Digitize Your Calligraphy Without Tears – Scan & Clean-up

Now that you have the right tools and materials, go ahead and write a word or phrase in calligraphy. Make sure you use opaque black ink on super smooth white paper.
I’ll be digitizing the word “happy” throughout this tutorial. Now that your ink is dry let’s scan it in.

For step-by-step instructions on scanning your calligraphy then watch the video here.
Using my Canon LiDE 220 scanner, I placed my piece of paper onto the scanner bed and closed the lid. I opened up my scanning software that came with the printer and clicked on the “Advance Mode” tab.
Your scanning software might be a bit different. Find the section where you can change the settings of “Color Mode” and “Output Resolution.” For “Color Mode” it must be on “Black and White” because we want our lettering to be super black and everything else to be white. The contrast is needed when we start vectoring the image in Illustrator. For “Output Resolution” it needs to be at 600 DPI or larger. DPI means dots per inch. 600 DPI gives us a lot of detail. Anything less than that, then the scan won’t pick up on the details of your calligraphy. You can always go larger, but never downsize! Now that you’re settings are set, click “Scan” and your image will be saved to the folder that you’ve set it to. Here’s my scanned image.
Easy enough, right?

Open up Photoshop, and open your file. If you’re new to Photoshop, then I recommend watching my detailed step-by-step video here. If any of the written steps are unclear, definitely watch the video for reference. You can also click on any of the images to see a closer look.

The first tip is to know your shortcuts in Photoshop! The 3 that I use the most are zoom in, zoom out, and panning/scrolling.
You can zoom by going to the “View” tab, but it’s easier to use a shortcut. To zoom in click “ctrl and +” and to zoom out click “ctrl and -“. Panning/scrolling can be done using the scroll bars on the bottom and right, but they are so finicky to work with! Until recently I learned that you can click on the spacebar on your keyboard and use your mouse to drag the artboard space around. You’ll notice that your cursor will turn into a grab hand!

Back to the image. First, I cropped my image and pasted it into a new file so it’s an easier size to work with.
I merged down the layer to the background layer.

Now we need to clean up our work. First off you’ll notice some black marks that the scanner picked up. Those are easy to erase, but I want you to zoom into your work really close and look along the edges of your calligraphy. When I zoom in (CTRL and +), I can see a lot of little grey dots around the edge of my calligraphy.
How do I get rid of that? We will use the “Levels” feature in the “Adjustment Panel.” You can open up the Adjustments Panel by going to the Window tab and clicking on Adjustments. I want to note that you can also change the Levels of your image by going to the Image tab > Adjustments > Levels, but going this route will make a destructive edit! Meaning that it will permanently change your image and you can’t undo it. We don’t want that! Instead we want to make a Levels layer using the Adjustments tab and if we screwed up big time, we can just delete the layer and start over.

So now click on the Levels button on the Adjustments Panel.
You’ll see that the Properties box comes up. It has a graph and 3 eyedroppers. Click on the white eyedropper.
Now I’m going to click on one of the grey dots that are along the edge of my calligraphy. Viola! The dots disappear! What the eyedropper is doing is selecting that grey color and saying that it’s white and then applying it to the rest of the image. If your dots didn’t disappear trying selecting another grey dot until the dots disappear. (If you took a picture with your phone, you want to click around the edges of your calligraphy and try different spots until you get a nice white around your calligraphy.) Now select the black eyedropper and select the darkest black spot in your calligraphy. In my case, nothing changed but what it does is set the black points on the rest of my image. (If you used your phone to take a picture, you might notice a bigger difference.)

For this tutorial, you can now merge your levels layer into your background image just like we did before. (Pro tip: You can skip this skip and just click on your “Background” layer to start the erasing process.)
levels merge
Now we can erase and clean up our image. (I’ll do a post later on about non-destructive erasing, which is actually my preferred method of erasing since you can always get back to your original image but not lose all the other erasing that you just did.) Use the eraser tool to get rid of any stray marks or to touch up your calligraphy. The great part is you can fix any blotches in Photoshop! The loop in my “h” isn’t as round as I want it to be, but I’ll show you how to fix that in Illustrator later. Once you’re done erasing, save your file! I save mine as a Photoshop file because I end up having layers and I can always go back to them and touch things up. That’s it! You’ve cleaned up your calligraphy image!

I hope that wasn’t too bad, especially if this was your first time using Photoshop! Next Tuesday we’ll go over the first step to vectoring your calligraphy in Illustrator. It’s all about playing around with your settings! In the meantime show off your Photoshop skills and post before and after images on Instagram using #DigitizeWithoutTears