How to Design Needlepoint From Photos

Making Needlepoint Designs From Photos

little girl with puppy photo and needlepoint chart
The Spruce / Althea R. DeBrule

Do you wish to create needlepoint designs from photos of a child, pet, house, favorite vacation spot or other special memories? If the answer is yes, then you can easily make your own needlepoint charts from these photos as well as from clip art, cartoon drawings and anything else you wish to turn into a needlepoint project.

Materials You'll Need

Using a photo or other image removes the fear of not being able to draw or paint well enough to make a needlepoint design. It’s already captured for you; so you don’t have to be an expert.

All you need are a few simple tools, and you are well on your way to completing your first needlepoint design in only a few minutes.

  • Photos that were taken with a smartphone, electronic tablet or digital camera or assorted printed photos
  • A scanner for transferring printed photos to a computer
  • Computer with an internet connection
  • Installed craft pattern-making software or access to online pattern-making software

You will learn how to transfer photos using three different methods, from the traditional to a couple of quick and easy ways to have some fun with your computer to make needlepoint designs.

The Low or "No-Tech" Method

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

Before the invention of computer software programs that allowed you to import photos for making charts, there was (and still exists) the old-fashioned way of drawing the photo on tracing paper or directly onto needlepoint canvas.

This method takes a lot of concentration and is time-consuming; but if you are afraid to tackle a more high-tech solution, this is the best method for you! You will have to experiment a bit with the shapes in your photos until they are ready for final transfer to needlepoint canvas for stitching.

Things You’ll Need

  • Selected photo: Choose a photo with large shapes and minimal details.
  • Graph tracing paper: To accurately transfer a photo to canvas, you will need a translucent paper with a grid (usually 10 x 10 or ten squares to the inch).
  • Optional tracing lightbox: This device illuminates the photo so that you can easily see the shapes for tracing.
  • Ultra-fine point permanent waterproof marker: Use charcoal gray or a color that is dark enough to see for tracing.
  • #10 to #13 mesh mono needlepoint canvas: Any canvas you use should have a mesh size large enough to see through to the photo underneath.
  • Masking tape: You will use this adhesive to secure the photo and tracing paper to a lightbox or needlepoint canvas.
  • Clean tabletop: If you do not have a lightbox, use a clean tabletop surface for attaching the photo to the tracing paper or needlepoint canvas.


  1. Place photo on a lightbox or clean tabletop and secure with masking tape on all four corners.
  2. Place a sheet of graph tracing paper on top of the photo, making sure to center it before taping the corners to the lightbox or table. If you are tracing directly onto needlepoint canvas, make sure to use as much masking tape as you need to keep it from shifting while tracing.
  3. Trace the general shape of each large area in the photo first, and then add smaller areas for detail.
  4. Once the shapes are in, go over the tracing lines to make them thicker—especially if using paper. The lines you have traced on needlepoint canvas can be darkened after removing the photo and canvas.
  5. Gently peel away the masking tape, being careful not to tear the tracing paper or pull the canvas threads out of shape. Set the photo aside to refer to as you stitch the design.
  6. To transfer the paper traced design to canvas: Place the traced design on a tabletop and tape each end. Cut a piece of the desired mesh size of needlepoint canvas to the scale of the finished project; center over traced paper design and tape to a table. Copy the design to the needlepoint canvas. Remove the canvas and clean up any mistakes or extra marks with white acrylic paint. Let dry and prepare for stitching as usual.
  7. After direct tracing on needlepoint canvas: You will save a few steps if you trace the photo directly onto needlepoint canvas. Once you have completed the tracing, remove the canvas and photo. Clean up the lines so that they fall on the intersections of the canvas threads in the same manner that you will make the stitches. This is called Stitch-Painting”. Remove any mistakes with white acrylic paint and prepare the canvas for stitching.

Using Pattern-Making Software

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

One of the easiest ways to turn your favorite pictures into needlepoint designs is to use computer software programs that have been designed exclusively to do so. These programs can be quite expensive, depending on how detailed and complex you want your finished patterns to be.

PC Stitch Pro Cross Stitch Software by M&R Technologies is the perfect tool for creating both cross stitch and needlepoint designs. The Pro version has several stitches that needlepointers use quite often. And since you can easily convert most charted cross stitch designs to needlepoint, this software is both a simple and wise choice.

The image above shows you how a photo of a little girl holding a puppy looks when imported into PC Stitch. Here’s how it is done:

  1. Download a free fully-functional version of the software and install it on your computer’s hard drive. You can check out all the features, but you will not be able to save your needlepoint design unless you purchase the product. Everything else still works great. If you plan to make several designs from photos, it is well worth the inexpensive cost for the pattern-making software package.
  2. Open the software and follow the directions on the screen to start a new project. Go to the File tab in the upper-left corner of the program and click on "Import" to upload your photo. Once the image is in the software, you will get a split-screen with your picture on the left and what it will look like once turned into a needlepoint chart on the right.
  3. Click the "OK" button to get a full-color view of your photo rendered as a needlepoint chart. There are buttons and tabs you can click on to change the size of the design and the number of colors you choose to use. Click the "OK" button when you are fully satisfied with your design. 
  4. Use the handy thread chart on the left of the screen to see the embroidery floss colors that can be used to stitch the new design. Feel free to change the colors or add new ones as well as adjust the pattern size as desired to prepare for export to its final form.
  5. You can make your design into a chart with symbols for easy color placement or even render it in virtual stitches where you get to see how it would look once stitched.
  6. Use the "Export" tool to turn the design into an image file once you are satisfied with how it looks. At this stage, you will also have a chance to change the canvas mesh size and background color.

That’s all there is to it. In less than 15 minutes you can upload, import and export a needlepoint chart to start stitching right away without messy markers, tape or stress! M & R Technologies offers a "Frequently Asked Questions" section as well as a "User Forum " to help you make better use of the software.

Pattern-Making Software on the Web

There are other types of pattern-making software on the web. Here are a couple of additional ones you may wish to review. They all work in a similar fashion, but you should choose the one that's most comfortable to use.

  • Pattern maker by Hobbyware
  • WinStich by Ursa Software

Online Needlepoint Charts From Photos and Clip Art Images

online photo into needlepoint chart
The Spruce / Althea DeBrule

The quickest and least expensive way of making needlepoint designs from photos is to use a free online pattern-making service that allows you to import your picture and modify it as needed to create a lovely layout.

One of the best sites on the web is Craft Design Online. The full-service site has pattern grids and templates for everything from making friendship bracelets and beading projects to a pattern grid for needlepoint, weaving, knitting and embroidery projects.

Working With an Online Needlepoint Pattern Maker

Each online needlepoint pattern maker is different; so the first thing to do is to read the instructions before importing your photos. Crafts Design Online has an easy user guide with videos to help you navigate the site.

The above image shows how a photo can be turned into a needlepoint chart using an online service. Here are the super-easy steps: 

  1. Look at the video in the user guide for making patterns from photos and images.
  2. Choose your settings and set up your thread colors.
  3. Import your photo to the pattern grid by clicking on the "Tracing" tab and selecting, "New Tracing Image".
  4. Use the tools to the right of your image that is uploaded on the grid to modify the shape, change colors, add text, change the background and more.
  5. Use “Auto Trace” to convert the photo.
  6. To get the final chart, you can either save your design to the online gallery or click on “Chart as Web Page”, which is under the “File” tab. You will see a picture of the color chart as well as one with symbols. Download the charts and prepare for stitching.

Another online resource for needlepoint pattern-making is Needlepaint. This resource is not a free service and you don’t just get a needlepoint chart. Instead, you can either purchase your design already painted on needlepoint canvas or even in a kit with threads.