Once you start working with modern calligraphy and hand lettering, you may desire to digitize your work – especially for projects like logos or invitation suites. The hardest part of the process is knowing which settings to use to create a completely realistic and fully functional vector image.
As in all things, for the best learning experience, I’ll refer you to Molly Suber Thorpe’s outstanding class on Skillshare: Digitizing Calligraphy: From Sketch to Vector. (To get a 3 month membership to Skillshare for $0.99, click here.)
But, if you're interested in the quick and dirty on our process and settings, I’ve detailed the technical steps we use to digitize our images below.
Scan your image
1. Using a flatbed scanner (any will do), scan your image in black and white at 1,200 dpi into a TIFF file.
2. Open your TIFF file in Photoshop. Copy the background layer and hide the original, locked layer so that you always have a backup.
3. Create a levels adjustment layer in Photoshop to convert any grey in the image to black. Use the black eyedropper to click on areas that should be black and the white eyedropper to click on areas around the letters that should be white – there will be specs of grey and black surrounding the inked areas. When you’re done, the image should look completely black and white – there should be no shades of grey. Merge the levels layer and the image layer by right clicking with both selected.
4. Use the magic wand tool (make sure tolerance is set to 0 and contiguous is not checked) to select an area of white. Then, use the selection menu to change it to the inverse – now everything that is not white will be selected. Click “add layer mask.” The white background should disappear.
5. Make a solid black color fill layer above your image layer. While hovering between your two layers, hold the option key and click. Your text is now filled with 100% black - absolutely no grey left.
6. Next, click on the black layer containing your mask (selected in screenshot below). Using the brush tool, you can now “erase” any specks of black or other crud that remain on your image – and trust me, there will be some. Putting a white background layer down underneath your image can help make the flecks easier to see. You can also use the step to shave down any strokes that may have bled.
7. At this point, you may also wish to do some more sophisticated editing to your letterforms. If you’re comfortable with Photoshop, you can do this using the Lasso + Transform tools. If not, I encourage you to take Suber Thorpe’s excellent class on digitizing your calligraphy, where she goes into detail on refining and editing your lettering.
8. When you’re done, merge all your layers and save your image as a TIFF. I recommend doing a “Save As” and renaming the image so that you don’t lose your original scan.
9. Open a new Illustrator document and create an artboard that will fit your image.
10. Drag and drop your image onto your new artboard.
11. Click “Image Trace” in the upper panel.
12. Go to Window > "Image Trace". Once the panel is open, click to expand the advanced tracing options. Below are the trace settings that I use, but feel free to experiment with your own. Close the menu when you’re satisfied with the preview.
13. Click “Expand”, and use as you would any other vector!