Tools + How-Tos

The Basic Steps to Digitizing Your Art (and Why It’s Important!)

January 5, 2021

I'm JULIET!

I'm a full-time artist and online educator. You can find my watercolor designs on products all around the globe. This blog is where I share all of my latest art business tips for you!

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Creative Clarity is a powerful mini-course designed to get your art biz started with clarity and intention.

Today I’m going to show you a few of the simple steps I take to scan, clean up, and remove the paper backgrounds from my painted artwork using Adobe Photoshop.

Note that if you would like to dive deeper into this technique, I have a Skillshare class here showing you my exact process for making patterns out of my artwork using Photoshop! This can be applied to any medium you use, not just watercolor.  

Before I show you my 3 simple steps for cleaning up and digitizing your artwork, let’s talk a little bit about what you would want to transfer your artwork to the computer! 

In most cases, your artwork needs to be digitized if you plan to monetize it. 

Even if you are just selling original artwork directly to customers, I highly recommend you digitize your work anyway! Here are a few reasons why:

• You may want to make prints or other products of the artwork later.
• You may license the image of the artwork later.
• It’s good practice to have an archive of your work on hand in case you ever need it.

Now, your paintings may be too large to scan in on a typical scanner bed. In that case, I recommend bringing your artwork to a photographer and having them create high quality images for you (typically costs about $50/painting). Or, you can learn to do this yourself! For smaller artwork, you can scan it in one piece or multiple sections. 
Let’s get started! 

Step 1: Scan in Your Artwork

First, scan in your artwork. I use an Epson Perfection V39 (this is my affiliate link).

I like to scan my artwork in at minimum 600 DPI and as a TIF file. Which DPI I choose depends on the size of the original artwork and how large I anticipate blowing it up. But in general, I find 600 DPI to work in most cases. 


If your art is larger than your scanner bed (letter size), you can scan in pieces and then use Photoshop’s Photomerge Tool. It’s under File > Automate > Photomerge (see below). From there, you simply select the files you would like to merge. Note: I find it works better if you make sure they are already saved in the correct/same orientation. 

Step 2: Remove the Paper Background

If your art doesn’t have a white paper background you want to remove, you can skip this step! 


Next up, under Adjustments -> Levels use the White Point Eyedropper Tool (circled below) and select anywhere on the white paper background. If you’re using cold pressed watercolor paper (less smooth than hot press), like I am here, it may take some clicking around to get a spot that looks good for a selection. 

Once you have a good spot, make your selection and then hit Delete to delete the background!
Note: If you have lighter areas of your painting, make sure you are not deleting those sections as well. In my Skillshare class (within Lesson 5) you can watch a detailed tutorial of how I deal with this. 

Once the paper is gone, I like to then add a new white fill background layer so I can see what I’m doing from here on out. 

Step 3: Clean Up and Color Correct Your Artwork

Finally, we’re going to erase any imperfections leftover, like you see below, with the Eraser Tool. If the imperfections are actually on the art itself, and not the background, I use the Spot Healing Tool for a quick fix. 

Finally, you may need to color correct your artwork to more closely match the original. Usually this involves upping the Saturation levels slightly, which are found under Adjustments. So that’s what I did here!

I hope this helps you get started with digitizing your art, or maybe you learned about a new little trick! There are plenty of individual processes out there, so if you’ve found something different that works better for you and your particular art, go for it. 

Happy digitizing! 

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  1. Samina says:

    Thankx it was good to know about removing the background with the white point dropper in Levels – and surprised I have never come across this before! Mostly it is the magic wand that is used and am happy to I read this.

  2. PAMELA says:

    Thanks so much, your tips are invaluable! XX

  3. Renate Schliesmann says:

    Hi Juliet,
    Enjoy your informative articles and also would like to make prints from my artwork but the technical side is still very new to me. I don’t quite understand why you remove the white background only to add it again. Why remove the background at all since it is part of your artwork? Thank you in advance for your explanation.
    Renate

    • Juliet Meeks says:

      Renate,

      Removing the background is somewhat of a personal choice, but in most cases when you’re making art prints, removing the original paper texture will make for a much cleaner print/image. It can look strange if paper texture is printed on top of actual paper.

      With images that don’t have negative white space like in this example, removing the background texture is usually unavoidable and that’s normal and ok.

      Another reason is, especially if you use the artwork in a pattern, you may want to change the background color! Having the option makes the process so much easier.

  4. Tracy says:

    Juliet,
    This is so helpful! Thank you so much! I’ve been wanting to do this! You have shown me just what I need to get started! I look forward to reading more of your emails!
    Tracy

  5. Gayla says:

    Thank you, Juliet. Do you generally prefer to use Photoshop over Illustrator?

    • Juliet Meeks says:

      Gayla,

      Yes – I usually use Photoshop over Illustrator! But that’s because my art is all hand-painted and I don’t vectorize it. It’s really up to your personal process and preference. 🙂

  6. Mary Chapman says:

    Hi Juliet,

    Thank you very much ! Love the emails.

    Mary

  7. Josie says:

    Thank you for this, so helpful!

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