Scanning and Preparing Lineart and Drawings into Photoshop

Sure, seeing a pencil sketch on paper has a certain type of charm to it, but come on, you know you’re aching to put some bright colors, light sources, and all other kinds of special effects on it. The only way to do that is, of course, scanning it into your computer and going at it in photoshop. This is not as much of an automatic process as one might think, however, and it’s very easy to wind up with a tiny, low quality version of your image in photoshop. There are some methods of scanning and preparing that will ensure your lineart is at the highest quality possible before you start applying color or effects to it. This tutorial will cover those methods.


-A scanner
-Photoshop (7 or higher)
-Lineart to scan

That’s right. Step Zero. This step is so important, it goes before step one. The scanner will be the most important step in this coming process. It is a tool all on its own. Therefore, the smartest thing to do would be to get to know the settings and internal workings of your software. Do you know the NAME and MNUFACTURER of your scanner? Do you know how to start up your scanner software? Do you know what DPI is? Do you know how to set the DPI of an image when scanning it? These are important things in the scanning process, and they unfortunately vary from printer to printer. My best advice is to click around in the scanner software. Don’t be afraid. It’ll be fine, as long as you don’t change any settings that look unfamiliar. Another important point is to make sure that your scanner drivers are up to date. Drivers are like little instructions that tell the scanner how to work with your computer. You can usually find the latest drivers on the manufacturer’s website (HP, Lexmark, Epson, etc)

For this tutorial, I am using photoshop CS. CS2 should work fine too, as well as 7. Start up photoshop. Go up to FILE – IMPORT>. Hover your mouse over the “IMPORT>” setting, and a smaller drop down menu will pop out next to it. This menu will list the scanners associated with your computer (scanners that are installed on your computer). Look through the list for the scanner you want to use and click on it. This should start up your scanner software within photoshop. If you have problems with this step, check that your printer drivers are up to date (as mentioned in the above step), or consider re-installing the scanning software.

Once the software starts up, there are a few main buttons – a PREVIEW button, a SCAN NOW button, and a SEE MORE SCAN SETTINGS button. Look around for anything similar to the last one in your scanner buttons or drop down menus. Anything about “scan settings”, “picture quality”, “dpi”, “advanced scan settings” or “scan resolution” will probably be a good bet. If you see a setting that says something along the lines of “72 DPI” or “300 DPI”, you’ve found it. DPI stands for DOTS PER SQUARE INCH, and refers to how much information the image contains. Generally, the higher the dpi, the better quality of the image (better tonality, sharpness, and color blending) With my scanner, there is a spot with a drop down menu that has a set list of DPI’s labeled what you intend to do with the image. However, none of these go over 300 DPI. We’ll need a much higher setting than that to get some good quality. Luckily, there is a button under the drop down menu that will take me to “Advanced scan settings”. Once I am in there, there is a box where I can type in my own DPI. For scanning lineart, I highly recommend a scan setting of anywhere between 800 and 1200 DPI. Any higher than 1200 and you’re just wasting space on your hard drive without getting much more image quality. Keep in mind that the higher the DPI setting, the longer the scan will take. Scan time will also depend on how much memory your computer has and what kind of processor you’re running on.

Place your drawing face down on the scanner. As you do this, try to place the drawing against the slightly raised edges of the scanner so that you wont have to worry about rotating your image later. Close the cover of the scanner (or put it down as much as possible if you’re using a sketchbook. There should be a button in your scanning software that says PREVIEW. Click on it.

You should now have a preview image in the scanning window of what’s on the scanner glass. Some scanning software will attempt to automatically select an area that it thinks is the image. In either case, figure out where the selection tool is for this window, and place a box around the are that you want to scan. Your scanner will only scan the selected part of the image. By default, most scanning software has just the mouse as a selection tool. Try clicking and dragging around the preview image.

Once you are satisfied with the image boundaries in the above step, hit SCAN. Hooray! An easy step!

Your scanner will start and make scary humming noises for a short time. Don’t be alarmed, this is normal. Relax and wait for the process to complete. Once the scanner is done, it will take a minute or five to communicate with Photoshop. Eventually, the image will appear on your screen in photoshop. If you paid attention to what I said earlier, your image is now at somewhere between 800 and 1200 DPI. This is an extremely large image, and even those of us with the fastest computers will have slowdown working with a file this big. We scanned it in this big so that we could get as much detail as possible. Now that we have it in photoshop, we can drop it down a bit. In photoshop, go up to the drop down menu IMAGE – IMAGE SIZE. A pop-up menu will show you the dimensions of your image. Towards the bottom of the box, there is a spot that says “resolution” and will be set to whatever DPI you scanned in. Change this number to 300 dpi and click OK. This process may take a second, as it is memory intensive. Eventually, your image will be shrunk down a bit and easier to manage, yet still retain the quality that we scanned. You would have a very different result here if you had just scanned in at 300 dpi from the start.

At this point, you’ll want to make sure the image looks how you want it to. Use the IMAGE-ROTATE CANVAS command if your image is upside down or sideways. If that’s all set, click IMAGE -ADJUSTMENTS -DESATURATE (shortcut on a PC is CTRL+SHIFT+U) This will turn your image to all blacks, whites and grays – eliminating any ambient color that may have came through on the scan. At this point, I’ll assume that your lineart is pretty neat, with no erasure marks or stray lines. If this isn’t the case, take a second or two and go in carefully with the brush tool set to white, and clean up any marks you dont want. I will be making a seperate tutorial regarding how to avoid this in the future. Once you’re happy with your image in terms of all that, open up your LEVELS dialgoue under IMAGE -ADJUSTMENTS -LEVELS (shortcut on a PC is CTRL + L, or COMMAND + L on a mac). It looks big and intimidating, but don’t worry- it’s actually a fairly intuitive tool. You’ll see, in the middle of this box, something that kind of looks like a graph, and DIRECTLY underneath it, three arrows (black on the left, grey in the middle, and white on the right.) These are the things you’ll be playing with. Try sliding one at a time and see what happens to your lineart. Generally, sliding the black one further to the right makes the blacks blacker, and moving the white slider to the left makes the whites whiter. The grey slider must stay in between the black and white sliders and can be used for more subtle variations in lightness. Experiment and play around with the positions of these sliders until you get a setting that looks good to you, then click OK. To see an example of the levels box with the marked positions of the sliders, please look at the images associated with this tutorial.

Ta-da! You should now have a nice, sharp, clear image of your lineart – ready to be colored, printed, or posted online. One last note – if you plan on posting your image online as it is, I would advise going back into the IMAGE-IMAGE SIZE box, and dropping the DPI down to 72.

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