View Full Version : Post-production tips: make art look good online!

07-11-2009, 03:30 AM
It was suggested I post some tips about this topic here. I warn you, I have no experience writing this sort of tutorial and my writing is rusty. I tend to ramble on, digress, and...wait...what's that other word..? Anyway, I'm not an expert but I do have some experience with Photoshop type programs, and I'll tell you how I do things in the hope it will be helpful to some people! A lot of this stuff will be very basic knowledge to some of you, and some of it may not be explained as well as you'd like. I apologize either way.

This tutorial is primarily directed at black and white pencil drawings but may be quite helpful for other mediums.

The problem I often see online is this: a perfectly nice drawing has been scanned or photographed, and it looks flat, boring, and grey. A close inspection may reveal that it is indeed a very well drawn piece of art, but since the colours/shades weren't adjusted and corrected after being put into the computer, the lines lack definition or any sort of contrast. The picture does not stand out. If it's a thumbnail people may pass over your art without a second glance.

All that time spent hovering over the paper making it into the masterpiece you're proud of - it's worth spending a little time to help others enjoy it too!

If you can take perfect photos with your camera, or if you have an amazing scanner, you may not have this problem. If you already know how to colour-correct pictures on the computer, good for you! Please, share your tips in this thread!

Pretty good with your computer? Can't be bothered to read all this? The short version is at the bottom!

I can't take good pictures, and I don't have an expensive scanner. But I do have practice with photo-editing software. I'll tell you how I go from paper to attractive .JPG.

Start with the best quality scan/photo you can get!

The computer can't work miracles (not yet). Other people can explain better how to capture your masterpiece in digital form. A scanner is preferable, but you can get by with a photo too, provided you have lots of light and a tripod to keep the camera perfectly still.

When you scan, make it high-resolution. I use 800DPI - that seems to work fine. Scanners vary, as do their features. Play around! See what works best. Personally, I don't mess with the contrast settings, because I'll be doing all that with my photo-editing software.

So once you have your scan or photo (hereafter called just the scan), it might look something like this:


It may look better. It may look worse. I admit that I faded this one on purpose for the sake of a better example (my scanner actually did a decent job with this drawing). The point is, unless you're very lucky, it can, and should, improve!

The important thing at this point is that the scan's pixel quality is decent. How far can you zoom in before it looks grainy and terrible? Zoom in or out to the size you'll want the drawing to appear online - does it look okay? If so, time to proceed to the...

Photo-editing software

If you have Photoshop, great! There are many photo-editing programs available and luckily the stuff I'll be doing should be possible in all of them.

But you don't have to pay for one. I use GIMP, (http://www.gimp.org/) a completely free, cross-platform software that is easy to download and use. It's full of features. I don't foresee needing Photoshop as long as I have GIMP. GIMP is fun to play around in and make digital art with! But we'll be using it for some basic fuctions. Hereafter I'll use instructions for GIMP and leave you to figure out the equivilent steps in other programs (sorry, I don't have others to try). It shouldn't be too different.

GIMP (http://www.gimp.org/)

Open the scan in GIMP. First off you may want to crop the scan to the desired size and shape (Rectanlge Select Tool, then Image>Crop to Selection).

If this is a B&W pencil drawing, I suggest you convert the file to greyscale (scans and photos often have a certain hue to them). This is personal preference, you may like a bit of colour.

Image > Mode > Greyscale.

Contrast and Brightness

This is the most important thing to do.

There are two (or more) ways of adjusting these quick and easy settings.

Colors > Brightness-Contrast


Colors > Curves

The first option gives you two slider bars, the Curves dialogue gives you a more intuitive way of adjusting both settings at once. Again, play around! Some combination of brightness and contrast will likely look better than the original scan did.

That may be good enough for you. Or you can try out the other colour/value settings until you're tired/have found the best combination. Once more I say: play around!


An improvement?

You might want to stop right here! It really can be that easy. But I have a few extra tips I'd like to share.

First: save your drawing! You can't be too careful and you wouldn't want to do it all over again.

The Dodge/Burn brush

Found on the tool sidebar, the dodge/burn brush will either darken or lighten areas of your drawing - but it's more selective. I expect Photoshop has something similar. You can wield it like a paintbrush to bring out smaller details. You can adjust the size and shape of the brush as well as the opacity and exposure. Select between the Dodge or the Burn functions. Experiment!


I wanted to make the background and parts of the water darker, so I "burned" those areas. Then I "dodged" other areas to highlight them (her cheeks, nose, and other parts of the water). You can have a lot of fun with this. Look at your original drawing as you do this, and "bring out" the highlights and shadows. But remember this exercise shouldn't be a substitute for bad drawing habits; rather, you should start with good contrast using your pencils, on paper, and utilize the photo-editing software afterwards to recapture all the hard work that the scanner or camera so rudely washed out.

You may have your own ideas about how much computer editing is too much: at what point does it stop being traditional art and tread the digital line? That's up to the artist. Personally I try not to overdo it, but might fix runaway hairs, etc. that my eraser failed to mark.

Done? Right, let's resize the image! But first, save it as a copy, so you can keep this full size edited version in case you need it later.

Resize and Sharpen

How big do you want the art to appear online?

Image > Scale Image

Never resize to make it bigger! It will blur terribly. Even so, any time you resize an image, it will usually lose a bit of clarity, become very slightly blurred. I always sharpen the picture once I have it at the final size.

Filters > Enhance > Sharpen

Use your judgment. Too much sharpness makes it look horribly grainy.


I like to add a border:

Filters > Decor > Add Border

You can also add a signature and a watermark, but those are best explained elsewhere.

Hooray! Has your awesome drawing achieved new heights of awesomeness? It better have, after that lengthy tutorial. If not, I apologize for wasting your time. Otherwise, you might want to...


JPG is probably the best file format, but you have to be careful to set the compression rate properly (this option should show up when you Save it, or Save As). 100 is the best quality, but it makes a bigger file. I recommend saving one copy at 100% quality and saving another copy at somewhere around 90-95% to use on the web. Open the file in another program after saving to see if it still looks good. Keep the quality as high as you can without making the file too big to upload to such-and-such a website.

So here you have it:


Compare with the first image I posted above.

That all could have taken just a few minutes once you know how to do it. Being fussy, I often spend 20 minutes adjusting a photo and dodge/burning it before I'm happy. Or you can take one minute to adjust the contrast and be off - whatever you like.


For those who wanted the very short summary:

Tips to make a scan look good on the computer after the scanner or camera washed out and de-contrasted it:

Make sure the quality (clarity) of the scan or photo is good to start with and that it isn't blurry - you can't fix that after.

Whip out your photo-editor (I use GIMP) and make the picture greyscale. Adjust the contrast and brightness till you're satisfied.

Use the dodge/burn brush (may be called something else outside GIMP) to brighten and darker more selective areas. Bring out the highlights and the shadows.

Resize to the desired final size - and then sharpen the image!

Add a border? A signature? A watermark? A penguin?

Save it! Don't compress your .jpg's too much or all your hard work will be a blurry mess. Always keep a full-quality copy.


I do hope I didn't leave anything out - I can't edit this post afterwards! I REALLY didn't intend to write all that, but like I said, I tend to...ah, yes... meander a little. As long as I didn't obfuscate. :)

Hope it was helpful to someone! It was fun to write. Happy drawing, everyone! :thumbsup:

07-11-2009, 04:25 AM
Excellent tutorial, thank you..

07-11-2009, 04:43 AM
Ecthelion ....your are very generous to share your post-production tips with us ....thank you ... :thumbsup:

07-11-2009, 07:31 AM
Thanks for that. I'm sure many will find it very useful. And the steps should apply to almost any image editing program Gimp, Photoshop, PSP, etc.

07-11-2009, 09:40 AM
Thanks...this is one for the learning centre...so we can easily access it!:thumbsup:

07-11-2009, 07:45 PM
Please, share your tips in this thread! For the technically minded, "Levels" (aka "Histogram") is more powerful than "Brightness-Contrast" because you have up to 5 independent parameters. Brightness and contrast are always mutually altering their effects. The tool is very well, although lengthy, explained in this tutorial (http://www.scantips.com/simple1.html). Don't be misled by the title (scanning software), it is the same tool in GIMP and Photoshop.

07-13-2009, 02:07 AM
Jon, wonderful job on this tutorial! Thanks so much for taking the time to put it together. It will be a great benefit to me and to many others.

truck driver
12-13-2009, 04:36 AM
while working on your art save it as a tiff, that way you dont loose image data by repeatedly loading, and saving as a jpg. Each time you load and save a .jpg you are loosing image data even if you set it to 100%.


06-23-2010, 10:28 PM
E x t r e m e l y helpful.... thank you! (Saved to 'Favourites'..)

I am such a novice at photography and having only few skills, e.g.. auto/pressbutton..! That's almost it.... but the auto fixes in post production just don't work do they! :lol:

Go good of you to do this for us!:thumbsup:

10-27-2010, 11:25 PM
Thanks for this post! I've recently taken up graphite again and had difficulty taking a decent photograph. You've covered everything here perfectly!