Work gets done online. Of all the handlettering inspiration and artwork you have seen on social media and portfolio websites, these had to be digitised and brought online in some form. Whether it was a picture of the handlettering, or retracing your physical artwork from scratch into a digital lettering form. As artists, it’s important that our work be seen in its best possible environment. This is why it’s important to know how to import your physical handlettering into a digital environment.

Once you have your handlettering complete, there are a few steps to take in order to make it ready for the digital world.

Scanning vs. Photo

There are 2 methods of importing your physical handlettering;

  • Scan the page.
  • Take a photo.

Scanning will provide more accuracy to your piece overall because it will be on a level plain. Unlike taking a photo of the page, unless you have a horizontal tripod or a spirit level. To take a photo from above your page with a camera is to risk displacing the proportions of the handlettering. once side may appear larger than the other side which will throw off your lines and heights.


Once the scan or photo has been taken, you will need to bring it into Photoshop for some quick touch ups to prepare for digitising.

Photoshop Preparation

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Take my ‘Anvil Tools’ project for example.

This step is for if the image was taken from a camera from overhead. But, even if the image was retrieved from a scan, it is still worth bringing it into Photoshop. The reason you bring it into Photoshop is to cleanup the lighting, contrast and tone. All of which makes it easier to bring into a vector program such as Adobe Illustrator.

The quick fix to adjusting the image is to go Image > Auto Tone / Auto Contrast / Auto Colour.

If your image isn’t fully black and white, you can take all of the colour out of the image with Image > Adjustments > Desaturate.

To fully adjust the image to your liking, maybe there is awkward shading, depending on where you took the photo of the handletttering page. This can be done with Image> Adjustments. Tinker around with the Brightness/Contrast, Levels, and Curves settings to make the image as black and white as you can before exporting to Illustrator.

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Digitising Your Artwork With ‘Image Trace’

Once the artwork is black and white and as clean as you can get it with adjustments, export to Illustrator. Once in Illustrator, there are 2 ways you can digitise your lettering. Once is the ‘Image Trace’ option. The other is completely replicate the lettering with the pen tool (Which I go onto detail more in the next tutorial). In this instance, I will explain the ‘Image Trace’ option of digitising your lettering.

Import your Handlettering image into Adobe Illustrator. From here you will have your edited image on the artboard. If the ‘Image Trace’ is not available, click on Window > Image Trace. Now, select your image and open the ‘Image Trace’ tab on the right.

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From here you will see multiple options to convert your image into a vector. Press the ‘Preview’ button to text your outcome first. Then adjust the sliders of the ‘Threshold’ to get your desired effect and refine the effect with the advanced options; paths and corners. I like to leave the ‘Threshold’ slider at around 125, the better you prepare your image using Photoshop before hand, the closer you will to keep your ‘Threshold’ slider to

When you have the desired effect. Press ‘Trace’. This will change the image into a vector. Click ‘Expand’ on the top bar to be able to edit each point in the vector. This will allow precise editing of different lines and shapes using the pen tool. I will take a more detailed look at using the pen tool to edit and adjust your lettering in the next tutorial.Digitise Your Lettering

From here, you can edit how you want your vector to look in the final artwork. Adjusting colour, shapes, textures, backgrounds to achieve your desired look. See my final ‘Anvil Tools’ logo below. Here I added textures, backgrounds, effects to the text and other subtle details to create your final logo and solve the problem for the client.

Anvil Tools Digitise

In future tutorials, I will take a more detailed look at using the pen tool, to give you tips and strategies when creating your custom handlettering artwork and bringing it into the digital world.

Click here to see how you should correctly export your lettering artwork for the most effective result

Summery & Takeaway

  • Scanning your physical handlettering artwork is the easiest and best way to prepare it for an online environment.
  • Use Photoshop to adjust the tone, contrast, brightness and colour of your image as to prepare it for digitising.
  • Import into illustrator as black and white as you can. Use ‘Image Trace’ to transform your physical image into a vector format adjusting the ‘Threshold slider.
  • Click ‘expand’ to enable your vector to be editable. Use the pen tool to adjust/manoeuver each point in your piece to achieve your desired shape.
  • Once a vector, you can change the colour, add effects, masks and textures to your lettering.