VECTORIZING YOUR DRAWING
Transforming your analog drawing into a digital format.
Once you have refined your logo to have a drawing that you would like to turn into a vector drawing, it’s obviously time to move to the computer.
It’s important to spend enough time in the revision stage to get to the point where your drawing is as close to 90% finished as you can. Once you start working on the computer, you should only need to make slight adjustments refining curves, straightening lines, applying a grid, etc.
Now that you’re moving from analog to the digital space, you’ll need a few important tools to get your drawing onto the computer. To capture your drawing, you’ll need a scanner or a digital camera.
The scanner is really simple to use. Take your drawing, scan it, and now you have a digital image to work with. This is especially easy if your drawing is on a piece of computer paper. There are, as you could expect, a couple of issues using a scanner.
- If you have drawn in a sketchbook, you may find that the binding doesn’t allow the book to lie flat on the scanner bed making the drawing slightly distorted. You can either cut out the page, or try to keep your drawing away from the binding so the important part is flat when scanned.
- Scanners also typically have trouble picking up pencil. To solve this problem, you just need to go over your lines with a liner pen before scanning.
A digital camera could either be a point and shoot camera, a DSLR, or even your smart phone.
Cameras are nice because they’re quick to take the photo, they usually pick up pencil better than scanners, and you probably have one so you don’t need to go out and buy a new piece of equipment.
The one concern you should have when using a digital camera is to make sure the camera is parallel with the drawing when taking the photo. If you don’t take the photo straight on, the drawing will be skewed and that will transfer to your vector drawing when you trace the image.
There are a few vector drawing programs out there, but the industry standard is Adobe Illustrator. It comes in the Creative Cloud suite along with Photoshop and a number of other creative programs that graphic designers use all across the world.
Since this is the standard for now, I’ll be basing the vector process on that program.
Setting up your drawing in vector software
Once you have your drawing captured in a digital image, it’s time to get Illustrator set up so you can start tracing.
- Create a new document in Illustrator – For the sake of being easy, when it asks for the dimensions, under Profile, choose Print and under Size, pick Letter.
Be sure to choose which units of measure will be easy for you to use as well and hit OK.
- Import your image – You can do this either by File/Place… or dragging it from your Finder window onto the artboard.
- Center the drawing – Move the image so you have an even amount of space around your drawing. This just makes your work feel more balanced with the artboard. It isn’t crucial, but it will set you up for a cleaner workspace.
- Add guide lines – Top, bottom, left, right, center vertical, and center horizontal. These six will provide you with constraints to align with as you are tracing your drawing. You may also choose to add other guides depending on the design.
- Lighten up the drawing – This is going to make tracing much easier on yourself. Select the image of your drawing in illustrator and drop the transparency to about 35%. You should still be able to see the lines in your drawing, but it will be light enough for you to see the vector shapes as you trace.
- Lock the layer – To make sure you don’t accidentally move your drawing around while you’re tracing, lock the layer in the Layers panel.
- Create a new layer – This is the layer your vector tracing is going to go.
- Setup Tracing Appearance – The last thing you will need to do is change the fill and stroke appearance to something that will allow you to see your drawing underneath while you trace.
- Remove the fill – Select the white square with red diagonal line so you don’t cover the drawing with a solid shape
- Pick a bright stroke color – You want something that will be easy to see over your drawing. I usually use magenta because it’s easy to see over both black and white.
- Pick a thin stroke – 1pt is usually a bit too thick to see the fine edges of a drawing. Change the stroke to .5pt or .25pt and you should easily see the edges as you are tracing.
Alright, now you’re ready to start tracing!
Tracing your drawing
You’ll be tracing your drawing using anchor points and their handles to create bezier curves. Using the pen tool, place points where each curve changes direction horizontally and vertically adding points to the the top-most, bottom-most, left-most, and right-most places of your drawing.
It is important to limit yourself on how many points you place for each curve – adding too many points can lead to your drawing looking rough.
Your first time creating a vector tracing can be frustrating as you try to find the correct placement for each anchor. Don’t get hung up on it too much as you can easily adjust as you work. The tracing stage will easier as you get more experience and you improve over time.
As you place your points, do not worry about defining the curves yet. Just focus on placing the points where they need to go.
Once you have placed your points in the correct positions, you now need to define the bezier curves with the Anchor Point Tool.
Click and hold on an anchor point and hold down shift to vertical or horizontal. This is going to help you create smooth curves. It can be quite challenging at first only sticking with vertical and horizontal directions, but you will find that your curves look better and the design will be cleaner – not to mention when you view at all of the handles at once, it’s amazing seeing all of the handles going in the same direction.
One thing to keep in mind as you’re working is to save your work and save it often. You never know if something might happen whether the power goes out, or your computer dies. You don’t want to lose all of the work you have just made, so be sure to save frequently!
To create a vector version of your work, you first need to capture your work either by a camera or scanner. Here, I used my iPhone camera. Next, open the image in a vector program (like Adobe Illustrator) on your computer. The key to creating smooth vector shapes is placing the anchor points along the outside of the shapes where the curves in your drawings change at the top, bottom, left, and right sides. After placing the points, pull the Bezier handles either vertically or horizontally. Sticking to only vertical and horizontal handles will help you maintain clean and smooth transitions in direction. Create separate shapes for each pen stroke and join them at the end. This will help you create a more natural appearance in your shapes as well. Have any questions you would like answered? Comment below!
Once you have completed your tracing, add a fill to your vector shapes to see how the design looks compared to your drawing. You’ll most likely find that it doesn’t quite look or feel the same as the drawing, but just think of this tracing stage similar to your initial rough draft drawing. You’ll spot areas that you need you tweak and that’s ok. You can probably guess what the next step is all about.
Yes, more refinement.
I’ll cover that in the next post.
There is a lot of information on this page that I do not cover. I would love to help you understand more to make you a better designer.
What exactly is a vector image?
Why should you build a logo as a vector?
Can I just scan my drawing in Photoshop and call it good?
If you have a question like this, or want more information on something I mentioned, fill out the form below. I would love to discuss it with you.