Hand Drawn to Digital Illustrations




Introduction: Hand Drawn to Digital Illustrations

Do you have tons of hand-drawn sketches lying around that you wish you could digitize but don't know how? This instructable will get you started.

In this instructable, you will learn:
-how to scan with Adobe Photoshop (both Mac and PC users)
-appropriate tracing options in Adobe Illustrator (Pen Tool and Live Trace)
-tips to using a Wacom Tablet
-benefits & options for using the digitized versions

This tutorial is for:
-beginner to intermediate users of Photoshop and/or Illustrator
-anyone looking for a more formal understanding of creating vectors in Illustrator
-illustrators, designers, and other intermediate-level artisans

Step 1: Materials and Resources

Before you get started you will need a hand-drawn illustration that will fit on your scanner bed.

Here are a couple cool places to check out hand-drawn illustrations:


Beyond your illustration, you need:

-Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator (CS4)
-Wacom Tablet (optional)

Step 2: Scanning With Photoshop

Before you begin:

Make sure to install the software necessary for your scanner. Some scanner software lets you designate Photoshop as the external editor or viewer for an image after a scanning is completed. Other scanning software saves the image as a file on your computer that can be opened in Photoshop.If you have problems with scanning, make sure that you are using the latest version of the scanner driver and software.

You can also import scanned images directly from any scanner that has a Photoshop-compatible plug-in module. To import the scan using a plug-in module, choose the scanner name from the File > Import submenu. See your scanner documentation for instructions on installing the scanner plug-in. Or, use the scanner manufacturer’s software to scan your images, and save the images as TIFF, PICT, or BMP files. Then open the files in Photoshop.

For Mac: TWAIN scanning

TWAIN is a cross-platform interface for acquiring images captured by certain scanners, digital cameras, and frame grabbers. The TWAIN plug-in is optional only for Mac OS. You can download the TWAIN plug-in for free here. You must install the TWAIN device and its software and restart your computer before you can use it to import images into Photoshop.

1. Connect scanner to your computer via USB cable

2. Place your sketch face down on the scanner bed and align its edges

3. Close the lid of the scanner

4. Open Adobe Photoshop

5. Under the File menu choose Import > Twain Acquire

6. Select your DPI (dots per inchrefers to the resolution of your image). Set it at 300 (ideal setting for basic printing) and choose Grayscale as your mode

7. Choose Preview and wait for the scanner to do the preview scan

8. Click and drag a square around around the area in the preview you wish to scan

9. Click Scan and the image will show up as Untitled Document in Photoshop

10. File > Save the image as a JPEG as whatever name you want somewhere you can find it (i.e. the Desktop)

For PC: WIA Support

1. Choose File > Import > WIA Support.

2. Choose a destination on your computer for saving your image files.

3. Click Start

Make sure that Open Acquired Images in Photoshop is selected. If you have a large number of images to import, or if you want to edit the images at a later time, deselect it.

5. Make sure that Unique Subfolder is selected if you want to save the imported images directly into a folder whose name is the current date.

6. Select the scanner that you want to use.

Tip: If the name of your scanner does not appear in the submenu, verify that the software and drivers were properly installed and that the scanner is connected.

7. Choose Grayscale Picture

8. Click preview to view the scan. If necessary, drag the handles of the bounding box to adjust the size of the crop.

9. Click Scan.

10. The scanned image is saved in BMP format.

Step 3: Tracing Options

There are two different ways to go about tracing your hand-drawn illustrations: using "Live Trace" and using the "Pen Tool".

Live Trace is the newer option to Illustrator for those of you who are familiar with older versions of the software. It lets you quickly create vectors of simple forms or to create stylized vectors by altering the different drop-down options (similar to a Photoshop filter).

The Pen Tool is a good way to trace complicated imagery where you would want detailed control over your drawing. Any illustration (even simple ones) can be traced with the Pen Tool but it can be very labor intensive if the illustration is complex.

Really though, there is no "right" or "wrong" way to go about it. If you are happy with the results then success.

Decide for yourself which option is best for the illustration that you are using.

Step 4: Tracing Options 1: Live Trace

There are several things you can do to make sure that your Live Trace comes out accurately (if that's the intention).

The Live Trace function is found under Object>Live Trace. If you want to trust the automatic settings, you can go directly to Object>Live Trace>Make. Also, you can click the Live Trace button found above your artboards  on the Control bar. In order to click the button, you have to make sure that the Control bar is visible (Window>Control) and that the image is selected.

You can also use the Live Trace interface to control different variables to alter the look. To get to the interface, go to Object>Live Trace>Tracing Options

Once you have selected the image, gone to the Tracing Options, the first thing you should do is make sure that the Preview button is checked.

However, if your file is large, this will take up processing power and may slow things so considerably that Illustrator quits. If you notice that Illustrator is lagging, unclick the Preview button.

The Live Trace interface has several different options that allow you to change the appearance of your illustration.

Use the options under Mode to choose Grayscale, Black and White, or Color. For this illustration of a wing, we are going to choose Black and White so that we can check the Paths, Fills and Avoid White boxes. These will also allow for less extraneous paths and fills by limiting it to black and white.

We can also increase the amount of black lines Illustrator recognizes by reducing the Minimum Stroke Length, Minimum Area and Corner Angle. This will allow Illustrator to create more lines by recognizing smaller ones, detecting more areas with less density and creating larger angles-respectively.

You could also however choose Grayscale. but you get less options. If you are going this route, your image will have a softer aesthetic because it can gradate better between black and white. Make sure you click avoid white here so that you don't get extraneous fills.

Something to note here is that with either of these options, Black and White or Grayscale, the number of paths created by Live Trace is enormous. In the Black and White version, there are 11,000+ and in the Grayscale 32,000+ paths created. If this were something that you would still need to edit, the amount of layers alone could be difficult to wade through. This may be when you need to use the Pen tool.

Step 5: Tracing Option 2: Pen Tool

When you need more control or don't want deal with Live Trace, you can use the Pen tool.

The Pen tool is found under the Magic Wand tool on the Tool Palette. The Pen tool allows you to drop points on the Artboard and Illustrator connects those points. It also lets you control the curve of the points through Bezier curves. Click to learn more about Bezier curves: http://www.khulsey.com/adobe_illustrator_paths.html

To use this method, import your file into the artboard. If you are not comfortable in Illustrator, it might help to turn on Smart Guides under View>Smart Guides. Click to learn more about Smart Guides: http://livedocs.adobe.com/en_US/Illustrator/13.0/help.html?content=WS714a382cdf7d304e7e07d0100196cbc5f-6314.html

The first thing you should do is to put the illustration onto its own layer in the Layers panel. Lock that layer and add another layer. This lets you group things. As you can see from the illustration, there are three basic types of shapes so we'll create three different layers and colors to distinguish between them.

Start using the Pen tool by dropping a point at a vertex.The key to using the Pen tool is to use as few points as possible. This makes the smoothest shape. As you can see from the picture, points are dropped along the path at points where the shape changes or curves. Don't worry about being too accurate, the beauty of Illustrator is that you can go back and change these points by using the Direct Select tool and fussing with the Bezier curves.

You can change the weight of the stroke in the Strokes palette. Match the stroke weight to the weight of your illustration.

Continue going around your document making sure you group things by layers in the Layers palette.

Step 6: Using a Wacom

WACOM site

In this step, we'll go over tips and tricks for using a Wacom tablet to help you with digitizing your sketch. If you are already adept at using a pen to sketch, this may be an easier way for you to work.

One of the best things you can do to help with your workflow is to use the buttons on the side of the pen. If you go to the Wacom Tablet preferences panel in the System Preferences, you can do this. We have ours set up to have right click on the bottom button and double click on the top button. See the pic in this set for more information.

Also if your tablet has buttons on the left and right sides, use them to program shortcuts like Ctrl+C (copy), Ctrl+V (paste), etc. You can also do this by clicking the Functions icon next to the Grip Pen. Once in this panel, choose the button you would like to modify and click Keystroke under the drop down menu. Here, you can type in the keyboard shortcut  and click ok. See the pics if you need a visual to follow along with.

Once you have things set up on your Wacom, you can do anything. One last note is that when holding the Grip pen, make sure that the buttons are turned so that buttons are near your thumb like in the first picture. This allows you to use the buttons without having to stop and twist the pen around.

Step 7: Moving Forward

You can do a lot with your digitized sketches. They can be incorporated into a logo, website, or silkscreen T-shirt.

See the picture to checkout how we silkscreened the wings illustration onto a t-shirt or click here to see the pattern laser cut out of wood: http://www.jencotton.com/index.php?/project/patterns-in-nature/

Don't be limited to this though! Here's some good examples and tutorials to look through to get you started :


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7 years ago


Can you please guide me how to make Illustrations like these one

And also how to edit these illustrations? Thanks,

Junkyard John
Junkyard John

12 years ago on Introduction

Actually, inkscape will even convert your image to a vector graphics, so you can enlarge and shrink without a loss of quality! Try shift+alt+b


Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

As wonderful as Inkscape's vector tracing is (and trust me, I adore it), some projects need sharp detail that can't be achieved with the tracer. The amount of vertices required usually takes a sharp toll on my computer, and is worsened by more precise traces. I like to keep it clean and just use bezier paths and freehand stuff.


12 years ago on Introduction

Thank you, this is exceedingly useful. Personally, I use my Bamboo and a Canon scanner, as they seem pretty efficient. Oh, and for those who are relatively uncomfortable with that (or do not have a scanner), you could always trace a drawing on paper positioned (maybe taped) onto your tablet.


13 years ago on Step 1

definitely a high budget method seeing as many would not have photo shop and even a scanner


Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

Not necessarily high budget re a scanner, which is almost an indispensable item to accompany one's computer for practicality.  The cost of a new scanner has come down greatly and are cross-platform, too, many of them now.  Older but quite usable models are available for very little on eBay.


13 years ago on Introduction

A remarkably detailed instructable, not an easy task.  Thank you.  

It seems to show your skill understanding the tools used, the scanner, the software and your artistic abilities too.

To reply to siedpe13 comment about being a “high budget method” I would offer some options to include free programs that come very close to getting this job done as you have so skillfully described.

The scanner can be replaced with a cheap digital camera  to get an image into a computer.

There are many free paint programs to be found doing a search with ( Bing, Ask, Google Yahoo).

IrfanView is a freeware very fast, small,  graphic viewer for Windows  and the latest version has added a basic Paint option  to draw lines, circles, arrows, straighten image and do fills etc.  It can add text to an image, do edge detection, make an image into a negative,  reduce an image to just 2 colors etc. etc.

Inkscape is a freeware  Open Source vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X.   I use Xara Xtreme 5 ( the latest version)  as my main creation and editing program.

I hardly ever use my scanner now but frequently use my camera, Corel’s PhotoPaint, IrfanView  and Xara Xtreme. The possibilities seem endless, explore and experiment.