Digitizing Hand Lettering - A Step-by-Step Guide - Community Over Competition Series

Posted on December 04, 2016 by Angelique Abare

INTRO - Series, blah blah blhhhhhh. 


Lets get started!

Materials needed:

Computer & Scanner
Photoshop and Illustrator (or similar photo editing and vectoring programs)


First Things First

The more time you spend working your lettering before you scan into the computer, the easier the digitizing process will be.  Call me old fashion, but I prefer a trusty pencil, paper and eraser, over hunching into my computer, correcting pixel by pixel. If you are comfortable manipulating images in photoshop, you can skip these first few steps!


Ready, Set, Sketch!

Prep your drawing surface - I like to work at a 2X ratio, that way I can refine my lettering and when it is scaled down it looks extra sharp. For this project I am designing a 2" x 4" 'Thank You' stamp, so I measured out a 4" x 8" rectangle on my Bristol board. Next I began to rough sketch in my lettering. 

I first do a very light general letter shaping, don't worry about vary weights of line right now, just focus on good letter shapes and filling the visual space. We will go back in later to make it look more like calligraphy, right now, think of it as setting the studs for your design, we will add dry wall and fanciness later on!



Next step is to make it pretty, this is the stage where you can add flourishes and design elements. Go through and add weight lines to follow when you're inking, doing this now, in pencil, helps keep a consistent think-to-thin ratio on all your lettering.

For my stamp design I added some simple evergreen sprigs to fill some the negative space left around the "you".







Ink it Up!

Now it is time to add the ink. I prefer to use a chisel tip sharpie marker when I am preparing items for stamps or letterpress plates, it requires the least amount of post-editing in the computer, due to the high contrast with the bright white Bristol paper. Here you could also use a nib pen & ink, or a brush & ink, it all depends on the final look you are trying to achieve in your design.  Play around with different ink applications until you find what works best for your project needs!

Once you have roughed in your ink, go back in and refine areas of transition between your letters, I use a fine point marker for this, but again, depending on your choice of medium this step may not even be necessary.

Erase any errant pencil marks and clean your paper - it is time to transition to the computer!


Scan it!

This step will vary depending on the type of scanner you have. You want to scan at the very least 300 DPI, but higher if your scanner allows. Scan in your project in Black and White - additionally if you can image correct, push the contrast and brightness to eliminate any image noise left on your paper. I use the below settings on my Canon Pixma - 

Once your scan is saved, open up in Photoshop to do some final cleaning before we vectorize this bad boy!

Post-scan Editing!

Crop your image close to your text, but remember to maintain your final design ratio.

Clean up any dust or errant marks left over from the scan process, this includes missed pencil lines and lots of dog hair for me!  

You can also use this time to clean up your line work if needed, you can see above a few of my little evergreen fronds didn't connect with the stem, I wanted them to be a solid design element, so I went in with the paint brush to connect the needles to the stem. Again, this is all up to your personal design aesthetic, the closer your image is to perfect when you scan in will dictate if this step is even necessary!

We're all clean and ready to head into the vector step! Copy this layer into illustrator-

Once in Illustrator, select your design, and the "Image Trace" option (this will be located in the top bar, or under Object>Image Trace>Make), and pull up the Image Trace options, (again if this doesn't come up automatically you can find it under Window>Image Trace.)

Next, play around with the settings to achieve the look you would like, this step is why we spent so much time cleaning up the design, if you have messy lines or errant marks, your image trace will be wonky and freckled. When designing for print graphics or stamps, I use the below settings - 

I keep the "Threshold" low, the higher this setting the more line character will be maintained, if you want a more distressed lettering style, push the Threshold slider further to the right. Open the advanced options, and again, play with the sliders until you get the effect that works for your design. I keep the Paths High, to maintain the letter integrity. Be sure to select the "Ignore White" option, so your final vector will be text and design elements only. Once you are happy with the look of your image, select "Trace" and you're almost finished!

Last but not least, you want to clean up any items you may have missed in photoshop by selecting Object>Path>Clean Up...


Select All options and click "OK", this will remove any single points, or final noise paths from your vector.

If you have any lines that you would like to smooth out,  you can use the Smooth Tool, which is a secondary option on your Pencil tool in your Tool Bar.

Select the Smooth Tool, and your vector graphic. Drag the smooth tool along any lines you would like to smooth, this tool will simplify the paths along your selection, eliminating any wobble that may be left over from your hand lettering.  I personally don't use this step very often, as I like my lettering to maintain the character of the hand drawing step! You can see below the smoothed "h" for the sake of example-


Bingo, Bango, you have yourself a mighty fine Vector Graphic!

VOILA! Your new vector graphic that can be used for a limitless number of design products and projects, and is infinitely scalable! I tweaked this image a little more and turned it into a stamp to use in my Holiday product packaging, I am super happy with the final result.


Happy Lettering!  


Have you used this tutorial? I would love to see your final products! Shoot me an email and share - info@angeliquedevitte.com


Posted in