I have promised you this tutorial for a few weeks now and it’s finally here! DIGITIZING! For free! If you have already digitized and are interested in improving your skills, you are in the right place. If you are here so you can sell your hand-lettered pieces over and over without making a new piece, you are in the right place. If you don’t want to sell anything but want to have fun creating on the computer (less money for pens and paints), you are in the right place. If you are simply here because you love ice cream as much as me, you are still in the right place. (I will definitely be treating myself to a bowl of Moose Tracks when I finish this. I would love it if you joined me!) Unless you didn’t get my point, I’m so excited you are here for whatever reason you have! Let’s get started!
First of all, let’s talk about the program we are going to use. I will be teaching the basics of digitizing in Inkscape which is totally free vector graphics editor. Adobe Illustrator is a vector graphics editor which has a monthly fee. I will not be teaching about Illustrator or Photoshop. If that is what you are interested in, head over to Amanda Arneill where you can take her course which goes in depth on how to use both. If you just want to learn to digitize in Photoshop, head over to The Postman’s Knock and check out if her e-course.
If you are like me and like everything free, you probably still want to learn how to use Inkscape. What are you waiting for? It’s free! Go download it now!
Digitize in Inkscape (Part 1)
You will need:
- Your design to digitize
- A computer with Inkscape
You will learn:
- How to get your design ready for the computer
- How to get the correct sizing
- How to change your design into a vector
- How to add simple color
Here is the video I made of the whole thing. Read the instructions below to see exactly what I’m doing. (It is a silent video because my apartment isn’t the quietest place. You know how neighbors are. And I haven’t yet figured out how to add music.)
- How to get your design ready for the computer
For this tutorial, you will be starting with black letters/designs on white paper. It is possible to digitize colors, but that is a different tutorial. Just think how much you could save if you only had to buy black pens because you actually color right in Inkscape. You can either scan your picture or just take a picture with your phone or camera. I prefer the latter.
For taking a picture, you will want to get the best lighting you have, but it doesn’t have to be crazy. I use the main light in my living room (Washington doesn’t always make for the best natural lighting). Make sure you take the picture straight on. (If you want the top or bottom of your design to be bigger, you can angle your camera to get this effect.) After you take the picture, edit it right in your phone. I increase the exposure to make sure the background is COMPLETELY white but not too much that I can’t see my design. I also increase the black point so my design stands out on the white.
Now you just need to get the picture to the computer! I use Google Photos so my pictures are automatically backed up and I can access them anywhere I have internet. If you don’t use Google Photos, you could also email the picture to yourself and open it on your computer.
So now we have our design in black on white and it is downloaded on our computer ready to be digitized! We are ready for the next step!
2. How to get the correct sizing
Open up Inkscape! It will look something like this:
The default background is 8.5×11 with a small pixel amount. We don’t want that. The higher the pixels, the better the quality. So click File and Document Properties. Under the Page tab, we will be using the Custom Size box because we want to decide our own pixels. You will change the unit from the default “mm” to “px” for pixel. To know the right pixel size, here is a list of standard photo sizes and what the pixels should be: (this chart is from PicMonkey)
|Print size (in.)||Image size (pixels)|
|3 x 5||900 x 1500|
|4 x 6||1200 x 1800|
|5 x 7||1500 x 2100|
|8 x 8||2400 x 2400|
|8 x 10||2400 x 3000|
|8.5 x 11||2550 x 3300|
|9 x 16||2700 x 4800|
|11 x 14||3300 x 4200|
|11 x 16||3300 x 4800|
If you don’t need a specific size and you just want a square for Instagram, my go to is 2000 x 2000. Next, still in the Page tab under Display, keep the “show page border” checked. I always uncheck the “show border shadow” because I don’t like that. I always check “border on top of drawing” in case my design gets too big, I can still see where my page is.
One more really important thing. At the bottom it has the background color and border color. The border color doesn’t matter because it won’t show in the end, but the background color does! You will probably want a white background, but you can change it to anything. The default is transparent. If you try to print right from Inkscape with a transparent background, it will think all of that transparent is black! I’m sure you can imagine how shocked I was when my whole page printed black. Black design and black background. Don’t do what I did. Make sure your background color is white or the color you need. Your Document Properties will look something like this:
Before we go to the next step, I want to equip you with some tricks that will make your life easier. To zoom in and out, hold down control and use the scroll wheel on your mouse. Magic!
3. How to change your design into a vector
Now you will click on File and Import. Open your design from wherever you saved it on your computer. You now have your design sitting in your document and you want to make it a vector. Let’s pause for a second so you can understand what that means. A vector works with lines and angles. A normal picture is in pixels which is made of tiny squares. I’m sure you’ve experienced that if you try to make a normal picture bigger, it gets pixelated and you can see the squares. With a vector, because it is now lines and angles, you can make it as big as you want and never get pixelated. Awesome? I know.
Alright, unpause. Click on your design so it is selected. If you need to resize it, make sure you hold down the control key so the proportions stay the same. Once you have it the right size, click Path and Trace Bitmap. This will bring up another box. You are only going to worry about the Brightness Cutoff for now. Make sure that is selected. The default threshold is .450 which works well if your background was really white and your words were really black. If not, you can increase it. And that’s it! Click ok and it will place your vector on top of your jpg. You can then delete your jpg.
In my video I showed you how to clean up your design a little. Wait for my next tutorial to learn more about that. For now, let’s add some color!
4. How to add simple color
Here is the fun part! You get to see your designs come to life in color. Any color that you choose. You will see on the right side the Fill and Stroke tab. There are many different ways you can choose your colors. I just use the color wheel. The Fill is the inside color. The Stroke is for the outline color. Once again, you can choose any color! Click on Stroke Style to change the thickness of the outline.
There you have it! Your first digitized piece! You can save it as a png to post or sell. Or you can save it as an svg so it will be a vector you can manipulate again if you decide. I do both.
Now let me know how it went! You can post a picture in the comments or post a picture on Instagram and tag me! What questions did you have as you did it? Comment below!
Get ready for the next tutorial where you will learn how to clean up your design and change the colors of individual letters or objects! What else would you like to learn that you want me to make sure to include in my next tutorial? Put it in the comments!