How to Convert Your Pen/Pencil Drawings into Vectors Using Illustrator

The first step of course is to make loads and loads of drawings. Get into the habit of drawing daily, and then once you’ve found that perfect sketch. Take it and scan it (preferable) or take a photo of it. I always go for the highest res scan available, which on my scanner is 600dps.

Open the image in Photoshop first.

Image —> Adjustments —–> Levels

Play with the shadows as well as the highlights and make the background as white as possible, the lines as dark as possible. This is done by adjusting the black and the white cursors. Make sure preview is enabled and basically just look at your drawing change as you adjust the levels.

Image —-> Adjustments ——–> Contrast

Turn up the contrast and make your lines black. Take down the brightness a bit if you can, to make the lines even darker.

Cool, so now we have a decent black and white image ready for Illustrator. Copy and paste the image from Photoshop, and paste it into Illustrator.

Once in illustrator. Find the button “Live Trace” (as indicated in the image below in the top let corner) and click on the the dropdown. You can alternatively select Object —-> Live Trace —> Tracing Options


Make sure both Strokes as well as Fills are checked under Trace Settings. Then click Trace.

This step can be a bit subjective, so play around with the settings until the desired effect is achieved. This may vary greatly with different images so practice, and use Ctrl-Z frequently to undo any mistakes.

Now that you’ve got your image vectorized. You want to go to Object —–> Expand . This turns all of your stroked, and anchor points into editable vectors.

By Pushing “K” you will activate the Live Paint Bucket tool in Illustrator. Use the paint bucket to fill certain areas just as you would do in photoshop.

I also used the pencil tool to draw in an extra arm, and close off areas as the paint bucket tool will only work in areas which are completely closed off on all sides.

You can now scale the image up, since most websites which print tshirts and other items want to have an image that is at least 3100px wide (This is for sites like Society6 and RedBubble) . Download the template from these sites to ensure you are creating your image for the right size template.  You can change the scale by going to Object —-> Transform —-> Scale

Now copy and paste the image back into photoshop, just as pixels. Make the background layer transparent.

Select the white background with the magic wand tool and delete it. You don’t want to have a big white square around your image if it is going to be printed on a shirt.

Now upload the image to the website of your choice for printing tshirts according to the specifications and size which is required. For Society6 it is currently 3300px s 5100px, it is important not to resize your image at this point, unless you are making the image smaller to fit. Never resize an image to be larger in photoshop as it will become pixelated.

Now your image is ready, and available with a variety of background colors on both tshirts, hoodies, tote bags, and pillows.