“How do you digitise your hand-lettering?” is one of the frequently asked questions at our booth and also via email and Instagram direct messaging.
There are actually a lot of different ways to digitise anything, so I am going to teach you the simplest and most effective method that I use the most. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to digitise your hand-lettering in minutes! The end result is a vector which means you will be able to scale your work to any size without losing image quality. Yay!
For this tutorial, you need your completed piece, a scanner or camera, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. You can also use any photo-editing software in replacement of Photoshop, however I still find Photoshop the best for prepping anything that is about to be worked on in Illustrator.
Step 1: Scan or take a photo of your completed work
Scribbled an “Okay!” to motivate myself to get this tutorial started.
It is ideal for your hand-lettering to be written on a clean white background with black ink. I personally only use the scanning method, as it is very fuss-free and also minimises the amount of editing I need to do in Photoshop. The above image shows the freshly scanned file prior to editing. Looks really clean already yea?
If you do not have access to a scanner, a photo would work fine too. Make sure to take your photo directly above your work; do not tilt your camera angle as you do not want any perspective skewing. Try to eliminate any shadows and glare, it is best for your photo to look even.
My photo above was shot with my phone camera. You can see some black spots around as I had previously printed some honey&gazelle wraps wrongly. This is the other side of the paper; reuse, reduce, recycle!
Step 2: Prep your file in Photoshop
Open up your file in Photoshop and crop away any unnecessary distractions in your photo.
Now we are going to start cleaning up your image. Our goal is for your black words to become intense black and your background to be white.
If your image is not black and white at this moment, go to Image > Adjustments > Desaturate. This will convert your image into black and white.
Next, go to Image> Adjustments > Levels and a dialog box will pop up. Select the white eyedropper tool and click on any spot of your background (or the darkest portion of your background if you took a photo with some shadows) to change it to pure white.
Once your background is white, select the black eyedropper tool and click on the lightest black portion of your hand-lettered text. You can also adjust the left and right sliders (those arrows) in the Levels dialog box. The end product should look crisp and clean, with high contrast between the black and the white.
Step 3: Move your edited image to Illustrator
Select your image using either the marquee tool or the lasso tool, then copy and paste the selection in a new artboard in Illustrator. The size of your artboard does not matter as your end product is a vector.
Step 4: Convert your hand-lettered text into a vector using Image Trace
Open up the Image Trace panel by going to Window > Image Trace. Ensure that the Preview box (located at the bottom of the panel) is checked so that you can monitor your adjustments as you are making them.
With your image selected, choose from one of the Image Trace presets from the Presets dropdown list in the panel. For hand-lettering art, I usually use “Black and White Logo”. Regardless of the chosen preset, you can still mess around with the settings to find an outline you are happy with.
Expand your advanced settings and fine tune your outline with the Threshold, Paths, Corners, and Noise sliders.
The less paths and corners, the smoother your hand-lettering will appear. Do not go overboard with smoothing out your text though, as you may lose some details and cool personal touches.
Step 5: Expand then Ungroup
Once you are satisfied with your adjustments, click the Expand button that is located in the top tool bar to convert your image to paths.
After expanding, ungroup your selection by going to Object > Ungroup (or Shift+Command+G). Now you have individual elements!
Step 6: Remove the whites from your lettering
Using the Selection tool, delete all the white blocks from your lettering. Simply select the background and any white spots within your letters and then press Delete.
This will leave you with just your lettering that you can now re-colour and play around with. A rather layman explanation would be like removing stencils from your work!
Step 7: Last touches
Select the Smooth tool in your toolbar to begin cleaning up the edges and lines of your lettering. Zoom in, select the path you want to edit, and then trace the tool along the line that you would like smoothened out. Whenever you are ready to select a different line, click the lettering with the Selection tool (or V on your keyboard) and then re-select your Smooth tool. I often use the Pen tool as well for any further adjustments.
As mentioned above, hand-lettering should retain some personal touches so it shouldn’t look overly smooth and perfect everywhere. Once you are happy with how your work looks, you are done!
You have created your own vectorised hand-lettered element that can be used for anything and everything 🙂 Enjoy!
I hope that you found this tutorial useful. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments section below or via email. Do also leave me some suggestions for tutorials, especially if there is something in particular you would like to learn!