Hand drawn artwork is valuable and hugely popular. Custom work can bring delight and joy to a customer. But there are many times you might want to bring delight and joy to many customers with a piece of artwork. Digitizing your work is absolutely key if you're looking to make a business or produce your work on a larger scale.
Today I'm sharing my process for digitizing my hand lettering. Once you have your work digitized, you can put it on t-shirts, totes, phone cases, stickers, etc. The options are endless. Let's jump in!
To practice this tutorial your artwork should be done in all black ink. This is very important! You can add color in the computer in a variety of ways once it is digitized.
Please note this tutorial assumes a working knowledge of Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.*
First off you'll need to get an image of your artwork. You can use a scanner, but I find it's much easier to snap a picture with your cell phone. Take your photo directly above the paper and as straight as possible.
Open your image in Photoshop.
Change the Mode of your image from RGB to Grayscale by going Image > Mode > Grayscale
After you change the Mode, your image is ready to adjust further. The goal is to end up with a white background and a nice contrasted black for your lettering.
Bring up your Levels dialog box by going Cmd+L or Image > Adjustments > Levels
Pull in the handles on the left and right sides of the slider until your image has a nice black and white contrast.
Make sure the Preview box is checked so you can see what you're doing as you work.
Take care that your image doesn't get too blown out and lose contrast – You want to balance the white in the background with the black of the lettering. You may have to play with the handles to achieve the right balance.
Once you're pleased with the contrast of your lettering, hit OK. Take the opportunity now to fix up any misses or stray pen marks using your Eraser tool.
When you're finished, save your image.
Now Open your image in Illustrator. Your image may be really large, so to make it easy to work with, you need to resize your image.
To resize, select your image. Grab a corner point, and while holding the Shift key down, drag the point in. Holding the Shift key keeps your image proportional without getting skewed or stretched. Note that your image doesn't have to fit perfectly on the canvas at this point.
Now you're going to run a Live Trace on your image. If you want, you can hit the Live Trace button on the top menu bar to see what your lettering looks like. Chances are the trace will need some adjustments to make your lettering look its best.
To make adjustments to the trace, click the small arrow next to the Live Trace button and choose Tracing Options... from the menu.
The Live Trace dialog box will come up with the standard settings. Here is where you'll adjust the settings to make your lettering look its best. The trick is getting your lettering to trace smoothly enough while maintaining the accurate look of the hand lettering.
Here is a close look at my custom settings that work for my lettering 99% of the time:
Mode: Black and White
Blur: 1 pixel
Check Fills only
Path Fitting: 1.2 pixels
Minimum Area: 1 pixel
Corner Angle: 5
You may need to play with these some. You can see from the title of my preset that it was my third attempt at finding the right hand lettering settings. To save a preset for future use, click Save Preset... and name your setting.
After Illustrator traces your artwork it still functions as a single image until you expand it. So click Expand in the menu bar. Then I like to ungroup it so each piece is separate and easily moveable.
To ungroup, tap Cmd+Shift+G or by going Object > Ungroup. (You have to ungroup your artwork twice.)
Now my lettering here is pretty jagged. That can be for a couple of reasons. One, the paper you use can make your lettering more rough. Or two, your hand was shaking resulting in wobbly-looking lettering. Both of these were the case for me in this example.
The good new is you can fix it in the computer. The bad new is it can be time consuming. This is why it's helpful to have your lettering pretty clean before you start digitizing.
To fix jagged lines in Illustrator, you'll want to use the Smooth tool and the Delete Anchor Point tool.
To get to the Smooth tool, hold down the Pencil tool and select it from the pop out box. (I use the Smooth tool so frequently that I created a shortcut for it in my Keyboard Shortcuts.) Drag the Smooth tool along the stroke that needs smoothing. You may have to drag a few times to achieve the look you want.
In some cases you may need to delete anchor points to effectively smooth your line. To get to the Delete Anchor Point tool, hold down the Pen tool and select it from the pop out box. Then click on the points you'd like to remove.
Once you've smoothed out your lettering and you're happy with the result, you can change the colors of the words, add a background, put it on a t-shirt or a mug or create a logo - the capabilities are truly endless!
*Krystal is running Adobe Creative Suite 5 on a Mac. Your version of Photoshop or Illustrator may look different onscreen, but the basic steps should still be possible.