Tip: Turning Scanned Pencil Sketches into Digital Paintings

Hello and Welcome to this tip covering Turning Scanned Pencil Sketches and Drawings into Digital Paintings.

Tim Von Rueden takes us through his process of scanning a sketch and getting it prepped for a digital painting. This includes scanning, cropping, then separating the pencil line work from the background.

Here is the result we are trying to achieve with a clean line art from the sketch and have it be separated from the background:

↓ Below are some of the key frames from this tip ↓

1. First I’m going to grab one of my sketches and scan the image

2. After cropping the image, here is the result of the scan, try to get the best scan possible and leave little to no gray fade areas from scanning

3. Β Under Image> Levels, Enhance the contrast between the white and blacks using the sliders

4. Next we are going to grab the white background and delete it, to do so go to Select>Color Range, and choose white from the canvas and change the fuzziness as desired.

5. After selecting the white, simply click delete to separate the pencil line work from the background

6. While coloring you may notice a grain black/white trail from the pencil line art, change the layer to multiply to fix that.

7. Lower the opacity as desired as paint away πŸ˜€

After a good half hour of having fun with color here is the result I came up with for the featured image!

Thanks for watching and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the section below ↓

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45 Responses to “Tip: Turning Scanned Pencil Sketches into Digital Paintings”
    • Posts: 3
      B H says:

      As far as other ways to accomplish this, there are 2 different ways that I can think of offhand – that I use personally for line-art scans or sketches for coloring. One of them is a technique that many comic artists use for creating a spot color channel out of the scanned line-art and the other is very similar to this except it is kept as an alpha channel then filled with a solid to create a perfect line-art copy with good transparency.

      Here are the steps for both ways:

      Version 01 –
      A) Scan in artwork – usually around 300 dpi works well
      B) Bring scan into PS –
      C) Convert scan into greyscale > CTRL/CMD + SHIFT + U
      D) Use levels adjustment to get better color range – whites should be near white as possible, and darks should be as close to black as possible.
      E) Now use SELECT ALL (CTRL/CMD + A), to select entire canvas
      F) COPY (CTRL/CMD + C) to copy canvas.
      G) Now open up channels palette – should be next to layers
      H) Click Create New Channel Button at bottom – Looks like New Layer Icon
      I) You will now have an alpha channel – Click on it to select it
      J) Paste (CTRL/CMD + V) your line-art should appear in the alpha channel, however it is reversed from what you need.
      K) DESELECT ( CTRL/CMD + D), then INVERT (CTRL/CMD + I), Your lines should now be WHITE and the rest be black. You can also use a levels adjustment on these if needed.
      L) Now you can DOUBLE CLICK on this CHANNEL (ALPHA 1) and Set it to SPOT COLOR. Set Ink Characteristics- COLOR SELECTION, and Solidity – Solidity is how transparent it will appear. Now if you just leave this CHANNEL turned on – it will always be visible and you can color to your hearts content, however you can not make a selection within the line-art since technically it isn’t a layer, it is a channel.

      TECHNIQUE #2:
      FOLLOW STEPS A-K above however do NOT convert it into a spot color channel, instead leave it as an ALPHA CHANNEL. Now to use it as simple lines you will need to grab a selection of it. HOLD DOWN THE CTRL/CMD Key and click on the ALPHA Layer. You will see it select on your canvas. Switch back to your Layers Palette, create a new layer, Set colors back to default (D) and Fill with background color – Which should be black..

      That is all – Now you have just the line-art as its own layer with zero fuzzy-ness.


      • Posts: 640

        Hey thanks for the reply on different and more in-depth ways to go about doing this! Very helpful tips indeed

      • Posts: 18

        All those hotkeys that you mentioned, I too use them in Artrage, Painter 12, Anime Studio.

  1. Posts: 70
    Daniel Wentzell Jr. says:

    Thanks Tim,

    Breaking it down into a step by step process & the “how to do tricks” of each step certainly make it much easier to understand & enable you to do on your own. Thanks again for another great tutorial.


    • Posts: 70
      Daniel Wentzell Jr. says:

      Oh, & dare I say for all of you 1st competors out there…FIRST?


    • Posts: 640

      You are most welcome, I hope these tutorials prove useful for everyone who is willing to try and learn!

  2. Posts: 4

    Is there any reason to just set the sketch layer to multiply and bypass the whole select color step?

    • Posts: 2
      David Zerba says:

      If you just put it on multiply,then you would still have some fuzziness and artifacts that you wouldn’t get if you did the whole selection process.

  3. Posts: 2
    BattleReaper says:

    This is awesome! It’s always funny how CG amazes me by posting tutorials very relative to ideas passing through my head time to time. I was planning on scanning on marker drawings of graffiti letters/words on paper and see if I can implement them on blender.

    Now once I come up with my own personalized style of letters I can just through it on the PC and mess with color schemes on the fly.

  4. Posts: 1
    Ehab Charek says:

    hi, this is very helpful and it will help me A LOT in my next project πŸ˜› but I want to ask if it is possible to make this effect in gimp?

    • Posts: 2
      Geo Draco says:

      GIMP also has a color select tool just like PS does (Select > By Color, or hit Shift+O) but things can be a bit tricky when you’re trying to completely cut out the white, as by default GIMP seems to prefer erasing to the background color rather than erasing to transparency.
      I just spent ten minutes trying to erase in this manner, and to no avail, but I did stumble upon perhaps even a better tool for it…

      Start off by cleaning your lineart layer. You’ll want to clean it up by using adjustments or filters; Colors > Levels should handle everything just fine, just as Tim does in the tutorial here. You can pretty much follow the tutorial as normal for most of this.
      Now here’s where you can get a little more unique with it; make sure your lineart layer is the active layer, then go to Layer > Transparency > Color to Alpha. Your From: color should be white (default); check the preview to make sure it all looks good, and hit OK. What this should do is take all that white space and just turn it to transparency in the alpha channel, leaving you with a nice clean separated lineart.
      Right back to following along with the tutorial from here; just make a new layer afterwards, choosing to have it filled with white, and drag the new layer under your lineart, and your end result should end up looking exactly like your original lineart, only now in two separate layers, ready for colors to go in-between.

      If you’re perhaps a little more familiar with GIMP’s use of transparency than I am, you can probably emulate the Color Select method in GIMP as well, but from what I found, the lack of a Fuzziness slider for this tool makes it rather hit-or-miss with some pieces. All else fails, you can also just leave your lineart layer as-is and set it to a Multiply layer mode, which will effectively make all the white areas transparent (but limits your options if you intend to modify the lineart in any way).

      • Posts: 2
        Rick Gulczynski says:

        Gimp erases to the background layer if there is no alpha channel, or it’s something that doesn’t support transparency like a layer mask, etc.
        You can add an alpha channel by right clicking on the layer and selecting Add Alpha Channel or from the menu Layer > Transparency > Add Alpha Channel.

      • Posts: 640

        I appreciate you taking the time to write all this out for those attempting this in Gimp! Thank you good sir.

  5. Posts: 2
    Geo Draco says:

    Very handy stuff!

    Just to elaborate on the mention of other ways to do this, as Cartoonmike mentioned, you can of course set the layer to Multiply and go from there; fuzziness and artifacts can generally be fixed with adjustments to the Levels and/or Brightness/Contrast, as well as the Blur filter if need be. However, you miss out on the ability to color the lines if you wanted; with the selection and cut method, you can lock the opacity of the layer, and apply color to the lineart directly. If you intend to use the lineart in your finished work, and don’t plan to leave it pure black, this will let you blend it with the coloring you do underneath.

    An alternate selection method is much the same as what Tim uses, however after you’ve enhanced the contrast as needed using the Levels adjustments, rather than using the Color Range, go into your Channels window; at the bottom, you’ll find a selection tool (button with a dotted circle icon on it), which will create a selection using the grayscale values of the image (nearly identical to the Color Range tool if you were to select white, though using the Channels method will take care of all the fuzziness settings for you). Same method as Tim from there on out; delete the contents of the selection, set layer modes as needed, and so on.
    You will see minor differences between the two selection methods, but without having Photoshop open right now, I’m afraid I can’t point out exact differences; try both ways. Note that the Channels method doesn’t work very well with color lineart (since it’s using grayscale values), while the Color Range method lets you adjust the fuzziness or select a color other than white.

    One last trick I use, at least in the instances where I’m working with particularly clean lineart, is after separating the lines from the background, I leave the layer mode on Normal, lock the layer opacity, and fill the entirety of the layer with black (Gradient tool is the best way to do this, not the Fill tool). Assuming your selection worked out properly, you’ll end up with a pure black lineart layer, nice and sharp and all set-up in the case that you want to color parts of the lines.

    Lovely work on the featured image by the way, Tim!

  6. Posts: 25

    this is just too convenient. I’m doing a apprenticeship in games and we are doing some sketches that need to be scanned in and I waz JUST thnking how i could make them digital and here THIS tut is. πŸ˜€ SOOOOOOOO HAPPY RIGHT NOW. thanks 4 a great tut, Tim.

    • Posts: 640

      I’m glad I was able to assit πŸ˜€ Hope the sketches turn out awesome!

  7. Posts: 1
    john leigh says:

    hi Tim this is a great little walkthru –

    just wondered about step 7 where you colour a layer by painting beyond the line work, how do you clean this up so the colour is within the drawing lines? Is it a case of erasing around the drawing lines or masking the coloured layers? Or is there a faster way you use?

    best regards

    • Posts: 640

      It depends on if you would like the pencil lineart to appear in the final image or not. If you would like the lines to show then you could either clean up the pencil line work or create new solid digital line work on top and use the pencil lines as reference. And then from there you could fill in the colors. Also playing with the contrast settings helps!

  8. Posts: 4
    ctdabomb says:

    nice tutorial :)
    can you make a tutorial about how to get starting “concepting” i know that this isn’t an art site, but it would be nice to have some beginner drawing/painting tips/tuts. also, maybe a tutorial for us poor/lazy people who don’t have a tablet?

    • Posts: 640

      Yes, this is actually one of the series I have in progress right now since so many people have requested a intro to concept art series. Look for them out soon πŸ˜€

  9. Posts: 1
    Keith says:

    what type of pencil(s) did you use for this?

    • Posts: 640

      Haha I believe they were the Bic pencils, I ‘m not picky though just as long as the eraser isn’t terrible and smug your work.

  10. Posts: 1
    Toya says:

    How much would someone charge to turn a drawing into a digitized photo I work with a group of teens who are working on project and they have a sketch but want to add some ditigal touches to it. Please contact me via email if you can help.

    • Posts: 640

      If you would like to add some digital touches to a drawing, just scan the drawing and then open it in Photoshop or a similar software. From there you will be able to add your own personal touches to it! If you wanted to pay someone, it would be relatively cheap though.

    • Posts: 18

      To turn a sketch into a digital photo, I use a digital camera instead of a scanner. My camera is way way better than my two scanners that I most seldom use for drawings or text books.

  11. Posts: 1

    I’m sure there are others who thought the same as me: When I saw this “Fundamentals” Tab I got excited and thought it was in reference to the Fundamentals of Visual Arts Design.

    Is there any planned content along those lines? It would be nice to get more for my monthly payment than just the very few Concept Cookie Citizen resources offered.

    Thanks for the hard work, I am grateful, just feeling like there should be more content overall…

    • Posts: 640

      Mhm I just added the Fundamental tab in preparation for the upcoming tutorials I am planning out. These will include worksheets for everyone to practice what the tutorial is on, like shading or hue shifting etc. But the resources aren’t the only thing a citizen membership gets you. The courses are citizen only and the entire network including Blender Cookie, Unity Cookie, etc also has a bunch of citizen only content. I will say that I am working to get more exclusive content out there for you guys! Along with the Fundamental works, I am looking to add photo references soon on human anatomy!

  12. Posts: 39
    ldabreau says:

    so simple and yet so amazing. thank you for this ive been going at it the wrong way too much fuzzies in my pics now i know how to clean it up. a big thank you !

  13. Posts: 2
    Thomas Gomes says:

    Pardon me for saying, but couldn’t you just set the Line layer to Multiply at the start? That way you don’t have to mess around with the selection process. Just a thought.

    • Posts: 640

      So you could set the layer to multiply at the beginning but i like to do some editing work first to clean up some areas that might appear to be fuzzy first. And if you didn’t want the layer to be multiply, this would be how to do that as well.

  14. Posts: 1
    Guillermo L. says:

    Thanks for the tutorial Tim, I just got a tablet and Im so excited to start learning digital paint.

    Now, I got a question, what is exactly the function of the option “Multiply” in the layers?

    • Posts: 2
      Thomas Gomes says:

      Anything that comes underneath the “Multiply” Layer will be appear darker. White elements of an image will not appear at all and grey to black portions of a layer will make the layer underneath darker. I personally use it when I have a line drawing and want to colour underneath it. Hope this helped πŸ˜€

  15. Posts: 1

    I keep Hearing people saying you need to make your fundamentals strong . so can can explain a little what exacltly comes under fundamental (Other than value shading ) ?

    • Posts: 640

      I’m currently working to get a full getting started series for the 4.0 release mid-June and then from there I want to work on more fundamental tutorials and these would go into practicing working with color, lighting, shading, blending, etc. So look for those in the near future =]

  16. Posts: 1
    Royce King says:

    Thanks for the tutorial, but the download for this tutorial is not the correct one.

    • Posts: 640

      Thanks for pointing that out! The source files are now the correct versions!

  17. Posts: 18

    For those who can’t afford PhotoShop, I suggest GIMP or InkScape, both as FREE alternatives. If you want something a little better, look to Artrage (very affordable). Folks, if you buy PhotoShop brushes and hoses online, you can actually upload them into Artrage.

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