I love the look of hand lettering so much, and it seems to be really popular lately in the graphic design world, making appearances in website layouts, event invitations, posters, advertisements, and more! Maybe you’re really skilled at hand-lettering (I envy you!) or have an idea for a piece that utilizes it, but aren’t sure how to make it digital to post to places like Instagram, Pinterest, or to use in other projects? I’m going to share the method I use to not only digitize your hand-written pieces, but also make them much more versatile so that they can be used in a multitude of projects! Once you get the hang of it, this method can be used for images as well, not just lettering!
I use Adobe Illustrator for this process. The reason is because Illustrator is a vector-based program. That just means that illustrator works with shapes created by algorithms, rather than individual pixels, like Photoshop. Because of this, you can resize, reshape, recolour, and just generally have MUCH more control with how you edit your text in the end! You can also resize it as much as you like, and not have it become grainy or pixellated.
The first step is easy: create something! I decided to go simple for the purposes of this tutorial, and just wrote out the word “love” in some simple cursive. I used a brush pen, but you can use any tool you want!
Next, scan your image into your computer. If you don’t have a scanner, you can just take a high-quality photo of the image instead. Just make sure that you have proper lighting and there aren’t too many shadows! This method works best when there is as much white space around the image as possible. Once you have your image scanned and ready, open it up in Illustrator and crop away any excess blank space as necessary.
Now you’ll want to make sure that your image is selected. Do this using the selection tool (V) which is the little arrow at the top of the left-hand toolbar.
Once you have your image selected, in the drop down menus above, go to Object > Image Trace > Make and Expand. This will automatically turn your high-resolution scanned photo into a digital vector-based shape. It may look a little choppy at this stage. Don’t worry, we’re going to fix that!
This stage is why it is so important to have as much difference between the background negative space and your actual image as possible. If there are any other dark spots in the image, Illustrator may trace those areas as well, or you will get a much less accurate version of your image once it is traced!
Now, right-click on your image and select Ungroup. This will detach all the different shapes from each other, allowing you to move them around separately. At this stage, you can delete your white background, isolating just your text. Make sure that you ONLY have your background selected when you do this, however. Otherwise you will delete everything! You can do this by using the Direct Selection Tool (A) and just pressing Delete once it is isolated. Make sure to also delete any background from between letters, like the middle of the O, since those areas are counted as individual shapes as well!
At this stage, we can clean up our text as much or as little as we would like, to make it look more even and less choppy. There are several ways to do this. I like to first go in manually with the Pencil Tool (N) and literally just redraw the edges (make sure your text is selected first!). I will also directly edit the anchor points around the text shape themselves, or delete some if I think that will smooth things out a bit. This part of the process is the most time-consuming, especially if you’re a perfectionist, like me! But it really makes a difference in the end!
There is also a handy little option to automate this process. In the drop down menus, go to Object > Path > Simplify. This will smooth out any rough edges automatically, but you may have to go in manually and alter certain spots you don’t like!
Repeat this step until you are happy with your result! Here is how mine turned out!
Now you can add colour, resize, reshape, or do anything else you would like to your text! You can also save it as an image and use it in other programs like Photoshop, to incorporate in other projects!