A Great Technique for Scanning Your Inked Drawings




This is a nice and quick way to get amazingly crisp and sharp scans of your artwork.
The scanning process itself is crazy fast and you'll end up with a perfect scan - no need to adjust levels or remove smudges, scratches and noise because of the texture of the paper.

And the best part, at least for me, is that the scan itself will be cut out from the background so you don't have to spend time removing it and can move straight on to colouring or whatever you'd want to do.

You can only use this procedure with white or, at least light, paper with sketches drawn using ink, felt tip pens, markers and the like.
It won't work as well when you've used a lead pencil or something else that leaves smudges and/or has a faint edge.

You need a scanner (duh) and Photoshop or similar graphics software like Gimp.
I used a semi-professional Agfa scanner but even the cheap ones will work, the only important thing is that it needs to scan at twice the resolution you want to end up with.
So if you want your finished artwork to be in 300dpi it has to be able to scan in 600dpi, this shouldn't be a problem since most modern scanners can do more than twice that.

In step 4 you'll find a quick rundown for people who know their way around Photoshop as well as some final notes and examples of the difference between this scanning method and the "regular" one.

Also, please note that it's important that you do all the steps in the exact same order I describe or you won't get the same results.

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Step 1: Scan Your Drawing

The layout and terminology your scanner's software use often differs between model and maker but you should be able to figure out the settings to use from my screenshots.
I use an Agfa scanner with the included Scanwise application so, from Photoshop, I just choose Import->Scanwise from the File menu.

Unless it's done automatic, press Preview and select the parts you want to scan.

Set the original image type to Line Art or, on some scanners, Bitmap.
The other choices should be something like Colour and Grayscale.

As I said in the introduction you need to scan at exactly twice the resolution you need so, since I want my finished example to be 300dpi, I'm setting it to 600dpi.
See second attached screenshot.

Press Scan.

This should be very quick since it only scans black and whites, no grayscale or colour information.
Once it's done, quit your scanning application and go into Photoshop.

Step 2: Edit Your Artwork and Remove the Background

If your scanning application hasn't opened up your image automatically, do that now.

If you zoom in you'll notice it looks very crude and pixelated. Don't worry though, it'll disappear as if by magic in the next step.
But before we do that let's remove the white paper background and any obvious mistakes.

Rotate your image if necessary, select the Eraser Tool (press E on your keyboard) and remove any lines or things you don't need.
You don't have to go into the small details at this time so just give it a quick once over and save the image.

Now, since we scanned in Line Art/Bitmap we need to switch the mode to Grayscale, to do that just select Mode->Grayscale in the Image menu.
A dialog box will come up but just leave the setting at 1 and click OK.

Next, open your Layers palette (press F7 on your keyboard if it's not already visible).
You'll see the layer's name has a little padlock next to it so click twice on the layer's name (should be Background) and click OK, leaving the other settings.

Choose Color Range in the Select menu.
Set the Fuzziness to 0, click once in the white "paper" part of the image and press OK.
See second attached screenshot.

You'll see that all the white parts of your image have been selected.
Now hit Backspace or Delete on your keyboard, it'll be removed and replaced by a checkered grid, indicating that it's now transparent.

I recommend creating a new white layer behind your drawing so you can see it better.

Step 3: Scale Your Image

Time for the conclusion.

In the Image menu, choose Image Size (Alt+Ctrl+I), set the Resolution to half of what it is now and press OK.
See second attached screenshot.

Voila! Photoshop has added anti aliasing, a sort of precise and systematic blur, to the edges of your drawing and you're left with a neat and crisp image that you can now add colour to, or whatever you want.

Step 4: Quick Rundown, Examples and Notes

Ok, here's the rundown for the intermediate Photoshop users.

1. Scan your artwork in Line Art at twice your intended resolution
2. Remove any apparent mistakes
3. In Grayscale Mode, unlock your layer
4. Use Select->Color Range to select the white background, then remove it
5. Go to Image Size and set the resolution to half of what it was before
6. Done

If you often scan a lot of drawings in high resolutions I can recommend that you save them in the bitmap mode for later use and do the following steps when you need to, there's a huge difference to be made in file size in the long run.

The example drawing I made for this Instructable was maybe too simplified, if you do comics or more advanced inks by hand the improvement should be apparent once you try it.
Even though you might be able to get the same results by scanning in grayscale, adjusting the levels and removing any irregularities, this method will save you a lot of time.

I have a feeling you need to have tried scanning inked drawings in grayscale before to actually know how big of a difference this makes but check out the attached examples and compare yourself by switching between them.
Don't forget to note that the background in the grayscale example is in the same layer as the drawing.



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    23 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Wow what a great tip! I've been doing it the long way for years. Thank you for this great tip!


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    I like it too but in case you already have Illustrator (which isn't free, I know) its Live Trace function is better and has more options. But tracing rarely works exactly as you want with drawings made by hand, they somehow lose their "organic" feeling. That being said, tracing with Inkscape or Illustrator is even easier if you scan the drawing using this method, first :)

    Mandy JPrauz

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Rauz, Just to say thanks for the tutorial and it's still good. I was at a loss how to do this without using live trace. THANK YOU!! :)

    rauzMandy JP

    Reply 4 years ago

    Glad to hear it, Mandy!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    does anybody know how to do the same thing in GIMP? they don't have the color range option, and when i use the select by color tool, the white edges don't go away.

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    NEVERMIND! i i tried using the select by color tool a second time and the white particles vanished. :) and i want to thank you soooo much for this technique. i've been using it for almost a year now! but since i've had to move computers i lost photoshop and was forced to acquire GIMP.


    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    i know this comment was a while ago but you can use the threshold or levels/curves color toll to do that


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is exactly what I've been trying to figure out for years. Beautifully simple. Thank you.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    You probably don't read these any more, but, on the off chance that you do, thanks for saving an old man from having a stroke. Brilliant solution.

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I still read them (I get an e-mail whenever someone replies) and I'm happy to hear people still get some use out of them. Glad you avoided that stroke! :)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Sorry to say it, but I strongly disagree. Never down-sample. For line art (i.e. b/w with no shades of gray), you should have a bitmapped file with the highest possible 'optical' resolution your scanner can handle. (Optical means true dpi, and anything more or less is interpolated. This means the computer will arbitrarily remove or add pixels.) Avoid down or up interpolation at all costs. This destroys the line. Here's the proof: Print a 600 dpi line art bitmapped scan (I prefer 800-1200) and compare to a 300 dpi grayscale antialiased print. It's very logical: For a better image, never remove pixels. If you want to color the line art image, convert to CMYK or RGB and start coloring. I'm a cartoonist, and the only time I down-sample or anti-alias a file is for low-resolution web/screen viewing. Never for print.

    3 replies

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Adding/interpolating pixels is exactly the idea with this technique. I've done it hundreds of times and the lines I want to see are still there.

    I'm not a cartoonist but in the graphic business and to me this works exactly how I, and many of the people I've taught the technique, want it to.

    So, basically - let's just agree to disagree. You're free to do with this information as you wish.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    1200 dpi bitmapped for line art is industry standard. Check it out on any print test. Consult any prepress expert. Ask your local print shop. It's standard; probably in the Photoshop manual too. Too many web sources to cite, for example: http://www.graphic-design-employment.com/prepress-training.html


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    This is not about print. It's about cleaning up scanned art, drawn on paper, for mainly digital use. Try it for yourself and you'll see the advantages. This is just a tool among many others, and anyone is free to use it at their own discretion.


    9 years ago on Introduction

     I have a question instead of comment.  I make small line drawings with mechanical pencil.  I would like to make the background paper dissappear from a scanned image so I could montage/layer drawings   Would this technique work and be able to retain the color/shades of the lead?

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    Hi! That seems like a good application although there's no way to scan in color with this method so my suggestion is to do the colouring later, in Photoshop.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    wow this will be a lot of help thanx! I think you can use a process were you put paper under paper, then put i think tracing paper in-between then you trace over the drawing in pen and then ta-da the under sheet that was white now is inked! then you copy it and print it out to experiment with.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    this is gonna help me prepare sketches for my embroidery machine. thanks.