easier the more you do it.  Here are some basic guidelines I follow that might help you.   

  • print two images
  • use standard copier paper
  • coat with graphite
  • trace needed lines
  • use dots or small dashes along shadow edges
  • lightly color in dark areas on complex areas


ALWAYS print two images.  The first image is used to trace from and the second is the reference when burning.  NEVER use the traced one for reference! 





The reason you never use the image you traced over is that you’ve altered the image.  Even if you use pencil, like I do, the lines are darker.  If you erase the pencil marks you might erase some of the color and alter the image; the lights and darks. 

I consult the reference photo a lot when I’m burning.  I don’t want pencil or ink lines interfering with what I’m looking at.   It’s much better to use a pristine photo for reference when you’re burning.






Print the image on standard copier paper.  Most standard copier paper has a weight around 20 lbs (74 gsm), so the paper is thin enough that you don’t have to press hard to make a good impression on the receiving surface.    The paper does not need to be anything fancy, so don’t spend money on specialty “photo” paper.  I always purchase whatever is on sale; i.e. the cheapest thing in the store.







Coat the back with Graphite, not charcoal.  While charcoal produces really nice dark lines it is very prone to smearing.  In fact, it’s difficult to avoid smearing charcoal!   I use a graphite pencil in the B ranges as the lead is softer and produces darker trace lines.  

This is going to be extremely obvious to most of you, but you do not need to coat the entire page with graphite.  Just coat the areas where you need to trace.




Trace the basic lines needed to get the work done.  Don’t trace every single little detail from the photo; especially if it is a complex subject.   The leaf in the photo is an example of tracing the basic lines.  I only traced the shape of the leaf and the major vein lines.  This gives me more than enough information to burn the leaf on wood.


When I initially traced the collared lizard onto wood, I traced every scale.  When I was done I couldn’t tell what was going on.  Which lines were scales, which lines were the roundish blotches of color, which lines were wrinkles, etc.   There were just too many lines and it was an ugly mess, so I erased it all and started over.


The Bengal tiger is another example of tracing just the lines that are needed.  Not every hair on his furry body was traced.  Instead it was just the major features like body outline, the black stripes, eye, whiskers, etc.




Use dots or small dashes to indicate the edges of shadows.  With the use of dots or small dashes I can easily tell marked shadows from the petals on this waterlily. 


This method really helped with the Wrapped Up Christmas Postcard bow project.   The bow had lots of loops on it, and each loop had several different blocks or bands of color on it.  With the use of dots I could mark the bands of color and still easily identify each loop on the bow.  This makes the subject less confusing when you start to burn it in.







Lightly color in the background or dark areas on complex items.  This flower cluster has lots of petals and stems with gaps between them where the background shows. 








In line drawing form it is difficult to tell the flowers from the background.  








Coloring the background with pencil makes it much easier to tell the flowers from the background.








Let me mention here that I knew I was going to burn the background of this flower very dark, so I went ahead and burned lines in the background to help the flowers stand out.   If the background was going to remain unburned, then I would have used a pencil to darken the background. 

Again, the sole reason for this is that it makes it easier to see where you need to burn.






Now I want to show a couple examples of what lines I trace from photos.  Since lines traced on wood are difficult to see, I did the tracing on paper.

Example 1 – Flowers

This first example shows the pencil marks on the picture after I was done tracing it. 








These are the lines I felt were needed:

  • I drew around each flower in the foreground cluster.
  • I drew around each petal on each flower including the white center petals.
  • I drew around the stems attached to the petals
  • I drew solid lines on both edges where a petal curved.
  • I drew dashes along shadow or color change lines

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the photo and the traced lines.





Example 2 – Seashells

Here’s the photo for our next example.  Look at it and determine which basic lines are needed.  In the photos below, I use photo painting to mark the basic lines. 

Please keep in mind that my photo painting skills are not that great, so the lines are close, but not exact.  I think you will be able to understand what I’m trying to convey.



Draw along the outline or  shape of each seashell.






Draw the ribs on each shell.  The brown shell in the background is like a stack of donuts, so a line is drawn around each donut.  The green & white shell on the left has bumpy ridges on its surface and the opening is facing us, so a line is drawn for the opening and each bumpy ridge.   The pink shell on the right has ribs, so a line is drawn for each rib.  Note that I didn’t paint in every single rib on the two closer shells but I did trace them in when I did this for the project.  Again, my photo paint skills need work.



Draw along the cast shadows on the ground.






Draw dashed lines along the shadow boundary on the opening and the other shadows on the opening.  Also draw on the base of the pink shell and where the cast shadows are darker.





Dashes or dots should be used along the highlight on the pink shell.  I originally used dashed along the ribs to mark their boundaries, but looking back I could have left that out.  I won’t show it here.





Drawing the shell markings is really a personal choice and I’ll explain why.  No one is going to know what the exact seashell markings actually are, so you can burn in general markings that are similar and no one would know.  Based on that, you can omit tracing them.  If you’re not comfortable with that, then draw them in.  Remember, this is YOUR artwork, so you have to do what is best for you!   I chose to draw the lines on the brown and green shells, but I felt I could easily replicate the markings on the pink shell.



Lastly, lightly darken any shadows if it helps make the trace lines easier to follow.  I chose to darken along the first few ribs on the green & white seashell.  





Here’s a comparison of the photo with the trace lines.



Example 3 – Sparrow

Here’s our next example; a sparrow.  Let’s do the same thing we did on the seashells.






Trace the outline or shape of the bird.  Notice that along the top of the head where the feathers were a touch ruffled, I drew in a series of short lines positioned in the same direction as the ruffled feathers.





Outline major features like the eye, beak, wings, and the bands on his head.






Next add little dashes along the edges of feather groups on the face & chest.  The dashes should be angled so they are in the same direction as the feather growth.





I want to show this picture again because I used a pencil instead of photo paint on it.  This shows how I really drew the lines.  The lines are short, drawn in the growth direction of the feather and follow along the edge of a feather group.  The ones drawn on the side of the face and neck are the easiest to see in this photo.






The last thing to do is draw in any markings on the wings that will help you burn them in.  If it helps, color in the dark areas to make it easier to follow along with the pattern.






Here’s the photo next to the tracing I did.



Example 4 – Bobcat

Here’s the photo for the last example.  I’m going to show this one a little differently and you can let me know which visual for the examples was most effective.








I almost always start with the eye, so trace the black area of the eye and the white markings to the left and below.



Continue to trace in the major markings above the eye. 





Draw in the major markings on the forehead.  Notice how the markings I draw for fur are short lines drawn in the fur’s growth direction.    These markings not only tell you where the different features are on the bobcat’s face, but they also tell you the direction you should be burning your fur lines.




Continue to trace in the markings on the forehead and trace around the ear.  I tend to trace the dark markings and then I know that the areas around them are pale.




With the other ear, trace the black area on the inside of the ear.  When this area is burned in, it will be the black area that gets burned, not the hairs.




Then trace around the edges of the face, adding any markings you encounter.





In this photo I’ve finished tracing and I’m starting to ink in the design.  Inking in would be the equivalent of burning the trace lines, just burn the trace lines a LOT lighter than I’m inking.   Note that this photo and trace results are the original ones I did, so the markings on the photo are in graphite pencil.  For this blog I traced over them with colored pencil so the lines would show better in the previous photos.



Here’s the final result.  Notice in areas without markings (like the bridge of the nose) I drew several short lines indicating the general fur direction.  I also lightly colored in the dark areas (eye, nostril, ear opening) to make the tracing easier to follow.  The big thing with fur is using the dashes drawn in the fur growth direction.  Excluding whiskers, there are very few solid lines on the tracing.




That’s it for this tutorial blog.   I hope I was able to explain some useful techniques for resizing pdf’s and photos without getting too computer technical.  And, I hope I was able to demystify using photos to trace from.  Using photos instead of patterns can take a little time to get comfortable with, but practice will get you there.   One great way to get practice in is to use the reference photos instead of the patterns I provide in my tutorials.

If you have questions or ideas that you’d like to see in future tutorials, please leave a comment and let me know. 

Until the next blog,


June 8, 2018

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4 thoughts on “Resizing Photos and Using Photos in Pyrography tutorial wood burning

  1. Great tutorial article! I would like to burn a photo of our house, which is a log home on a wooded lot — therefore surrounded by trees and landscaping. (Hostas, holly bushes, etc..)

    I would like to see how you would trace a similar photo with lots of elements — house, landscape plants, trees and especially a grass lawn —

    How do you decide what lines and elements are important? I wouldn’t want to burn every blade of grass, so how do you get a lawn to represent grass?

    1. Hi Laura,

      Thanks for the comment and question. The super simplified answer is trace what you think you will need. I find it’s important to remember the function of the trace lines and that is to create a line drawing that allows you to match shapes with the reference photo.

      Hostas I would most likely draw a line around the leaves of the plants. Holly bush I might just draw a line around the outer edges of the bush shape, and I’d probably do the same with the trees in the background. As for the grass I doubt I would draw it in unless there is something special about the grass that you need a to mark in the line drawing. After all you’re not trying to create a pencil drawing.

      My second recommendation is to pick your focal point, and I assume this is the house, and make sure it has the most detail on it. To help keep the focus on the house, let the detail get less the further from the house you get. This will give the impression of stuff without competing with the focal point.

      I did a tutorial on a covered bridge that might be helpful. The youtube tutorial video will be coming out on Tuesday, May 26th.
      Here’s a link to the written tutorial:

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