How to Make Needlepoint Designs From Photos

little girl with puppy photo and needlepoint design

The Spruce / Althea R. DeBrule

Project Overview
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $5

If you have a photo that you'd like to turn into a needlepoint project, it is fairly quick and easy to transfer that image to needlepoint canvas. All it takes are a few basic tools and some careful tracing of the design. By working from a photo, you don't have to be an expert at drawing to create a custom needlepoint design. You just have to have a steady hand for tracing. And what you'll end up with is a design that's meaningful to you, as it came from a photo of your choosing. Needlepoint projects created from photos also can make thoughtful personalized gifts.

Graph tracing paper over photo for tracing
The Spruce / Althea R. DeBrule

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Tracing lightbox (optional)
  • Ultra-fine point permanent waterproof marker in a dark color
  • Masking tape
  • Scissors
  • White acrylic paint (optional)


  • Photo (ideally with large shapes and minimal details)
  • Tracing paper with a grid (enough to cover the photo)
  • Size 10 to 13 mesh mono needlepoint canvas (enough to cover the photo)


  1. Position the Photo

    Place the photo on a lightbox or clean tabletop, and secure it with masking tape on all four corners.

  2. Lay the Tracing Paper on Top

    Place the tracing paper on top of the photo, and secure its corners with masking tape as well.

  3. Trace the Photo

    Using your marker with a fine point, trace the photo onto the tracing paper. Start by tracing the large general shapes of the photo, and then fill in the smaller, more detailed areas. Once you have the entire photo traced, go over your lines to make them thicker.

  4. Take Off the Tape

    Gently peel away the masking tape, being careful not to tear the tracing paper or photo. Set the photo nearby, so you can refer to it as you stitch the design.

  5. Transfer the Design to the Canvas

    Place the traced design back on the tabletop, and tape down each corner. Then, cut a piece of needlepoint canvas to fit the design. Place the canvas over the traced design, and tape down its four corners.

    Next, use your marker to trace the design onto the needlepoint canvas. When you're done tracing, clean up any mistakes or extra marks on the canvas with white acrylic paint if necessary. Finally, let the canvas dry before you begin your stitching.

Using Pattern-Making Software

pattern-making software used to transfer photo for needlepoint
The Spruce / Althea R. DeBrule

Besides tracing by hand, one of the easiest ways to turn your favorite pictures into needlepoint designs is to use specialized computer software programs. PC Stitch is a great tool for creating cross-stitch and needlepoint designs. And because you can easily convert most charted cross-stitch designs to needlepoint, this software is a wise choice if you enjoy doing both. Other pattern-making software programs include Pattern Maker by HobbyWare and MacStitch/WinStitch by Ursa Software.

Creating Needlepoint Patterns Online

turning an online photo into a needlepoint chart
The Spruce / Althea DeBrule

There also are online pattern-making services that allow you to import a picture and modify it as needed to create a needlepoint design. One of the best sites is Craft Design Online. It has pattern grids and templates for everything from friendship bracelets and beading projects to needlepoint, weaving, knitting, and embroidery projects.

Another online resource for needlepoint patterns is Needlepaint. With this service, you can purchase your design already painted on needlepoint canvas and even buy a kit that comes with several colors of thread.