How to Scan Handmade Art to the Computer Effectively

Do you make your art by hand? I used to make my comics mostly by hand, drawing the comic with a soft pencil (about a 4B), apply watercolor, then photograph my comics with a digital camera. Then apply digital retouching in Photoshop. Nowadays, I pencil and ink my comics, scan them to the computer and color the work in Photoshop for a much cleaner look to be read on a computer screen. Properly scanning your hand-made artwork can be a challenge. What settings should be used? What resolution should the art be scanned at? How should the image be cleaned of unwanted bits of dust and debris? These questions may not be apparent to the artist who wants to have a clean image properly prepared for coloring on the computer.

I have a way of scanning a hand drawn image that will be ready for coloring in Photoshop. These steps will help those who like to draw traditionally and color digitally. This tutorial assumes want to scan black and white artwork. This isn’t the only method, or even the best method to scan and clean up black and white artwork (there are so many ways to do something in Photoshop), but this method gives me good results. I hope it does the same for you!

1. Prepare artwork: This is when you have your work-of-art ready for scanning. I use an Epson WorkForce WF-7510 Wide-format All-in-One Printer, a combination scanner, fax machine that can scan up to 11 x 17in. I bought it to scan 11 x 17in sized artwork and I feel it does this job well. Lately, there has been more all-in-one devices like these that can scan 11 x 17in artwork. Before if you wanted to scan artwork that size you would have to buy a dedicated 11 x 17in scanner that costs over $1,000. Or, spend about $190 on a not-so-great but good-enough Mustek A3 1200S – High Speed A3 Large Format 11.7-inch x 16.5-inch Color Scanner that didn’t scan color that well or couldn’t scan anything above 900 ppi without leaving a mirror image of the artwork on one of the sides of the scanned image. Now you can buy a machine to scan this size with no problems for around $200.

2. Scan the art at 1200 ppi: Scanning beyond 1200 ppi isn’t necessary. Some may say that scanning a piece at 1200 ppi may be excessive and would scan their image at 600 to 900 ppi, but I personally like my scans to have as much detail as reasonably possible. After the scanning process, we’ll keep scaling the image down to a smaller resolution as we apply color, but starting from a large enough resolution assures that the final image looks as good as possible. If your computer can’t handle the file size of a 1200 ppi image, then try going down to 900 ppi or even 600 ppi if your computer can’t handle the large file size.

3. Scan as a gray scale image: Scan the image as a as a grayscale. Don’t scan it as a black-and-white, as doing so will allow the scanning program to automatically make the decisions on what details make it to Photoshop which won’t give you the results you want. It’s best to turn the image into black-and-white in Photoshop where you can control the outcome.

4, Create new folders with the names Initial Scan and Master File: Create these folders to keep your work in order. You’ll be creating more when you’re coloring your black and white art in Photoshop.

5. After scanning is complete, put the resulting file in the Initial Scan folder.

6. Open your scan in Photoshop.

7. Use the Threshold command under Image > Adjustments > Threshold: I typically zoom in on the image to see the Threshold results better. This command will turn the gray scale scan to a black-and-white image, eliminating any gray left in the image. Sliding to the left makes the image totally white while moving to the right makes the image mostly black (small dots may appear if you go all the way black). Adjust the slider to find just the right balance of detail desired in the image. Around 150 works for me. So you can start there.

8. The Image may look slightly pixelated in Photoshop when you do this, but this shouldn’t be a problem when we are done developing the master file, finished coloring the image and published on the web.

9. Clean up the image: Erase specs, dust, and other unwanted specs of black in the image.

10. Turn image into a Bitmap. Image > Mode > Bitmap: This will make the file size smaller by getting rid of excess data from the file thus making it easier to work with in Photoshop (big files can crash your computer, depending how much ram is on your computer or in my case, how many tabs and windows I have open in my web browser, and other programs I have open at the same time that I’m working in Photoshop).

11. Save as a TIFF: Choose no compression. Save this TIFF into the Master File folder.

I hope that helps! Next time, we’ll take this TIFF and go into coloring your handmade art in Photoshop that’ll also apply to those making their drawing digitally.

See you then! 🙂