Saturday, December 19, 2009

Penga's Quick and Dirty Line Art Tutorial

Ever have a hankering to make professional and fully custom motifs, designs, monograms, etc., all on your own? You too can create pretty, crispy lines like the ones floating around on my save-the-dates, program comics, and the pictures I've done for you, dear readers. Yes, I know you want to. Let's walk through it together!

Tools: I'll be using Adobe Photoshop CS2, but the method is more or less similar for other versions. You'll need a starting picture to vector over, some good music to jam to and your mouse-clicking hand. (Note: The following method is only one of many to create decent line-art. For me, this is one of the simpler and faster methods for PS. I understand there are far easier ways to do this in Illustrator, but unfortunately I don't have Illustrator ($$$$)! )

1) Open up the graphic you want to trace in photoshop. It can be a picture of a flower you like, someone's head, a drawing, whatever! I'll use a photo of a peony I found on wikipedia, and a sketch of one of my custom mons for our example. It doesn't matter what the image quality looks like at this point, just pull something up. (Note: click the images to make them larger!)

2)Now, in order to get a nice, clear crispy looking image, we'll want to use a high resolution. Go to Image -> Image Size, and use a big number. Typically, I'll use 300 pixels per inch for simple images, but if I'm really worried about quality, I'll up it to 600. Keep in mind that the higher resolution you use, the larger the file size will be, so be careful if you have computer memory limitations. After you change your resolution, your image may appear larger. No worries though, just zoom out until it's a normal looking size again.

3)Next, let's set up our working surface. If your "layers" window is not already visible on your screen, go to Windows -> Layers to pop it up. Now make a copy of your background image by right clicking the "Background" layer and copying it. Delete the original layer that has the symbol of a lock on it. We'll want to modify this image, so we don't want it locked.

4)Now let's pretend we're sticking a piece of tracing paper over the picture. Slide the opacity bar over to lighten your picture (mine is set to 50% in the image below). This will make it easier to see the new lines you're going to draw on top. (And if your pic is black and white - go to Image -> Adjustments -> Color Balance and change the color to something else. That way you can see your black lines when you trace over them. )

Once you change your opacity you'll notice that you can see through the image. You may want to add a blank white layer underneath the image layer for better visibility. Just use Layer -> New -> Layer to add another layer.

5)Add a new layer on top of the picture. Click on it to make sure the little paintbrush icon is highlighted. That means you're working on that layer. You don't want to end up tracing on top of your original image, since you won't be able to seperate the lines that way.

6)Now it's time to pick what kind of pen you'd like to trace with. You can play around with this until you find something you like, which can be fun since there's so many options (you can even make your own!). For now, I'll use a default pen setting ("Permanent Marker Medium Tip"). I changed the pen diameter to 5 pixels instead of 32, since I want fairly narrow lines.

7)Double check that you're still on the new empty tracing layer and then click the pen/vector tool. It looks like this:

8)Click first where you'd like to start your line, and click again to draw a segment. You can continue doing this for as many segments as you like.

If you click and hold, you can bend the line by moving your mouse around. That's how you get those clean curves.

Now, if your last segment was a curve, and you don't want to continue that curve, press and hold the "alt" button down and click the last point you made. This will allow you to continue making rounded segments as you please.

9)Once you're done drawing your segmented line, right click and pick "stroke path".

Then press "OK"

10) Now you should have your line. Right click the mouse again and say "delete path". The line is now complete!

11)If you want tapered ends, click "simulate pressure" button after going to "stroke path".

12) If you'd like to fill in a block of area instead of making a line, click "fill path" during step 9 instead of "stroke path".

8) Continue stroking lines and filling until you're finished!

9) Once done, delete or hide the starting background/image layer. You can hide a layer by clicking the little "eye" in the the layer window.

You can now save and use these images however you like. I resized mine down to a smaller pixel size (not smaller pixel per inch size!) and saved as a .jpeg.

Easy no? Now I have a pretty peony to stick on some wedding stationery of some sort. :)

Show me what you can do! Or share your own tips and tricks if you're already a pro!


  1. That's a terrific tutorial, I think I'll try this over my Christmas holiday! :o)

  2. O my god this is an amazing tutorial! I downloaded the Illustrator free 30 trial (I'm urging my boss to let me get the entire adobe suite, but I can't really do that unless I know a little bit more about adobe.) and I'm excited to use it for some wedding projects!
    Your computer skills are amazing!

  3. Definitely let me know if this works out for you! Illustrator has something a little different, a pen tool, where you can draw straight on the paper and it smooths the lines out into a vector as you draw (much faster than clicking around the menus, but requires more control). I haven't actually used it, but it sounds pretty awesome.

  4. What a great tutorial! I definitely want to try to see if I can do something like this now. :)

  5. i'm not even going to pretend that i'm going to try this, because i get dizzy reading it, but i am so so impressed with your skills!