How To Turn Drawings Into Graphics Using Illustrator

So you have a drawing or sketch that you want to turn into a graphic in Illustrator. Now I’m assuming you want to convert this graphic into what is called a vector graphic. A vector graphic is made up of several points and based on mathematical expression. All the shapes you build using Illustrator are vectors.



The great thing about vector graphics is that you can rearrange/edit points to alter the graphic. So if you want to change qualities of your graphic on the computer, you can do so.
Vectors are also scalable, meaning you can blow it up to any size and it won’t lose quality. Usually when you send something to the printers or are designing a logo, it needs to be in vector format so it can be resized without getting pixelated.          

A few things to keep in mind when drawing:

  1. Make sure to use a dark pen on white paper. Black Sharpie markers or Micron Ink pens work very well.
  2. Smaller/faint lines may get lost. So if you’re going to do detailed work such as crosshatching, make sure to draw well defined lines.
  3. You can always add and manipulate things in Illustrator so you don’t have to spend too much time perfecting your drawing.

Turn Drawings Into Graphics - Scanning

Once you have your drawing, scan or take a picture of it and open it in Illustrator. The quality of the scan/picture will determine how well your graphic comes through, so make sure to avoid any shadows. The scans/images with the most contrast between the pen and paper will turn out the best. *Quick tip – More recently I’ve started taking pictures of my drawings and applying a black and white filter using my iphone. From there I open that picture on my computer. This is great, because it’s quick, mobile, and provides you with a nicely contrasted image.

Turn Drawings Into Graphics - Image Trace

Select the scan/image. In the top toolbar, select “Image Trace”. The arrow next to the “Image Trace” button has some different options on the effect applied, however, I find that the default option works the best.

Turn Drawings Into Graphics - Expand Graphic

As you can see in the image below, not all of my details came through after selecting the Image Trace tool. This graphic will do, but keep in mind that small details are hard to turn into vectors. Therefore, keep your drawings relatively simple.   Once you select “Image Trace” the image will turn black and white. Now where the “Image Trace” button used to be, there should be a button labeled “Expand”. With the image still selected, click “Expand”.

Take Care of Details

Now the drawing is converted into a vector. There is probably an outline of the paper which you want to get rid of. The whole graphic is grouped so click on the paper outline several times until it’s selected. Simply push “delete” on your keyboard and voila – paper’s gone.
You may want to get rid of certain portions of the graphic. For example, if you want to just keep the outlines of your drawing with no fills, you will want to get rid of all the white sections of your graphic. To do this select a white portion of your graphic and go to “Select” => “Same” => “Fill Color”.  Simply push “delete” on your keyboard and voila – white vectors are gone.
Rather than deleting the white you can also change the colors of these fills as well. You can also use the “Direct Selection Tool” to select points of the graphic and rearrange them. This is nice for editing small details that may have gotten skewed in the image tracing process.
What you do with the graphic from here is your choice! Read some of the tutorials below to learn some other things you can do with vectors.