3 Methods to go from sketch to illustration


In life, there is always a process. A way to get from one phase of development to another. Some processes can only be done one way, and others multiple ways to achieve the same result.

You have some gorgeous sketches ready to be digitized. And, now that you have all your design ideas on paper, you need to bring them in digitally so you can create illustrations based on your sketches. I am going to give you 3 ways you can easily do this, and show you the process I use myself when bringing in my sketches.

Method 1 | Scan Your Sketches

Scanning in sketches is my method of choice. I find scanning gives more control over the finished artwork. I also want to point out the method you choose can be very dependent on your final project. Since most of the work I do currently is creating patterns and individual illustration elements, the majority of the time I illustrate each element by hand in Adobe Illustrator, using my sketches as an outline. 

Scan in your Sketches

What you will need:

  • Good quality scanner
  • Your finished sketches inked in black ink (with pencil marks erased)
  • Computer & Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator 

Scan your sketches into Adobe Photoshop at 300dpi (dots per inch), for a high quality scan.


Next, you want to adjust the Brightness/Contrast of your scan to get a nice crisp and clean image. You can save your file as a jpg or png, and bring it into Adobe Illustrator that way, or, you could Copy and Paste the image right into Illustrator using Control + C or Command + C for Mac.

Now your file will be ready to bring into Adobe Illustrator, and you can use your sketches as a template to create your illustrations, or vectorize them.

Vectorizing a Scan

Instead of creating elements by hand, you can also turn your sketches into vectors with the help of the Live Trace tool in Adobe Illustrator. I use this tool for elements that I do not want to create by hand, and for vectorizing hand lettering.

Watch this video tutorial I created on how to Digitize Hand Lettering and Artwork. I will be adding more tutorials to my YouTube Channel in the future. You can also read my guest post on Mara Burkes blog, that goes over this step by step.

Method 2 | Snap a Photograph

As a blogger, I am always taking pictures, and you can definitely use your smart phone camera or digital camera to take a really good photographs of your sketches. Make sure, when you take the picture, that it is flat and not skewed in any way. Also, you will want to crop to just the paper sketches and eliminate any backgrounds in the image. Then, use your phone or Adobe Photoshop to brighten and adjust the image. 

Once you have the photograph, you can use it as an outline for the finished artwork, or use Live Trace if you have a great, perfectly aligned photograph. This process works if you do not have a scanner. Though, I do not recommend this process for large projects. It is just a quick way to skip the scanning step for a demonstration or small project.

Method 3 | Use Adobe Capture CC

I really love the Adobe Capture app for Creative Cloud. It is available for iPhone and Android phones, and syncs with your creative cloud libraries. 


Here is a screenshot of some textures I created using the app with my iphone.

It is like having a mobile Live Trace tool anywhere. Adobe Capture CC is a very powerful tool, and perfect for creating vectors out of anything in the world around you. Using this tool eliminates scanning, and vectorizing within Adobe Illustrator. But, as great as this tool is for what I do, I do not use it often. Though I plan to play around with it more in the future. What I do love using the Adobe Capture CC app for is for capturing textures.

This tool is so much fun to use. If you have never used it before, go check it out and play around with it.

A note on Adobe Capture CC - you must have a creative cloud account to access the finished vectors. So, if you are not using creative cloud, you will need to upgrade or sign up for a creative cloud account to fully use this tool and access the vectors in your libraries.

Which method will you use to bring in your work? What method have you used before?