Posts tagged digitize lettering
A Quick & Easy Trick to Clean Up Stray Pixels in Photoshop

No matter how exact I am with my pen lines and how frequently I clean my scanner, I can never seem to get a completely clean scan -- there are always dust particles or stray strokes. I'm all for texture in digitization, but I like to be in control of it! If you're working with a piece where all of the lettering is connected, it can be pretty easy to just select your lettering, right click > Select Inverse and then delete the rest. But what about a bigger, more complicated piece? It's annoying and time consuming to shift and click to select every single bit of what you want to keep.

I've developed a quirky little trick that makes spotting (and erasing) those pesky stray pixels a breeze! 

Scan Your Lettering


Start with a freshly scanned piece of lettering. Make sure you isolate your lettering by deleting all of the white areas. If your lettering piece is filled in, you can just select a large white area, right click > Select Similar, and delete (make sure your layer is not the background layer, so it will delete to transparent). If your lettering isn't filled in and you want to keep the white inside, you'll have to shift + click to select each area of white you want to erase. If you need a more in depth refresher on this, check out my Digitizing Lettering in Photoshop tutorial.

Add a Stroke


Now that your lettering is isolated, there's still some cleaning up to do! Go to the layers panel, right click, and select Blending Options. When the Blending Options panel pops up, click Stroke on the left hand side.

My default settings happened to be 25px of black stroke. See how instantly, you can see all of the stray pixels and dust much more easily? Click ok, and get on erasing those puppies! Making all of those circles disappear feels like a game to me - it reminds me of chasing and popping bubbles as a kid.

Clean Up Stray Pixels


I like to use this stroke effect to spot all of the bits of dust on my scan, but also to spot some areas of my lettering that has a rougher edge than I might like. If the stroke looks really jaggedy, it's because it's basically exaggerating the existing edge of your lettering below. It can be tough to erase precisely when the stroke is turned on, because you actually need to erase inside of the stroke to clean up the edge, so I just use this to note areas I need to look more closely at.

Once you've cleaned up all of the dust and particles, right click on your layer in the layers panel, and click Clear Layer Style. This will get rid of the stroke and you'll be left with clean, isolated, dust-free lettering! From here, it's easy to continue digitizing and make the type 3D! Or, you can take it into Illustrator and try out Image Trace, but that's a tutorial for another day.


Now that you know this fun little trick, you'll never have to worry about the dust particles you can never seem to fully clean off of your scanner!

How to Create 3D Text in Photoshop

Giving your lettering a 3D effect in Photoshop adds a lot of visual impact, but it’s easier than you think! Today I'll show you exactly how I made the featured image for this blog post. Start with your lettering scanned, cleaned up, and isolated in a Photoshop document. If you don’t know how to do this, start with my basic digitizing your lettering in Photoshop tutorial, and then come back!

Give Your Letters Depth


Duplicate your lettering layer (right click on the layer in the layers panel and select Duplicate Layer), move it underneath the original layer, and nudge it to the depth and angle you’d like. I typically go down and to the left, but you can go any direction! Erase any duplicated lettering that you don't want to make 3D. I typically only make my most emphasized phrases 3D, so I'll erase the rest from this layer. 


Pixel lock both layers of lettering, and find a color scheme you’d like to work with. If you’re struggling with color schemes, I love I generally make the lettering layer that’s going to give the 3D effect a darker color than the top lettering layer, to add to the effect.  Sometimes I'll make the top layer white, and other times I'll make it just a much lighter version of the 3D color. The world is your oyster! 


Un-pixel lock the darker layer of type. Using a small brush, draw lines to connect the second layer of lettering to the original in front of it. I either do this freehand, or I’ll create a sort of guide with the Rectangular Marquee Tool. If you don’t have a steady mouse hand yet, use the marquee tool to select a square area. Right click, and click Transform Selection (not Free Transform - that will transform the area of your work you’ve selected, not the square itself). Rotate the square until the angle matches up perfectly to connect your two lettering layers. Then you can just follow along the line with the brush tool to connect the layers, and move the square to each connection spot as you go. Deselect the area when you're done with this step, and then use a larger brush to fill in the remaining inside your 3D area with the same color.

Add Some Shading


Create a new layer above your 3D layer (CTRL/Command + Shift + N), and select "Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask" in the box that pops up. The new layer should indent a bit to the right and have an arrow that points down to your 3D type layer. Now, no matter where you draw on that layer, it will only show up if it’s inside the colored areas of your 3D layer. This is where we’re going to add some shadows to make the depth more realistic.

Grab a darker shade of the color of your 3D lettering, and use the Brush Tool to paint in shading on top of your 3D lettering. I generally imagine the light is coming from the upper left hand side, which means everything on the underside of a stroke needs to be shaded. I use a hard brush for spots that should have no transition, like the bottoms of the letters, and a larger, softened brush to fade the shading a bit on rounded areas or strokes that I think are half in shade and half not.

Don't Forget a Shadow!


Once you’re happy with your shading, there’s one last detail - a shadow. Select all 3 layers of your lettering, duplicate them, and merge those duplicates into one layer. Move that layer beneath all of the other layers of type, just above your background layer, and nudge it to offset it from your lettering a bit. Just like in the 3D layer, erase any lettering you don't want to have a shadow from this layer. I again don't want my accent pieces to have a shadow, so I'll erase them.

Pixel lock the layer and grab a darker version of your background color and color in the lettering. Then, drop the opacity until it’s a soft, subtle shadow. This is usually around 20-30% for me, depending on the color.

Voila! Now you have beautiful, colorful 3D lettering. And if you keep all of your layers separate (and labeled), it’s easy to tweak your color scheme or add additional effects, like texture.

How to Vectorize Serif Lettering With the Pen Tool

The pen tool is maybe the most important tool in all of Adobe Illustrator - it's the workhorse of the program, and your Illustrator abilities are pretty limited without it. It has quite a learning curve, but with practice, it opens up a whole new world of lettering possibilities. The pen tool can be used to transform your rough sketches into polished, vector (infinitely scalable!) lettering.

At first glance, attempting to turn the sketch on the left into the polished type on the right seems pretty daunting, doesn't it? I promise, you can do it! Let's break it down into manageable steps.

Scan or Take a Picture of Your Sketch


The first step is to take a rough sketch and take a picture or scan it. Since the resolution of the sketch doesn't matter, taking a picture in this case is all you need. Create a new document Illustrator, and use File > Place... to browse for your image and place it in the document. Resize as necessary to center it in your artboard. I like to lower the opacity of my image to about 50%, just to avoid any visual confusion with my pen lines. Then select the image, and click Object > Lock > Selection. This locks the image in place so you won't accidentally select it and move it.

Before we've even started vectorizing, you can probably see how imperfect your sketch is - I already know I want to move the D in a bit, as it's a little too far out on its own, and I know my W is going to need to be narrower. When I know I'm going to be working with vectors in the end, I don't worry about making my sketch too perfect. It's far easier to correct mistakes on the computer than with further drawing!

Pen Tool Basics

Before we start vectorizing our type, we need to go over a few basics of the pen tool. With the pen tool selected, click on artboard to create paths with straight segments. Create a point and hit Shift as you click to create your next point, to align the two points exactly to create a straight line. If you do this for all 4 points of a rectangle, all of your points will line up perfectly (this is especially useful for thick crossbars and straight down strokes).


Click and drag to create paths with Bezier curves (the handlebars that stick out on either side of a point). If you hold shift while you click and drag, your handles will maintain a 0, 45 or 90 degree angle. Always drag your mouse in the direction of the next point you'll create.


Draw Your Skeleton

Just like when I'm sketching, I find it easier to build my vector piece with layers rather than trying to get it all in one shape. So we start again with the skeleton!


Select the pen tool, and make sure it's set to a 1 pt. stroke with no fill. Create a line down the center of the stem of your D by clicking to create an anchor point at the top, and hitting shift as you click to create a second anchor point at the bottom. This will create a perfectly straight line.

The bowl of the D is a bit trickier - it's made up of 5 anchor points.

  • Anchor point 1: Click to create a point at the terminal (the very end) of the top serif of the D. Don't drag your mouse here - no need for this to be a curved point.

  • Anchor point 2: Holding shift so your line is straight, click to create a point at the beginning of the bowl of the D. Continue to hold shift, and drag your mouse to the right to create a curved point with horizontal handlebars.

  • Anchor point 3: Click again toward the middle of the bowl of the D, hold shift (after you click!), and drag your mouse downward to create an anchor point with vertical handlebars.

  • Anchor point 4: Create a point at the end of the curve of the D, lining it up as closely as possible to the same point at the top of the D. Hold shift, and drag your mouse to the left to create a curve with horizontal handlebars.

  • Anchor point 5: Click to create an anchor point at the end of the bottom serif of the D to complete the line.

Then, using the Direct Selecttool (the white arrow), go back and adjust any handlebars as needed to create a smooth curve.  Let's pause for a moment to talk about proper handlebar protocol. Take a look at the handlebars above - they demonstrate a few key rules for creating handlebars that are easy to tweak and evenly share the work of creating the perfect curve.

  • Don't cross the streams. (this is possibly my favorite tip I've ever learned from following Jessica Hische - this concept didn't really stick with me until I heard her phrase it that way). If you draw imaginary lines continuing each handle bar to infinity, none of them should be long enough that they cross into the other's paths. They cross into each other's paths when you give one way too much work to do creating the curve. Following this rule will ensure you're distributing the workload of creating the curve evenly onto each anchor point.

  • Stick with horizontal and vertical handlebars. If you're just starting out, it's great that you're learning this now. You don't have any bad habits to break! Committing to horizontal and vertical beziers simplifies where you place your anchor points - your options are limited, because now, to get your curve along the outermost edge, you have to place your points at the outermost points of the curve! It makes narrowing down where your points are going much, much easier, and it also reduces the total number of anchor points you'll have, which makes tweaking the piece easier. I became much less overwhelmed with plotting anchor points once I committed to only using horizontal and vertical handlebars.

Using these same techniques, draw out the rest of your skeleton. The bowl of the R is similar to the bowl of the D - the trickiest part of this letter is the leg, because it's so curvy. You'll create this with four anchor points: a horizontal handlebar at the top of the curve, a vertical handlebar in the middle, a horizontal one at the bottom, and a plain old corner anchor point at the very tip of the leg. A and W are very straightforward (pun intended) - just an anchor point at the end of each line, and short straight lines to create all of your serifs.


Create your Body

To create the thicker downstrokes of our letters, we're going to use the pen tool to create filled shapes rather than strokes. I like to set my opacity down to 80% or so, so I can still see the skeleton underneath as I tweak the body.


Creating the straight downstrokes is the easiest part. Using the pen tool, click to create the first corner point of the rectangle. Then, holding shift, click to create the other 3 corner points, and then click your initial anchor point. This will create a perfectly straight rectangle (and bonus, you can copy and paste this to quickly add the downstroke for the stem of your R)!

To create the thicker downstroke for the bowl of your D, you're going to need to create a sort of crescent moon shape. This is comprised of 8 total anchor points:

  • Anchor point 1: Start by making an anchor point along the stroke of your skeleton.

  • Anchor point 2: Create a curved anchor point just a little bit away from it, holding shift and dragging your mouse a bit to the right.

  • Anchor point 3: You want your skeleton stroke to be along the center of your final downstroke, so create an anchor point a bit outside of that stroke to create the outermost part of your bowl. Holding shift, drag your mouse down to create the vertical handlebars.

  • Anchor point 4: Create a horizontal handlebar curve at the bottom of the curve of the bowl.

  • Anchor point 5: Make a corner anchor point inside the stroke of the skeleton.

  • Anchor point 6: Make a curved anchor point just a little bit away from the corner point, holding shift and dragging your mouse a bit to the right to create the beginning of the inside of the bowl stroke.

  • Anchor point 7: Create an anchor point inside your skeleton stroke, to create the innermost curve of your bowl. Holding shift, drag your mouse up to create the vertical handlebars.

  • Anchor point 8: Create a curved anchor point at the top of the inner curve of the bowl, dragging your mouse a big to the left to create the horizontal handlebars.

Now, we're right back where we started - to complete the shape, click your first anchor point again.

Following the same pattern, create the inside edge of the downstroke. Here's what your final points should look like:


Just like the skeleton, the bowl of the R is constructed identically to the bowl of the D - just shorter. The leg of the R will follow the same anchor placement of the skeleton, and your final shape should look like this, with 8 total anchor points:


To create the diagonal strokes of the A and W, I like to copy and paste the straight downstroke from earlier. Using the Direct Select tool, you can select just to top 2 points of the stroke and nudge them to the left to create the angle you need. For the A, you'll need to use the Add Anchor Point tool (in your toolbar, click and hold the pen tool, and select the pen tool with the + sign from the dropdown that pops up) to add an additional anchor point, so you can create the triangle edge at the top.


When you have all of your downstrokes created, this is what your lettering should look like:

From here, it's easy to make further edits. I knew my W was a little too wide, so I moved my shapes around a bit to make the overall footprint of the letter narrower. This is a big benefit of building your letters with layers of shapes - it's easy to make small tweaks. I also adjusted the kerning a bit by selecting all of the shapes making up an entire letter and nudging them around as a group. If you want to group the shapes that make up each letter, select them all and hit Ctrl + G. I don't like to actually join my shapes, as this raw, multi-layered version is much easier to tweak down the road. For example, you can easily select your just the skeleton and make the hairlines of your letters thicker or thinner, all with a couple of clicks.


And voila! Now you have infinitely scaleable vector lettering! It might be a little difficult to get the hang of at first, but with practice, it becomes second nature. What do you have the hardest time with when using the pen tool?

How to Digitize Lettering in Photoshop

Photoshop is easily my favorite method for digitizing my hand lettering. It's quick compared to other methods, and it maintains all of the character (and slight imperfections) of your original drawing. You won't end up with a vector image (an image based on paths rather than pixels, which can be scaled infinitely without ever looking pixelated!), so it's not a viable option if you need to make a small drawing very large. But it works wonderfully when your original drawing is close to the final size you need. So, today we'll be looking at how to digitize through Photoshop. To start, grab your finished, clean, inked drawing. If you have a couple of stray ink spots or minor imperfections you aren't happy with, that's OK - you can clean them up digitally! I scan my drawings in at 600 dpi. I find this method works best with a scan rather than a photo, as a photo just isn't going to be high res enough.

Scan Your Image & Clean It Up


If you scan in a black and white drawing using the File > Importoption, it's probably going to scan in as a bitmap. Go to Image > Mode > Grayscale... and convert the image before you do anything. You're going to be using the Magic Wand in a few minutes, and it doesn't work with bitmap files. Leave the size ratio as 1. After Grayscale, you can convert the image to RGB (for web) or CMYK (for print), so you can add some color in a bit!


Next, I go in and erase any stray ink, dust, or other specks that I don't want in my final piece. I also use the Brushtool to fill in any spots within the letters I might have missed, and crop the piece to the size I want.

Once you're happy with the cleanliness of your piece, right click your Background layer in the Layers panel on the right hand side of Photoshop, and select "Layer from Background." It should now be called Layer 0. You should get in the habit of naming your layers appropriately, but I am admittedly horrible about this.

Isolate Your Lettering


Then use the Magic Wandtool to select all of the white spaces outside of your lettering. You can select the largest piece of your background, right click, and click "Similar" - this will select all of the other white spaces in the drawing. Then press delete. Now you have isolated your lettering!

Caveat: If you haven't done a thorough job filling in any white spots inside the fill of your letters, using the "Similar" feature will select them too. The other option is to just manually Shift+Click with the Magic Wand on all of the individual white areas (like counters and the inside of any flourishes) you want to delete.


Once you've isolated your text, hit Ctrl + Shift + N to create a new layer. Drag this layer in the Layers panel so that it's under your lettering layer, and make the background whatever color you want. I'm sticking with white for now.

Select the layer with your lettering, and click the "Lock Transparent Pixels" box in the layer panel. This locks all of the pixels on the layer, so any editing you do now will not affect the structure of your lettering - just the color or effects on it. Transparent pixels will remain transparent, no matter how many times you click on the transparent area with a brush or paint bucket.

Add Some Style!


Select the color you want your final lettering to be, and sweep the brush tool across all of your lettering - only your lettering should be affected by this! I chose white for my letters, and changed my background to a deep red using the Paint Bucket, for a nice holiday color palette.


Now it's time to add any additional effects you like. I like to add a little drop shadow behind my text, to give it a little extra depth. Duplicate your lettering layer (right click on the layer in the Layers panel, and click "Duplicate Layer") and drag it so it's below your original lettering layer. Nudge the duplicate lettering a bit down and to the left using your arrow keys, make sure Lock Transparent Pixels is selected, and choose a color a bit darker than your background layer. Use the brush tool to color all of the duplicate layer of lettering that color, and voila - a simple drop shadow! If it's a little too dark, you can drop the opacity of the layer a bit.


That's it. Seriously. If you want to explore adding textures to some of your layers, now's the time, but you have a fully digitized, ready-for-print piece!


You can still see every imperfect line or rough edge from my original drawing, and that's why I love about this digitization method. Sometimes, a piece calls for the more perfect edges or a vector file, like if you're hand lettering a custom logo, but generally, I want the organic, hand-drawn look for my work. All of the prints in my Etsy shop are prepared this way.

Got any questions, or additional Photoshop tips I missed?