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HOW TO DIGITIZE YOUR WATERCOLOUR PAINTINGS

Prepping Your Original Artwork For Printing


If you’re like me, you dream of transforming your original artwork into an array of print and digital products: prints, greeting cards, stationery, packaging, you name it. But digitizing your artwork requires a whole different skill set than putting paintbrush to paper. There is a whole world of colour profiles, pixels, bleed, and margins out there to learn!


Girl in a green dress with her back facing the camera as she looks at a gallery wall of watercolour paintings

As a traditional artist through and through with little graphic design experience, digitizing my watercolour paintings was the number one thing holding me back from creating print and packaging products for my own online shop and clients. But since I've finally nailed down my process (and gathered a few helpful tips along the way), I'm walking you through how I create high-quality digital versions of my original artwork while staying authentic to the soft, hand-painted nature of watercolours.


Scanning Your Artwork


The first step to creating a digital version of your watercolour painting is creating a high-quality scan. To scan my artwork, I use the Epson V600 photo scanner, which came highly recommended. I've had great success with it: it picks up all of the details beautifully and the colours accurately!


When you’re scanning your artwork, make sure that you adjust the resolution in your settings to at least 300 dpi: the standard for printing. I usually set mine to 600 dpi because anything higher results in a file size that is far too large to store on my devices. You also want to set the scanning quality to high! There are other settings that you can play with (like dust removal and colour restoration), but those are the basics. Through trial and error, you will learn what works best for you, your scanner, and your style!


Screenshot of scanner settings for the Epson Scan V600 photo scanner set to 600 dpi and scanning quality set to high

Open Your Scan In Photoshop


Once you have your scan saved, you’ll want to open it up in Photoshop to start preparing your file for print and digital products! To begin, we want to remove the background of your painting because you don’t want to have remnants of your sketchbook or watercolour paper in the background. This process is done in a few different steps, but I always start by using the magic eraser tool. When you click an area with the magic eraser, it will erase everything in that area that shares a similar colour, so click somewhere on the background to start erasing!


Often with watercolour paintings, the first time you try the magic eraser it will erase some of your painting, especially if you’ve used soft colours. To address this, undo and adjust your tolerance level. Sometimes I have to set the tolerance level very low to avoid erasing some of my painting, so just keep experimenting until you've erased the majority of your background. Don’t worry about making it perfect just yet — we’ll take care of the rest of the background in the next step!


Screenshot of a watercolour bouquet in photoshop with a transparent background and magic eraser tool tolerance set to 15

I don’t have a lot of experience using Adobe programs, so I just use it for this step and like to get the painting into Procreate to finish up the editing process because it’s more intuitive for me and feels more similar to the actual painting process. Plus, I'm able to use brushes that help me stay true to the original artwork!


So, export your (somewhat) edited image as a PNG and let’s continue!


Import Your Image Into Procreate


To continue editing your painting, create a new canvas in Procreate in whatever size you need your final artwork to be. This will vary for different products and uses! The important thing to note is your dpi: you’ll want to set this to at least 300, which is the standard for printing. The other factor to consider is the colour profile of your canvas: set this to RGB if you’re planning on using your artwork for digital mediums and CMYK if it is going to be printed.


Screenshot of custom canvas settings in Procreate with the DPI set to 300

Screenshot of custom canvas settings in Procreate with RGB colour profile selected

Once you have your canvas set up, import your artwork! Now it’s time to address the rest of that background still hanging around. Start by using the selection tool from your top menu, select "freehand," and drag it around your painting as close to the edge of the artwork as possible. By doing so, you'll isolate your artwork — so copy and paste that selection into a new layer and delete the layer underneath containing your unneeded background. This gives you a cleaner image to work with!


At this point, you probably still have a little bit of your previous background hanging around the edges of your painting. I find that the hardest part about digitizing my watercolour paintings is maintaining those soft, tapered edges that characterize the medium. To achieve that look, I use the watercolour eraser brush that comes with my favourite Procreate brush set: the Ultimate Brush Toolbox - Watercolor that I purchased from DesignCuts!


Make your background a darker colour so you can see the areas that still need to be erased, then start going in with your brush to clean up around the entire edge of your painting, making sure there is no white background left. You can adjust the size of your eraser to get as detailed as you'd like. This is a tedious process, but it is worth it when you want to create a clean image, put your artwork onto different coloured backgrounds, or you’re creating a piece for a client who wants to use the illustrations for different mediums!


Adjust Your Colours


Sometimes when you scan your artwork, you’ll notice that the colours are a little bit off from the original. I usually make a few small adjustments to get those colours to look similar to the original piece. I normally work with warm tones, so I’ll turn up the warmth just a touch to emphasize those. I’ll also turn the saturation down sometimes if the colours look too bright (something that I often notice once I remove the background and have the artwork against a stark white background).


Screenshot of a watercolour bouquet open in Procreate with the adjustments tab open

Edit. Any Imperfections


Sometimes while I’m prepping my artwork and adjusting the colours, I notice little pencil marks, paint splatters, and other imperfections I’ve made throughout the painting process. I try to keep digital edits to a minimum because I think that the beauty of hand-painted artwork is that they aren't perfect, but I’ll usually go in with my watercolour brush set in Procreate just to clean up areas where I think it needs it!


During this stage, I find it important to use brushes that mimic the texture and feel of the original medium you used. I use my Ultimate Toolbox - Watercolor brush set (specifically the rough wet brush and detail liner) to achieve that. Hold your finger down on the part of the painting directly beside the imperfection you want to cover to grab the colour and gently paint over the area you want to correct. Then, blend it out with your blending brushes if needed!


Screenshot of a zoomed in watercolour flower in Procreate with the eyedropper tool selecting a colour from the painting

Export Your Artwork


Next, change your background colour back to the colour you want it to be (because we’ve been working on a dark background up until now), whether that is white or a colour — or uncheck the background in your layers tab to export your file with a transparent background. Now, export your file as a PNG because we’re going to set it up for printing next!


Export Your Digital Watercolour Painting


To set up your artwork for printing, you can use whatever program you’re the most comfortable working with. I often just use Canva because it’s easy to use (you can only complete this step with the pro version I believe) or Adobe InDesign (this is helpful when your file is too large for Canva or you're working on something more complex). You’re going to set up your canvas in the final size you need your artwork to be (in pixels), then simply import your artwork, make sure it's centred, and do any final touches. Once it's exactly how you'd like it, export it as a print PDF. Make sure you check off crop marks and bleed, which most printers will require and select your desired colour profile.


Screenshot of a watercolour bouquet open in Canva with export settings set to PDF print, crop marks and bleed, and CMYK colour profile

 

Now you have a high-quality, print-ready file of your watercolour painting! Once you have a digitized version of your painting, your options are truly endless for what you can create, which is what makes this cumbersome process worth it. I can’t wait to see what you create! And if you have any tips for me, please do leave them below — I’m always striving to learn more about the design field!



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