Digitize Your Calligraphy Without Tears – First Steps in Illustrator

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Today we are going to go over the first steps in using Adobe Illustrator for vectoring your calligraphy work. Illustrator may seem intimidating, but by following my steps you will be on your way to vectoring your lettering!

For detailed step-by-step instructions go to my video here. You can also click on the images below to have a closer look. Ok, let’s start! Open up Illustrator and create a new file.
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You can use whatever image size you’d like. I mostly make A2 sized cards so I created my artboard to be 5.5 by 4.25 inches. Leave all the other settings as is and press “ok.”

Next we are going to “Place” our cleaned-up image into Illustrator.
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Your cleaned-up image is now on your artboard with a box and x surrounding it. Don’t worry about that!

Now to the fun Illustrator part! We’re going to have Illustrator select all the edges of our image and convert them into paths. This is how our image becomes a vector image. To do so we’re going to use “Image Trace” which can be found on the top bar, but we’re going to use the panel to play around with the settings.
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You can open up the Image Trace panel by going to Window > Image Trace. The panel will pop-up and you may need to click on the “Advanced” arrow to see the advanced settings. Make sure your “Mode” is set to “Black and White”, under “Options” make sure the “Ignore White” button is checked, and click on the “Preview” button on the bottom. Now start playing with the sliders to see what happens to your image. I like to zoom into my image to get a better look at what’s happening. Remember CTRL + for zooming in! For “Threshold” I like to keep it somewhere in the middle around 125-145, for “Corners” it varies but for this case I have it at 0, and for “Noise” I usually keep it at 25px. It’s all about what type of style you’re going for. Some people like to keep the edges more jagged to get the hand lettered feeling, others like to have their edges smooth. I like to go for a smooth look. So play around until you get what you like, but remember it won’t look exactly like what you have in mind but close to it. We’ll go over final touches to your lettering and fixing parts of your lettering in the next tutorial.

Once you find a setting you like, click on the “Expand” button on the top. Now your work is vectored!
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You’ll notice that the x inside the box disappears. And you’ll notice that a bunch of little tiny boxes show up around the edge of your calligraphy. If you hover over them you’ll notice it’ll say anchor. Those are anchor points, which creates paths along your work so that you can scale up or down without losing the quality of the image. We’re going to be playing with the anchor points in the next tutorial to fix any curves or points that you don’t like.

This next part is important! When I was first learning Illustrator and vectoring my calligraphy I would spend hours fixing up the anchor points to my satisfaction. When I was done, I wanted to change the color of my letters. You’d think that would be easy, but it turned into a nightmare. I urge you to make sure you do this step now!

Ungroup your object.
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Go to Object > Ungroup. Or click CTRL+SHIFT+G.

You want to select your object so that you see the anchor points again. To do so you need the “Selection Tool” which is the black arrow cursor in the Tool’s panel or click V on your keyboard. Now draw a box around your object and all the anchor points should show up again.
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Make sure that the “Fill” box (which has a ? on it) is on top and open your “Swatches” panel (Window > Swatches). Click on the black color swatch. Everything inside the box should turn black but you should be able to see the anchor points outlining your work.

Now find the “Delete Anchor Point Tool” in your Tool’s panel. Or click the – sign on your keyboard.
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We’re going to delete the anchor points on the box to delete the box. (Watch the video for reference)

Now that the box is gone, we’re left with a lot of filled in parts that we don’t want. Using the “Selection Tool” we’re going to get rid of the filled in parts of the letter. Select a filled in part and the anchor points of the part that you want to delete will be highlighted.
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In my case the loop in the h and click delete on your keyboard. It looks like nothing happened, but it did! Click somewhere on your object and drag and drop it off to the side.
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You’ll notice that the filled in part of the letter h I just deleted is gone! yay! It worked! Ok, so going back to the object you just dragged and dropped. It’s already selected and now delete it! (Delete button on your keyboard.) Going back to your original object (which should be the only one left on your artboard), click on all the other filled parts you want removed and delete them too.

Great! Now we can select our word and change it to any color we want using the Swatches panel!
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If you like your word as is, then great! You are done and can use it for your designs! Remember to save your file as an Illustrator file!

Next time, I’m going to go over how to smooth out anchor points and fix some parts of the word “happy” that I don’t like. Like always, show your work with #DigitizeWithoutTears!

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