Many have asked me to do a tutorial on getting good line art and scans from my traditional artwork to the computer. This is my rough workflow for working with my art; it usually takes me around 20 minutes to finish if it’s a smaller piece. I will break it down as much as I can so you too can make good scanned artwork!
Scan your Artwork
You should find a scanner that can fit the paper in the scanner. If the paper can’t fit, scan the page in pieces and edit them together. I’ll make an article on this at a different time.
At the moment, I’m using the scanners at the public library. It’s an Avision FB6280E A3 Book Scanner from what I’ve looked up. Able to support pages up to 11 inches by 17 inches and can scan at a resolution up to 600 dpi, which is great for working with art in! Since buying them normally costs a pretty penny, I settle for taking advantage of our tax dollars and using local library resources!
For this scan, I used 9 inch by 12 inch Strathmore Vellum Bristol Paper. It feels good to sketch in it, handles ink decently, and Copic markers don’t bleed through it that badly!
The scan bed is large enough to fit a 11 inch by 17 inch page so it’s large enough to fit comic pages I make!
The library software for the scanner has great options to let me save to my own USB drive or email it to myself if the file size is small enough.
These days, I often scan in PDF since I’m usually scanning multiple pages of art and Photoshop can open the files easily so that’s a benefit for me.
Your scans should be at a really high dpi to work with. The minimum you should scan at is 300 Dots per Inch, any lower and you’ll have to work with a blurry, pixelly mess.. A mass majority of printers scan at 300 DPI, so if you have any that can go higher, you take that up! Though the higher the DPI, the long it will take to scan, so unless you’re drawing a digital Sistine Chapel, you should stick with 600 DPI at most.
In the case of this library software, scan at Photo Quality since it’s the highest it can go.
Back Up Raw Scan Files
These are the raw unedited scans (Reduced for web looking.) I always scan in Color, Greyscale, and Black, but I tend to always edit the Color scan because I’ll have more control over the post processing. It just feels good to cover my bases.
In case of misfortune, make backups of your scans. You never know if you’ll lose the original sheet or make a change in the future that you regret and want to go back. Email the file to yourself, save it to Dropbox, copy it to an external hard drive, do all of it, slip the files anywhere you can so you can foolproof yourself.
Crop your Artwork
I use Adobe Photoshop for my general editing needs but there’s several image editing programs that can do the job!
Use Photoshop’s Crop Tool to crop out any unneeded things in your artwork: margins, dead space, the scan bed, it’s your judgement. Crop in a way it will make it look pleasing. For this bird image, a nice square composition looks good to me.
You can set the Crop Tool to certain proportions by adding specific numbers on the top left corner before you use the tool. Most photo editing programs should have a basic crop feature and some advanced ones will even let you rotate and straighten your pictures before cropping.
Here’s the result of the crop so far.
Save and Back Up Cropped Scan Files
In case of misfortune, make backups of your crops separately from the raw scans. You never know if you’ll lose the original scan or make a change in the future that you regret and want to go back.
Email the file to yourself, save it to Dropbox, copy it to an external hard drive, do all of it, slip the files anywhere you can so you can foolproof yourself.
Since you’re not working in color, you won’t need to keep your art saturated, Ctrl+U to access the Hue/ Saturation window and push down the saturation or press Shift+Ctrl+U to do it fast and just Desaturate the entire picture.
I personally recommend the slow way since you have the ability adjust the hue out of the blue lines while doing a bit to preserve the greys as much as you can. You’ll also have the ability to push up the brightness a bit to bring out the whites easier.
After this, you will need to separate the black and white colors for clearer line art. Pressing Ctrl+L will access the Levels window and you can adjust to your judgement.
My usual recommendations are to push the greys closer to the white side to push up the thinner lines that got lost in the scanning, I then push up the white so they’re more white and push up the blacks to be very darker and clearer.
There will be occasions where you’d have to use your Lasso tool (L key) and select areas and adjust from there.
This is the all the level editing done so far.
Save and Back Up Edited Files
Save your work and make backups of your edits separately from the crops and raw scans. You never know if you’ll lose the original scan or make a change in the future that you regret and want to go back.
Email the file to yourself, save it to Dropbox, copy it to an external hard drive, do all of it, slip the files anywhere you can so you can fool proof yourself.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I really want you to save after every notable change. Save in iterations and save often.
Clean Up Art
Make a separate layer and use the Paintbrush tool (B key) or Pencil tool (B key twice) to and use the White color to white out and clean up your art. This is usually the longer, more tedious part of the process especially if you’re working on a large more complicated piece.
Usually I clean up the dust, specks and ink splatters out of my art.
I also edit out lines I don’t like.
I can also add new black line because it a digital file and I can do that!
All the whites are cleaned up and it looks a bit better!
After saving and making a new iteration, I merge my white fixes layer and put the finishing touches on the line art by adjust the Threshold (Image>Adjustments>Theshold) so it’s an aliased, purely black and white line drawing.
I mainly adjust it so it doesn’t kill the more subtle lines too much. I’ll still do a few more black additions with the Pencil Brush to make it look better.
Finally I have something workable and my line art editing is finished and ready for coloring!
Bonus: Digital Coloring with the Line Art
You can now color with the line art! You have a few options to tackle this, a shorter way and the longer way which will give you a bit more control in the end!
Here’s a short sweet way to prep you line art for coloring:
You can set Layer Blending mode settings on your Line Art Layer to Multiply.
You can now draw and color underneath as much as you want! The black color will always show over the colors! Make sure you lock the line art layer so you don’t mess with it!
Anothe , longer way you can tackle this is to make your line art transparent:
First, go to the top menu and go to Select>Color Range, then use it’s eyedropper to the black colors from the image.
All black colors in your image will be selected!
Make a new layer and then Fill(F5) the selections with black or any other color! Since you already used Threshold to make the line art black and white with aliasing, you wont get the those weird grey “fuzzies” Anti-Aliases when you fill with color.
Now your line layer only had the black lines and no white. If you exported this as a transparent PNG, it will be transparent too!
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!
Remember when I said you can “Fill(F5) the selections with black or any other color?”
You can go you you Layers settings and Lock Transparent Pixels on your black line art layer! Now you can color or fill that line art with anything and it will only stay on those lines!
Now you can go ham with your digital coloring!