Creating a Print-Ready File (Part One)

 

This post is all about some of the real work behind the "fun" stuff. We're going to get technical today, friends. Before any lovely card or print you find hits the shelves, someone has spent hours behind a computer transforming it from a painting to a digital, print-ready file. And if you own your own stationery business and have no employees, that person is you.

Though I don't love this part of the process quite as much as the design and painting stages, I actually really enjoy getting my files ready for print. There's something about seeing them turn into a real product that's very satisfying. There's not one right way to do this, and I'm sure Google can give you an infinite array of possibilities, but this is what has worked for me. 

So, here we go! We're going to walk through how to turn the image on the left into the image on the right.

Raw file straight from the scanner.

Raw file straight from the scanner.

Edited, print-ready file.

Edited, print-ready file.

STEP ONE | SCANNING
If you are turning a hand-painted or drawn image into a digital file, the first step is to scan in the image. Some artists like to use a camera and take a photograph of it instead, but I have found that a scanner is nice because it makes the lighting on your image perfectly even. 

I use a little desktop scanner called an Epson Perfection V600 Photo scanner and have been very happy it. The one downside is that, for larger paintings, I'm unable to scan the entire image at one time due to the size of the scanner, and have to piece together multiple scans. Not a huge problem, but not ideal.  

The resolution of the image can be adjusted from very low to very high. Resolution is measured in dots per inch (dpi). The higher the resolution, the larger and more detailed your file will be. I typically scan at about 1200dpi (very high) to get maximum detail. 

STEP TWO | ADJUSTING WHITE BALANCE AND LEVELS
As you can see in the images above, the freshly-scanned image (on the left), is a bit washed out, and the background is the color of the paper I painted on, sort of a soft white. The first thing I do when I bring the scanned image into Photoshop is to adjust the white balance. This means that I set the background color to a perfect white. Then, I work with the levels to get the colors brighter and closer to the original painting. I'll explain below.

Curves Tool (Image>Adjustments>Curves)

  • To adjust the white balance, open up the Curves tool.
  • In the Curves window, click on the eye dropper that is white at the bottom.
  • With the eye dropper, select an area in the background of your painting that you want to become perfectly white by clicking on it (in my case, it was the paper). That will set the white balance for the entire image.

Levels Tool (Image>Adjustments>Levels)

  • To adjust your contrast and color balance, open up the Levels tool.
  • Move the slider back and forth to adjust the image. You'll see three tabs on the slider, dark, medium, and light. These tabs individually control the dark, medium, and light tones of your image. 
  • I typically adjust the middle slider the most, and then bump up the dark tones a bit.

STEP THREE | CLEANING UP THE IMAGE
Once you are zoomed in close on your image, you'll notice that there may be quite a few "imperfections" that were not visible to the naked eye. The final look I aim for is very clean and polished, so I like to take some time to remove everything I can, from the paper texture to stray bits of paint.  

Not cleaned up yet.

Not cleaned up yet.

Bright and shiny.

Bright and shiny.

It may be a little bit hard to tell, but if you look closely at the images above, you'll notice some paint and random dots in the image on the left. Here are the steps I took to clean things up:

  1. Use the Magic Wand tool (with the "contiguous" box unchecked) to select the background area.
  2. With that area selected, create a new layer above your image layer and fill it in with white using the paint bucket tool (that way you're not touching your original file). 
  3. That step gets rid of the main stuff, but then I like to go in with the round Brush tool (still on that new layer you created), and brush out any little paint blobs or other random bits.
  4. If you want to clean up any area where there is color below, instead of using the Brush tool, you would use the Clone Stamp (you can learn more about that tool here). 

I'm not gonna to lie, this step is probably the most tedious, and really just depends on how much of a perfectionist you are. Sometimes it helps to do a test print before cleaning up to see what is actually visible after it's been printed. 


Well, that's where I'm going to leave things for today. Next week I'll get into adding the text and formatting the image. Stay tuned!