For some artists, there’s nothing like putting pencil to paper to create a drawing. But for many projects, you may also need to know how to turn drawings into digital art. Fortunately, there are ways to digitize a drawing while maintaining the character of your sketch. Below, we provide a step-by-step tutorial for learning how to digitize a drawing in Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as software alternatives if you don’t have those programs. 

doodle
This digital image, by Skillshare student Carmen Corrales, started as a simple sketch. 

How to Turn a Sketch into a Digital Image in 5 Steps

Step 1: Sketch for Success

Before you even begin to digitize your sketch, it’s helpful to know a few tips that will make the process easier. For example, it’s best to ink over your sketch to create clear, black lines that will scan easily. 

In addition, make sure you’re happy with your drawing as a sketch. While you will be able to make small tweaks to the illustration once it’s in digital form, you likely won’t make any major changes—so the sketch should be able to stand on its own. 

Step 2: Scan the Drawing 

The first step in learning how to digitize a drawing is to scan it. You can do this using a traditional scanner, scanning at a minimum of 300 dots per inch (DPI). Or, if you don’t have a scanner, you can use a smartphone to take a picture of the drawing. 

Whichever method you use, save the image as the highest possible quality and email or AirDrop it to yourself. Then, open it up in your software of choice, like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. At this point, it’s helpful to create a duplicate copy to work from. That way, you can always access the original if you need to go back to it at any point. 

take a picture of your image instead of scanning
If you don’t have a scanner, you can simply take a picture of your drawing with a smartphone and email it to yourself. 

Step 3: Clean Up the Scanned Drawing 

When you look at the scanned copy of the drawing, you will likely notice some imperfections—for example, smudges or an off-white background. The next step is to use your software to clean up the image. For example, in Photoshop, you can use the Levels tool to bleach the background (i.e., to make it pure white, rather than off-white), as well as bump up the black to darken your lines. By enhancing the contrast this way, you will also remove many incidental smudges and make your sketch look crisp and clean. 

Next, use the eraser tool to remove any remaining smudges. You can also use the brush tool to clean up or fill in any lines that need refining. For example, if there is an area that should be solid black but currently shows some white between strokes, you can use the brush to fill in the space completely. 

You don’t necessarily need to make the drawing perfect—and disguise that it was hand-drawn—but touching up the image will give you a cleaner final product. 

clean up your image
The eyes in this drawing should be solid black, so you can use the brush tool in Adobe Photoshop to completely fill in the space. 

Step 4: Vectorize the Image

If you zoom in on your drawing, you will probably notice some pixelation—where your lines are imperfect and jagged. When you vectorize an image, you convert that pixel-based image into defined, geometric shapes. 

You can do this in Illustrator using a feature called Live Trace, which is located in the Control panel. Once you apply this to your drawing, you will see that most lines are now smooth and sharp. You may still see some small irregularities (which you can fix using the pencil tool), but nothing like the original pixelation of your drawing. 

convert it to a vector
Before vectorizing this image, you can see the pixelation along the lines of the drawing. Once you’ve converted it to a vector, the lines will be smooth and sharp. 

Step 5: Add Color 

If you plan to add color to your illustration, now is your chance. The easiest way to do this is by using the Live Paint feature in Illustrator. Select the image, and then select Live Paint. This will change your static image into an illustration that you are able to “paint”—i.e., fill in shapes with color.  

From here, you simply choose a color, and then click the shape you’d like to fill with that color. When you’ve finished adding color to your drawing, click on the image and select Expand in the toolbar. This will turn off the Live Paint feature and convert your drawing back to a static image. 

fill in your shapes with color
While your image is in Live Paint mode, you can select shapes within your image and instantly fill them with color. 

How to Digitize a Drawing with an iPhone

As mentioned earlier, if you don’t have a scanner, you can also digitize a drawing using an iPhone. 

To start, open up the camera and take a picture of the drawing. Aim to get as close to the drawing as possible while still capturing the entire sketch within the screen. If you are capturing several different drawings or taking multiple photos, try to keep the phone the same distance away from each drawing. This helps ensure that all lines have similar weights. 

If you don’t have a scanner, simply take a photo of the drawing with your smartphone.
If you don’t have a scanner, simply take a photo of the drawing with your smartphone.

You also have the option of using a photo editing app, which can provide additional options for prepping your artwork. You could use Afterlight, for instance, to desaturate the picture and increase the contrast and brightness—the same adjustments you would otherwise have to make later in the process in Photoshop. From there, email or AirDrop the image to yourself and follow steps 3-5 above. 

Maintain That Hand-Drawn Charm

Digitizing Hand Drawn Sketches with Character With Dylan Mierzwinski

What to Use If You Don’t Have Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator 

Want to learn how to make digital art, but don’t have Photoshop or Illustrator? While these are common tools used for digitizing artwork, they are not the only options. Check out these three alternatives to Photoshop and Illustrator for learning how to digitize a sketch. 

3 Alternatives to Use

1. Inkscape 

Inkscape is a free software designed to take doodles and sketches and convert them into vector graphics. It is available for download on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux systems.

GIMP 

2. GIMP, or GNU Image Manipulation Program, is another free image editing option. Because GIMP is an open-source program, anyone—including you—can make changes to it and distribute those changes to others. It is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems. 

3. CorelDRAW

CorelDRAW is an intuitive, user-friendly alternative to Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop that offers a simple way to turn sketches into digital art. While CorelDRAW is not free, you can take advantage of a free trial period before you make a purchase decision. 

By learning how to digitize a sketch, you can preserve the hand-drawn quality of your artwork forever. It also gives you more options to create prints and other projects, such as t-shirts, stickers, and more. With this process, you can turn even a simple doodle into a digital work of art. 

A Step-by-Step Guide to Digitizing Your Sketches

Digital Illustration: Doodles to Designs With Jon Burgerman